Well, folks, the Flyers seem to have found themselves their starter for the foreseeable future in Carter Hart, and that means we’re done talking about goalie prospects for the rest of forever, right? That’s how this works, right?
Uh, not quite.
With the Flyers having Brian Elliott under contract for one more season, they aren’t hard pressed to find a backup immediately anymore, but after this season, there will be another opening for potentially someone new to slide in, and it seems as good a plan as any to have a piece of home grown talent step in. The Flyers do have a handful of goalie prospects waiting in the wings, but right now we’re without a real clear frontrunner for the job. So, why not Felix Sandstrom?
No. 22: Felix Sandstrom
Age: 22 (1/12/1997)
Size: 6’2”, 192
Acquired Via: 2015 NHL Draft -- Round 3, Pick 70 (Pick acquired from San Jose in exchange for Tye McGinn on July 2, 2014)
2018-19 League/Team/Statistics: HV71 (SHL) - .911 SV%, 2.16 GAA in 19 GP
Ranking in BSH Winter 2019 25 Under 25: 25
All in all, it was something of an underwhelming season for Sandstrom, relative to hopes and expectations. On the one hand, he was given the chance to take a step forward, or was at least given a more difficult workload, and played his first full season in the SHL, after having split the previous season between the SHL and Allsvenskan, which seems to speak to his development and his team’s feeling that he could handle this promotion. But, on the other hand, he didn’t really do a whole lot with that chance, or at least not as much as we might have hoped. A .911 save percentage is perfectly respectable, but he also only played in 19 games, being unable to steal the starter’s job away from Jonas Gunnarsson, who’s a good bit older (27) and has had an altogether pretty average career in the SHL. Sandstrom didn’t have a poor year, by any means, but if you were hoping that he was going to have a stellar bounce-back season after missing time the previous year with an illness, you might be disappointed.
But this year also saw Sandstrom make his AHL debut. He only got in for the one game, right at the tail end of the Phantoms’ season, but it marked his transition over to North America and a brand new team (his future team!). And while one game is an extremely small sample, he did look pretty good out there! He put up a .930 save percentage, but still had a couple of moments where he looked like he wasn’t quite up to the speed of the AHL. And, in fairness, Sandstrom agreed with that assessment. When talking in exit interviews about what he took from that game, and how he’s looking to improve for next season, he had this to say:
“I think... have the mindset to be a bit quicker, be faster. That’s the thing I could take from that game. It felt like sometimes I was a bit [late]... I wasn’t really used to the pace and all that stuff, so [I want to] push myself to be faster, and quicker in anticipations.”
Sandstrom certainly has the tools to be successful at the next level—strong athleticism paired with good vision and quickness when needed—and it isn’t difficult to envision him being able to form a solid foundation for the team in front of him, once he’s able to get past the initial learning curve that comes with playing on the smaller ice and adjusting to more of the shoot first mentality of skaters in North America.
And maybe this is sort of the key, here. We know that development isn’t linear and sometimes a player can have something of an average junior or overseas career and then can make it to the AHL and suddenly things just start to click for them. It’s possible that this happens for Sandstrom, even if it isn’t right away, that he gets into a rhythm at the AHL level and works to start dominating in this league in a way that he wasn’t able to in Sweden, and then suddenly the perception of him as a prospect changes, and the slower start becomes more or less irrelevant.
Are we banking on this happening? No. More often, a player’s history is a more accurate basis for projecting their development, rather than a hypothetical future in which they just suddenly figure it all out in a new context. But stranger things have happened (and goalies are famously unpredictable anyway). And translating his game to North America is what really matters, and if he’s able to that, he’s in a much better position for advancement in the organization.
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2019 Top 25 Under 25: