Philadelphia Flyers Predictions 2011-12: The Goaltenders and Prospects
In their place, the Flyers have brought in a true top-tier netminder and the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft.
The offseason of change is over. While the full roster has not yet been finalized, names have been penciled in at each spot. The Flyers are scheduled to open training camp in less than three weeks, with their first preseason game shortly thereafter on September 20.
It's time to take a look at what Flyers fans can expect from the team's netminders and top prospects next season.
Enjoy! As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
After an embarrassing goaltender carousel that saw his team use three different netminders in 11 postseason games, Flyers Chairman Ed Snider decreed it would never happen again. Shortly after Snider's proclamation, GM Paul Holmgren pulled off a trade to bring Vezina-finalist and soon-to-be free-agent Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia and signed him for a king's ransom.
The Flyers now expect Bryzgalov to be the team's first franchise goaltender since the days of Ron Hextall, who last suited up for a Philadelphia team nearly two decades ago.
There is no question Bryzgalov has the talent to be a top-five netminder in the NHL. Over the past two seasons, he has produced at a rate nearly identical to Henrik Lundqvist, who is considered by many to be one of the best in the world. But more impressive than the statistics is the setting in which Bryzgalov did his work—playing behind a mediocre-at-best Phoenix Coyotes team.
Now in Philadelphia, Bryzgalov will have the benefit of playing behind one of the most talented defenses in the NHL. At least four of the Flyer blueliners are better defensively than anyone on the Coyotes roster from last season—something for which Bryzgalov will surely be thankful.
2011 Stats: 68 GP (36-20-10), 0.921 SV percentage, 2.48 GAA, 7 SOs.
2012 Stats: 60 GP (38-16-6), 0.927 SV percentage, 2.25 GAA, 8 SOs.
Sergei Bobrovsky burst onto the scene for the Flyers in 2010-2011, putting up impressive numbers in his first professional season in North America. The talented Russian managed to win the Flyers' starting job in training camp and hold onto it all season long. With the aforementioned acquisition of Bryzgalov, the future of the lovable kid affectionately known as "Bob" is in limbo.
On one hand, Bobrovsky's unbelievable natural talent and super-human work ethic make him a valuable commodity for the Flyers should Bryzgalov falter or sustain an injury. On the other, his considerable cap hit ($1.75 million) inhibits the Flyers' options at other positions of need.
The Flyers are betting that Bobrovsky will improve significantly in his second North American season. He'll have the opportunity to work with the team's goaltending coach, Jeff Reese, full time—something he was never able to do while in Russia. He'll also be able to learn from Bryzgalov, who has picked up a trick or two over his NHL career.
2011 Stats: 54 GP (28-13-8), 0.915 SV percentage, 2.55 GAA, 0 SOs.
2012 Stats: 22 GP (12-6-4), 0.920 SV percentage, 2.41 GAA, 0 SOs.
Going into the 2010-2011 season, Couturier was considered by many to be the No. 1 prospect eligible for the 2011 NHL entry draft. His rare combination of size (6'4", 200 pounds), speed and skill (consecutive 96-point seasons while playing in the QMJHL) reminded scouts of a young Joe Thornton or Jordan Staal. Unfortunately, Couturier contracted a particularly severe case of mononucleosis in late 2010, setting his development back and allowing prospects like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to overtake him as the consensus No. 1 pick.
Couturier's loss has become the Flyers' gain, as they managed to pick up the massive centerman with the eighth overall pick in the draft. He was considered to be one of the most NHL-ready prospects available, and after the roster shake-up in Philadelphia, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has said he will be given an opportunity to make the team out of training camp.
Should the 18-year-old make the roster, look for him to have a very solid rookie season, notching 15-plus goals and at least 30 points. Quite a few people around the NHL have speculated that Couturier could be this season's Jeff Skinner, and after watching some of his games, I'm inclined to agree with that assessment. Should he get the chance to play in the NHL consistently, he could very quickly establish himself as a legitimate NHL player.
2012 Stats: 70 GP, 16G, 24A, 40P, plus-5 (if he makes the roster)
Erik Gustafsson might best be described as a younger version of current blueliner Kimmo Timonen. He possesses tremendous skating ability, quite a bit of natural offensive talent and a very impressive hockey sense. Gustafsson is not a physical defender by any stretch and must prove he can handle the bigger, stronger forwards he'll encounter at the NHL level.
Gustafsson will likely see considerable time on the Flyers' blue line this season with Chris Pronger's health still in question and Andreas Lilja's penchant for missing game time.
In limited NHL ice time last season, Gustafsson was fairly effective, posting zero points and a minus-one rating in three games. While those numbers aren't exactly stellar, his peripheral stats (two shots, five scoring chances, one blocked shot) were fairly good.
Should he receive significant ice time this coming season, expect Gustafsson to continue to develop his overall game and provide a spark for the Flyers from the back end.
2011 Stats: 3 GP, 0G, 0A, 0P, minus-1
2012 Stats: 40 GP, 3G, 10A, 13P, plus-5