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July 12, 2023

'You can never have too many': A look at the Flyers' goaltending depth, prospect pipeline

"You never know what can happen and you can never have too many goalies," Flyers GM Danny Brière said of the organization's goaltending depth.

When the Flyers traded into the second round of the NHL Draft a couple of weeks ago, then used that pick at 51st overall to take a goaltender, it raised eyebrows, and even more so when they took another right after with their third. 

But that was no indication, under those circumstances at least, that someone like Carter Hart was on his way out, nor could it have been. 

Carson Bjarnasson, the goalie they took at No. 51 out of the Western Hockey League, was still a day shy of turning 18, and Egor Zavragin, who they took at No. 87, is 17 for another month with plenty of developing yet to do in Russian juniors this coming season.  

There's a ton of puck-stopping talent and promise between each of them there, but that isn't going to be realized overnight. 

The Flyers are rebuilding and these picks were for the long haul, trying to keep the cupboard full at a position that they know all too well can be extremely complicated to get right. 

"You never know what can happen and you can never have too many goalies," general manager Danny Brière said after the draft. "We've seen that a couple years ago with the Flyers. So many things can happen, different trades. If all these guys start hitting what we'd like to see from them, it's gonna be a nice thing to have, but goalies take a long time anyway. I see it as they don't hit really their peak until they're 27, 28, 29 sometimes. Carter Hart was a little different, but not every goalie is ready and at the top of their game at 21 and 22, so it's for the long haul. 

"We just felt that those guys had too much upside."

Alexei Kolosov too, a 21-year old third-rounder from the 2021 draft who just signed his three-year entry-level contract on Monday after putting up a .912 save percentage through 42 games with the Belarus KHL club Dinamo Minsk last season. He's going to stay put in the KHL for the time being, which will burn the first year off of his deal, but again, his path to the Flyers is for the long haul. 

And it's ultimately a mystery what the Flyers' situation between the pipes will look like by then. 

For an idea of where things could go, however, here's a rundown of the organization's current goaltending depth and prospect pipeline, including contract statuses and average annual values:

League/Level  Goaltender AgeContract Status  AAV 
NHLCarter Hart 24 Signed, RFA in 2024 $3.98 mil. 
 Cal Petersen 28 Signed, UFA in 2025 $5 mil. 
 Felix Sandström 26 Signed, UFA in 2024 $775K 
AHL Samuel Ersson 23 Signed ELC,
RFA in 2024 
KHL Alexei Kolosov 21 Signed ELC,
RFA in 2026
 Ivan Fedotov 26 Signed ELC,
UFA in 2024 
WHL (CAN Jr.)Carson Bjarnason 18 Drafted in 2023,
MHL (RUS Jr.)Yegor Zavragin 17 Drafted in 2023,
ELH (Czech Pro) Matej Tomek 26 Drafted in 2015,

• As far as trade buzz goes – because the lingering Hockey Canada investigation is another messy and highly uncomfortable can of worms entirely – things have quieted down considerably around Hart after a run on the rumor mill leading up to the draft and free agency.

With the intentions of a rebuild clear, Hart was seen as a commodity who could possibly bring back a haul of assets from a team in need of a starting goaltender, and Brière, after being promoted to the full-time GM, said that if an offer came in for Hart, the Flyers would at the very least listen

There might have been some calls, but midway through July, Hart's still here and will likely be the starting goalie on opening night barring a major change of plans. He's a good-great but not elite netminder – at least not yet – and at 24, can still fit the timeline for the Flyers' rebuild while he's in his presumed prime. That said, if Hart is going to stick around for the long term, he's going to need a new contract after this season and it might have to be a major one to make it worth his while, which begs the question of if the Flyers would be willing to go that route if and when the time comes. 

• The Flyers took Petersen from the Kings as a salary dump in the three-team Ivan Provorov exchange and are now on the hook for his $5 million cap hit over the next two seasons. That's a hefty number, especially for a goaltender who has really struggled in the two years prior, but it was a hit Brière was willing to take in the short-term to eventually get the team to where he wants it to be. There's no real plan or fit for Petersen from where things stand right now, but training camp will probably figure that one out. 

• It will also determine what happens to Sandström and Ersson. Sandström is in the last of his two-year deal, which converts to one way this season and guarantees his NHL salary regardless of where he's at, but he didn't impress all that much up with the Flyers last year with a highly unsteady .880 save percentage through 20 games and 18 starts.

Ersson, meanwhile, did hold up pretty well in his rookie NHL stints – though an .899 save percentage across 12 games does leave plenty of room for improvement – but he was largely kept with the Phantoms because there were simply more minutes for him to play down there. 

Sandström is 26 and will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Ersson is 23, will be an RFA, and seems to have favor among head coach John Tortorella and the rest of the organization. It'll be interesting to see in the next few months whether Ersson stays in Lehigh Valley for a bit longer or if the Flyers find more time for him up in the NHL. The latter, however, is easier said than done with Sandström and Petersen already there, and might require some creative movement on the front office's part. 

Kolosov, again, is going to stay in the KHL for this coming season, while Bjarnasson and Zavragin will continue to develop in their respective junior leagues. All three are being kept as options for the future, but that's a future that won't really start coming into view for at least another year in Kolosov's case and even longer for Bjarnasson and Zavragin. You'll likely hear Bjarnasson's name in the conversation for Canada at World Juniors over the next couple of winters though.

"It feels like we're starting to have a lot of success with that," Brière said back at the draft of the Flyers' goalie pipeline. "Our guys are kinda coming along really nicely, so we want to keep it a strength of the organization. It's such an important position on teams and having a good strong stable, hopefully we can develop them."

And in the chance they all hit?

"We'll deal with that," he added. "If we have too many it's a good problem and we'll deal with it."

• As for Matej Tomek, who was a third-round draft pick way back in 2015 (when Ron Hextall was the GM), the Flyers still have his draft rights, but he's unsigned and is probably a longshot to be at this point. He's currently playing for HC Litvínov in the Czechia ELH. 

• The ship may have also, unfortunately, sailed on Ivan Fedotov as well. The Russian goaltender, also from the 2015 draft as a seventh-rounder, signed a one-year contract with the Flyers last summer but was detained and conscripted into mandatory Russian military service before he could get there. His service has since been completed and he still has his NHL contract, but an agreement he also signed for the next two years with Russia's CSKA Moscow is being upheld by the KHL, so he won't be leaving the country anytime soon. 

*Draft rights, contract statuses, and average annual values via Elite Prospects and CapFriendly.

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