The Philadelphia Flyers
haven't drafted and developed a top-flight goaltender since Ron Hextall
made his NHL debut in 1986. The goalie roulette they've played in the generation since then hasn't really gotten them any closer to a Stanley Cup, but there are three reasons of hope for the future.
Their names are Johan Backlund
, Sergei Bobrovsky
and Joacim Eriksson
Two of the three are undrafted free agents, the third a seventh-round pick. The oldest is 28, the youngest is 20, and one speaks no English.
But the Flyers are confident one of the three can develop into a long-term starter. It's why they signed Michael Leighton
, who started all six games in the Stanley Cup Final, to just a two-year contract this summer.
"Just in evaluating our depth in the crease right now, it's very safe to say we're comfortable and excited about the kids coming up in the organization," Flyers goaltending scout Neil Little
told NHL.com. "I think we're in great shape."
Among the three, the 28-year-old Backlund has the most experience. Signed last summer, he spent most of last season with the Flyers' AHL affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms, going 21-17-2 with a 2.99 goals-against average in 41 games. He suffered a groin injury in March, however, and re-injured it during his only NHL game after allowing two goals on 24 shots in two periods on March 27 in Pittsburgh. His only action after that was the final 84 seconds of Game 3 of the conference semifinal series against Boston.
Backlund had surgery in June to repair the labrum in his left hip and is expected back on the ice in late August, which should put him at close to 100 percent when training camp opens Sept. 17. He'll have a chance to compete with veteran Brian Boucher
for the backup job.
"That's my main goal," Backlund told NHL.com. "They signed some guys, so it's going to be tough. I don't know. I'll try to get back here from my injury and have a good camp and go from there. I know it's going to be tough this year. Hopefully I make it."
That's just what the Flyers want to hear.
"We want him to compete for the job," Little said. "That's our expectation of him and that's his expectation, to push and push and try to get in there. We'd be disappointed if that's not his focus. … It's in his court. We'll give him a solid look."
If Backlund doesn't make the Flyers, he'll split time in Adirondack with the 21-year-old Bobrovsky, whom the Flyers signed in May after three seasons with Metallurg Novokuznetsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. Last season he was just 9-22-3 with a 2.72 GAA and .919 save percentage in 35 games, but his team finished last in the standings.
Despite the numbers, the Flyers see a promising future for Bobrovsky.
"He's got a lot of athleticism," Flyers Director of Player Development Don Luce
told NHL.com. "He's very mobile in net. He's got a great personality. Upbeat kid, wants to learn. He's got some good technique."
It's a developing technique, as Bobrovsky's time at the club's recent prospect camp was his first time ever in North America.
"It's my first time here, everything is new and different," he told NHL.com through an interpreter. "Different mind, different people, different lifestyle."
It's one he's enjoying getting used to. Bobrovsky will play this season in Adirondack as he adjusts to the smaller ice surface and a higher level of hockey, and tries to make an impact with the organization.
"I will do everything I need to do to make management see me as a goalkeeper for the (NHL) team and I will put in the work for it," Bobrovsky said.
Bobrovsky's path this season will be the same one Backlund was on last season.
"They signed some guys, so it's going to be tough. I don't know. I'll try to get back here from my injury and have a good camp and go from there. I know it's going to be tough this year. Hopefully I make it." -- Johan Backlund
"I think I learned the style over here to play, especially for a goalie. It's different," Backlund said. "Smaller rinks and faster game and a lot more traffic. That's the main part I learned. Then playing in a new country was a new experience, too. Was a lot of new stuff in the beginning but I think I learned pretty fast."
Backlund said by the end of December he felt comfortable in his new surroundings. His numbers proved it -- he was 8-8-0 before Christmas; 13-9-2 afterward.
"He's definitely a guy that we look for big things from if he plays with the Phantoms," Little said. "He takes on more of a leader role. He's a guy that can step in and backup for the Flyers any time and we're comfortable with that. We like him. … All-round, we are quite high on him."
They're also high on Eriksson, a 2008 draft pick who will play for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League this season. He had a 2.40 GAA in 38 games with Leksand last season.
"I have no question he'll continue to develop," Little said. "He's a good kid, focused and he wants to play. On the ice, I'm confident he'll continue to get better and continue to make us excited."
So could the Flyers' ever-turning goalie carousel be close to shutting down? Little, who was part of that carousel during a pro career that saw him play two NHL games with the Flyers in 12 pro seasons, believes so.
"It's safe to say we're very pleased to have all three," he said.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org