It’s the third and final installment of our system inventory. This week we close it out by looking at the goalies on the farm. As a reminder, we kicked it off by doing an inventory on the defense and followed it up last week with an inventory of forwards.
Cal Heeter, 23, signed as free agent in 2012.
2011-2012: 32 games played 2.45 goals against average .918 save percentage
Heeter was the starting goalie for the Ohio State Buckeyes over the previous two seasons. During that time, he was one of the CCHA’s top goalies despite playing behind a good Buckeyes team. He was also named the Buckeyes most valuable player. Heeter will have Niko Hovinen competing with him on the Phantoms and eventually for a spot on the Flyers so he might top out as a future starter for the Phantoms.
Niko Hovinen, 24, signed as a free agent in 2011.
2011-2012: 41gp 2.26gaa .920sv%
As a former 5th round pick in the 2006 draft, Hovinen took a while to put everything together. He bounced between leagues for a while in Finland until he emerged as arguable the best goalie in Finland over the past two seasons. Hovinen will get every chance to earn the starting job for the Phantoms this season and could compete for a spot on the Flyers as early as next season.With Bryzgalov’s contract it’s doubtful he will ever be a starter for the Flyers, but he could eventually be flipped for assets if he proves himself at the highest level.
Anthony Stolarz, 18, drafted 2nd round of 2012 draft.
2011-2012: 50gp 2.84gaa .920sv%
Stolarz is a raw long term project with tremendous determination to make it. After being cut from two teams in the EJHL, a Tier III junior hockey league, Stolarz earned a starting job for Corpus Christi. He ended up finishing in the top 10 in save percentage in the NAHL, a Tier II junior league. His performance and determination caused his stock to rise to the 4th ranked goalie of the 2012 draft from 20th where he was previously ranked. The road won’t be any easier for Stolarz as he is headed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for the upcoming season. It will be a huge jump for him as he wasn’t playing against the highest competition in juniors and will be competing with two other goalies. Stolarz will likely spend three or four seasons in the NCAA before he is ready for seasoning in the AHL, but if all goes well he will be ready by time Bryzgalov’s deal is up.
It’s rare when you can say goaltending is a strength for the Flyers, but with Bryzgalov signed long term and these three goalies in the system they are looking pretty good. They have two more polished options that could push for a spot as early as next season and a long term project that could potentially be ready to take over when Bryzgalov’s career is winding down. One of them (Hovinen?) could even potentially be used to bring more picks into a fold.
The Flyers did an excellent job of essentially turning Bobrovsky into a younger goalie (Stolarz) and another pick. I’d view it as a success if they could do something similar with Hovinen or Heeter since they are blocked by Bryzgalov as the Flyers starter. If there is anything I’d like to see the Flyers do is draft a more polished junior goalie in the next year or two so they will have another long term option to compete for the starting job when Bryzgalov’s is nearing the end of his deal. Otherwise, it’s a solid group.