When goaltender Alex Lyon signed with the Philadelphia Flyers on April 5, it was a two-year, entry-level contract that started immediately.
That means Lyon has the 2016-17 season to show his value on the professional level. It's a gamble he feels very comfortable making.
"I'm betting on myself to prove my worth within the organization with the one year," Lyon said during development camp. "I feel like I have the ability to play professional hockey at a high level, whether it's in Lehigh Valley, whether it's in Philadelphia, whether it's somewhere else. I feel I can produce well and give a lot of substance to an organization. … I haven't thought about it too much. But betting on myself is a good feeling."
Lyon has a resume worth doubling down on. Last season, as a junior at Yale, he led the NCAA with a 1.64 goals-against average, was second with a .936 save percentage and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top NCAA player, and the Mike Richter Award, given to the best collegiate goaltender. In 2014-15 he also was a Richter Award finalist and helped the United States win a bronze medal at the 2015 IIHF World Championship.
After signing with the Flyers, Lyon was a practice player during their Stanley Cup Playoff run against the Washington Capitals. Getting to know some of the players, coaches and equipment people in April has made development camp an easier experience.
"Being out with [goaltending coach] Kim Dillabaugh and Brady [Robinson, goaltender development coach] … it's a learning experience every day," Lyon said. "Those guys are fantastic. One thing they've really helped me with just even since I've signed and gotten here this week, every single day they're pushing the pace. That's the biggest thing for me, being able to translate my speed from college to the professional level. Every single drill they've been instrumental in pushing my pace and evolving my speed. That's one thing that's also a learning curve. I'm not used to playing at that high-pace level yet. That's been great. It's been tough but I think moving forward it's going to be good."
Lyon needs to do anything he can to separate himself from a crowded crop. He's one of five goalies added to the organization in the past 13 months.
At the 2015 NHL Draft, the Flyers picked Felix Sandstorm (No. 70) and Matej Tomek (No. 90) in the third round before taking Ivan Fedotov (No. 188) in the seventh round. At the 2016 draft, the Flyers used a second-round pick (No. 48) to select Carter Hart.
"It's helpful for all of us to see and compete on a daily basis," Tomek said. "… Definitely helps that the competition is large and all the guys here are really good goalies. Hopefully it makes me better at the end of the day."
Hart, voted the best goaltender in the Canadian Hockey League last season, led the Western Hockey League with 35 wins and had a 2.14 GAA, .918 save percentage and six shutouts in 63 games with Everett. He'll have a chance to start for Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in December.
Tomek didn't play a game as a freshman at North Dakota last season following offseason groin surgery and the emergence of two other goaltenders who led North Dakota to the NCAA championship. He says he feels stronger and more athletic now than before his surgery and is confident he'll be able to earn playing time this season despite both goalies from the championship team returning.
Sandstrom made his Swedish Hockey League debut last season and had a 2.61 GAA and .904 save percentage in 25 games with Brynas. He played three games for Sweden at the 2016 WJC but was weakened by food poisoning. He could be the starter for the 2017 WJC.
Fedotov (6-foot-6, 192 pounds) is the biggest goaltender of the group. He had a 2.22 GAA and .910 save percentage in 29 games with Reaktor Nizhnekamsk in Russia's junior league.
Lyon, 23, the oldest of the group, said he likes the competition but knows the best way to advance is by focusing on his game.
"No matter which team I would have signed with there would have been other players that would have been in front of me," he said. "For me, the best way to handle it is just try not to think about that. If I can be the best player and person I can be, then the other things will take care of themselves and I'll let the chips fall where they may."
His chips likely will land in Lehigh Valley at the start of the season. The Flyers have veterans Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth signed for 2016-17, and last season they were second in the League with a .933 save percentage at even strength. Lyon likely will split starts with Anthony Stolarz, a 2012 second-round pick (No. 45) going into his third AHL season.
"I think given the situation here I'm being very realistic," Lyon said. "They have two exceptional goalies in Neuvirth and Mason. And Anthony Stolarz is a high-quality goalie, no question about that. But I think any player would be remiss if they didn't go into training camp trying to make the Flyers. … You have to go in with that kind of mindset. I just want to be the best player I can be during training camp and the rest of the summer. And if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. I'm being realistic, I understand where I'm at. I'm just going to go in and battle as hard as I can."