Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2021 Top 25 Under 25, No. 1: Carter Hart

Those 27 games? I wouldn’t worry too much about those 27 little games last year.

No. 1: Carter Hart

2020-21 League/Team(s): Flyers/Phantoms
2020-21 Statistics: .877 SV%, 3.67 GAA, 27 games
Age: 23
Acquired In: 2016 NHL Entry Draft, 52nd overall
Ranking in Spring 2020 25 Under 25: 2

So Carter Hart graded out as perhaps the worst starting goaltender in the NHL in 2020-21.

Now that’s out of the way, we can get into why he’s still the Flyers’ top prospect under 25 years of age by unpacking a bit of what went wrong last season and why the 27-game sample size falls where it does.

We’ve already addressed how bizarre the 2020-21 — read 2021 — season was for Hart, the Flyers, and the entire league. Sure, the Lightning still won the Stanley Cup (again), but the effects of the COVID season that was had differing impacts on players and teams, and notably took major effect on the younger players.

With Hart, his offseason was thrown into a blender coming off a promising start to his first season as “the guy” and leading the Flyers within a game of the Eastern Conference Final. Players couldn’t train as they were accomstomed to, and the Flyers coaching staff wasn’t shy about noting that young players simply didn’t report in shape for the shortened season. The range of new protocols isolated players from each other as a means to prolong the chance of finishing the season and no doubt took affect on Hart, who noted the sense of detachment that he and some of his teammates felt during the season.

Along with that isolation and truncated season came a dearth of practice time, and even ice time in general for players and teams through the season. In the past, players had plenty of practice time to fine tune or work on their game while that simply was not an option due to the schedule and protocols keeping the players together for only as long as needed to finish out the schedule.

When looking at Hart’s numbers overall you get arguably the worst starting goalie in the league, but it wasn’t all bad all the time when you take a deeper look.

Hart was 4-2-1 in January, but allowed six of his 22 goals in the month in a ghastly showing in Boston — a trend that would continue against the Bruins. He allowed four goals against Buffalo and another four in a shootout loss to the Bruins, but was otherwise pitching a goals-against average well under 3.0 to kick off the season.

The wheels didn’t really fall off until March, when Hart posted an .821 save percentage in eight games, losing four of six starts — being yanked in three along the way. March was a disaster for both Hart and the Flyers as they went 6-10-1 in the Month, getting out scored by 29 goals in the process as the offense dried up and the goaltenders failed to stop a beach ball.

Before being shutdown in April due to injury, Hart bounced back with a .910 save percentage and really only a really poor showing against a bad Buffalo team. His last start of the season was a vintage 31-save performance to steal a win from the rival Penguins. That string of games showed that the then 22-year-old wasn’t totally flatlined by a near-historically bad March and was trending up prior to the injury cutting his campaign short.

In the end, stock down but understandable given the effect COVID had and when taking into account it was a small sample size in a weird year behind a largely porous defense that didn’t do any of the three goalies any favors all year long.

What are we expecting from Hart this season? What should we be looking for from him?

We’re expecting to see the Hart of old, the Hart that turned in a .915 save percentage through his first 74 NHL games and looked every bit of the Flyers’ next franchise netminder.

After acknowledging the struggles of the 2020-21 on him mentally, Hart has refocused himself and worked hard over the offseason to build back up his confidence and come fully prepared to bounce back in 2021-22. With ample practice time and a normal (ish) offseason, Hart will have the time to adjust mid season as needed and get in the extra work needed during low points in order to get his game back to where we know it can be.

The Flyers also decided that the team mix was off — revamping the defense in front of Hart with veteran additions who aren’t being banked on to take the next step as young players and assembling a deep forward group poised to have a balanced scoring attack. GM Chuck Fletcher has gone out of his way to try and make things easier in front of Hart, and he wouldn’t have done all of that if he wasn’t confident his young goaltender could bounce back — it’s not like Martin Jones is stealing that crease anytime soon.

How does Hart fit into the Flyers’ long-term plans? Where does he stand in the Flyers’ organizational depth?

Hart remains the Flyers’ most coveted prospect because a franchise goaltender is to an NHL team what a franchise quarterback is to an NFL team — the most important position.

While the Flyers possess some intriguing prospects in the crease like Felix Sandstrom, Ivan Fedotov, Samuel Ersson, and Kirill Ustimentko, none come with the pedigree and proven NHL success that Hart has.

The Flyers believe in Hart, and have shown that faith in both the form of a brand-new contract extension that pays him a shade under $4 million for the next three seasons and the revamped roster in front of him that we noted up earlier.

Whether their faith is rewarded in terms of Hart ultimately settling in as that coveted franchise goaltender remains to be seen, but we’ve seen undeniable flashes of that ability and quite frankly it’s a game-changer if he ends up being that guy for the Flyers.

What do we think Hart’s ultimate NHL upside is, and how likely is it that he gets to something approaching that?

Bone-fide franchise goalie — as in Veniza Trophy level, Team Canada, Stanley Cup winning netminder.

He’s shown flashed of that before the age of 23, so the potential is there — it’s just a matter of whether or not he can consistently delivers the goods and whether the Flyers can put the right pieces around him in order to achieve success together.

Anything else?

People don’t forget!:

Finishing a frustrating season strong:

Rare extra practice time working on tradecraft during slump:

Seems good!:

Can’t teach it:

Always ready:

How We Voted: Carter Hart


How We Voted: No. 1

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Previously in Flyers Summer 2021 Top 25 Under 25: