2016-17 Phantoms Preview Part 1 - Goaltenders

Thursday, October 13, 2016
The Flyers organization will have two highly-regarded prospects playing in the AHL this season. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Flyers Quietly Building Goalie Prospect Pipeline

Written by: Tony Androckitis, Twitter/Facebook

The Philadelphia Flyers organization has really made it a point in recent years to stockpile prospects between the pipes.

That Flyers' search for their future in net began with Anthony Stolarz - drafted 45th overall in 2012. Now entering his third season at the professional level, Stolarz has seen the Flyers organization draft five goaltenders since he was selected - including four goaltenders in the last two years - and the signing of highly coveted college free agent goaltender Alex Lyon last year.

With all four goaltenders under NHL contract currently set to become free agents at season's end, this is a crucial year for the organization's future at the goaltending position. It's highly unlikely all four - Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth, Stolarz and Lyon - will be re-signed for the 2017-18 season.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, the organization's staff and the team's fans are all hoping a few of these goalie prospects pan out and fit the bill of a future number one NHL goaltender.

After the jump, a deeper look into the two goalies that will look to compete for starts with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season.

2016-17 Lehigh Valley Phantoms Goaltenders Preview

The Phantoms will begin the season with Stolarz and Lyon, but also have capable depth stowed in Reading (ECHL) in veteran Mark Dekanich and Martin Ouellette.

The Stolarz/Lyon Duo - What to Expect

Stolarz and Lyon's relationship began long before training camp. In fact, after the Flyers' annual development camp the two lived together at a nearby hotel to train together at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey.

"I've actually gotten to know Alex quite well," Stolarz said when asked about how he and Lyon were getting along. "We are actually living together this year, so I've been able to get real close to him and we've developed a nice relationship off the ice."

"We have formed a good relationship off the ice, which is nice," Lyon said when asked the same question as Stolarz. "I've had good and bad. It's better to have a good friendship there. At the same time, we're both competitive people and I think we both kind of see the situation that's forming. Both of us are competing for starts and playing time."

While the two seem to be in good spirits and friends away from the rink, neither downplayed how competitive they are. When the puck drops Saturday in the Phantoms' season opener, both goaltenders will be competing for starts. 

"On the ice, we are going to push each other," Stolarz said. "He wants to play and I want to play. No matter what we are going to go out and push each other, and us working hard is going to make us better and the team better."

Typically in the AHL, teams will have a veteran guy apired with an incoming rookie goaltender or young prospect. This season the Phantoms will have two younger netminders in Stolarz, 22, and Lyon, 23, but head coach Scott Gordon isn't worried about it.

"We have two young goaltenders that I think if you look around the league we are pretty fortunate," Gordon said.

Anthony Stolarz

2015-16 Season Stats (AHL): 21-18-7, 2.60 GAA, .916 SV%, 2.60 GAA, 0 SO

Stolarz took a step forward in his development last year in his second season at the professional level. His strong start to the 2015-16 season saw him named to the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic, as his play early on in the beginning of the Scott Gordon era that saw the team in front of him learning new systems amidst a ton of injuries kept the Phantoms within striking distance in the Atlantic Division heading into the All-Star break.

The second half of the season saw 'Stolie the goalie' often on the NHL roster with the Flyers, but only as a backup goaltender down the stretch as Philadelphia rode Steve Mason into the postseason. While he has yet to make his NHL debut, Stolarz enters the final year of his entry level contract confident and ready to take the next step this fall.

"I think the biggest thing for me is confidence," Stolarz said of the biggest difference entering this season as opposed to last fall. "Going into these [NHL preseason] games, I wasn't nervous. I was actually really excited to get going again. Last year I was a little more hesitant and wondering how I'd fare. Going through the season I had last year and coming into this season knowing what's on the line, I prepared myself well in the off-season and I'm excited to get things going."

With Mason and Neuvirth also in the final year of their respective contracts in the NHL, Stolarz has a chance to prove his worth this season on a talented Phantoms roster and set himself up for potential full-time NHL duty down the road.

"Obviously Stolie had a tremendous year last year and the Flyers are very excited about him," Gordon said. "When you look at him, even though he's only a third year pro last year he kind of moved him along in the years of experience with the way he played. Our comfort level with his ability is to play down here and play a lot."

Alex Lyon

2015-16 Season Stats (NCAA): 19-8-4, 1.64 GAA, .936 SV%, 5 SO

Alex Lyon enters his rookie season after being a highly sought after college free agent, and for good reason. Lyon was particularly strong in his final two years at Yale University, dominating the ECAC with a combined 12 shutouts and 36 wins. 

While going through the process last spring to narrow down teams and eventually sign with the Flyers organization, Lyon admitted making it to the NHL and the opportunity this organization presents was a big reason for signing. But there was also another reason, and that was that he felt he immediately meshed well with Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh.

"I see Kim Dillabaugh as probably the best goalie coach in the world," Lyon said of his high praises of the Flyers goalie coach. "You look at his track record in LA with Jonathan Quick, Bernier, Martin Jones. To me, that shows he develops guys. That's a big appeal to me. Since I've been here, they've been great."

As for what Lyon's hoping and expecting to do, it's pretty typical for any incoming first year player.

"Obviously get as many starts as I can," Lyon said, adding, "My expectations are a little skewed because it's a new deal for me coming out of college but I obviously have personal goals."

Adjusting to the speed of the game, the quality of play and the strength and skill of players at the pro level presents the obvious challenges for Lyon this fall, but if the preseason showed us a preview of what's to come his coaches and management will be pleased.

"I gained a lot of confidence in training camp. I'm confident going into the season," Lyon explained of his mindset entering the season. "The first few weeks here are going to be a little touch and go given the situation. There's not much else I can do other than worry about myself."

When asked about the plethora of goaltending prospects the Flyers have brought in the past few years, Lyon had an interesting picture of how things are currently constructed.

"Within the organization, for me I don't really see myself in the same time frame as them," Lyon said of himself and the younger prospects currently playing in college, Canadian juniors or overseas. "Goalies don't last too long in one spot generally. By the time that I move on from Lehigh Valley whether it be to the Flyers or somewhere else - because that's the nature of the business - I think there's so much turnover that I don't see it as far as that."

While Lyon will certainly have some transitioning to do to get fully acclimated to the pro game, he admitted that the overall higher skill level and hockey smarts of the players will make some things easier on him - a cleaner game with less technical errors overall than he played in college.

"Alex is a college graduate and a little older. It's not like we have a 20-year old," Gordon said of Lyon, writing off any concern about having two young goaltenders on the AHL roster. "Just from what I've seen in training camp with the exhibition games that he's played it looks like he's made some adjustments to the pace of the game. His growing pains probably shouldn't be as high as they were for Stolie [in his rookie year]."

In the end, Lyon signed with the Flyers organization because he believes he can be an NHL goaltender.

"As far as the guys ahead of me, I for sure see that as motivation to try and take the next step and continue on to play for the Flyers," Lyon said. "That's my goal. That's why I signed here. I want to play for the Philadelphia Flyers," he added. "I want to work my way up the ladder."


Joseph Pisacano said...

Great write up once again. Can't believe the Flyer's and Phantoms actually have this much depth at goalie. I remember when Martin Ouellete came up to LHV last year when Stolie was in the NHL and faired very well and in fact I think he was pretty ticked off when he got sent back down to Reading when Stolie came back. That's pretty cool to have that much depth in the NHL, AHL, ECHL NCAA, Canadien Juniors, and overseas.

perttu junnonaho said...

Good thinking of putting both goalies to room whit other! Cause now they keep getting better whit good terms and that can only be a good thing!

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