The starting goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers this season is 29-year old Michael Leighton. There doesn’t seem to be any question about that, whether or not you agree that he’s a bonafide starter in the NHL. As far as the back-up position? If rookie camp is any indication, this position could be up for grabs during the season, and the Flyers will be all the better for it.
The Flyers have goaltender Brian Boucher under contract for one more season. Boosh didn’t have a particularly impressive regular season (thanks largely in part to an even less impressive team in front of him), but his playoff performance against the New Jersey Devils earned him his second year in the eyes of the organization. There has been no indication as of now to suggest that, heading into next season, he will not be the back-up. The glut of talent behind him, though, may cause the Flyers to reconsider as the season progresses.
The first-in-line, 28-year old Swedish goaltender Johan Backlund, signed a two-year contract extension with the Flyers this spring. He played one game with the Flyers last season before re-aggravating a groin injury. From reports, it sounds like he’s chomping at the bit to see more ice time this season, but will have a bit of an uphill battle as it appears that that his groin hasn’t fully healed from offseason surgery three months ago. Depending on how his healing progresses, he may even start with the Adirondack Phantoms as the back-up.
Behind Backlund is 22-year old Russian Sergei Bobrovsky, who will be playing in North America for the first time this season. He has been training with the Flyers over the last few weeks, as well as taking English lessons. He has become the media darling for the Flyers goaltending prospects, as he brings a lot of promise not unlike Washington Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov. If Bobrovsky gets to start in the AHL while Backlund recuperates, he may be able to develop faster than expected and get the call-up before Backlund.
While Backlund’s injury is unfortunate, it may also open the door for prospect Nicola Riopel to get more time with the Phantoms. Riopel recently signed a one-year contract with the Flyers. He lit up the QMJHL with the Moncton Wildcats, and will only see his talent deteriorate if he doesn’t get the chance to face superior competition. Riopel seems to be built similar to Montreal goaltender Carey Price, in that he has been very well coached in his career, but lacks size, athleticism, and at times may be prone to mental frustrations.
Of the remaining goaltenders, most are either works-in-progress or shots-in-the-dark. Goaltender Brian Stewart is the anti-Riopel; he has size and athleticism, but has previously lacked the proper coaching. The Flyers are hoping he has enough room for improvement. Goaltender Adam Morrison has been a serviceable goaltender for the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL, but has yet to show that he deserves playing time over any of the previously mentioned prospects. Finally, goaltending prospect Brad Philips recently decided to leave the University of Notre Dame to start his career with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees of the CHL. As a result, he will not be attending camp.
Barring unforeseen injuries, I wouldn’t expect to see one of the Flyers prospects make the jump to the NHL for the first half of the season. They will need to see Backlund get healthy, Bobrovsky acclimated to the North American style of play, and Riopel simply phenomenal before then. Nevertheless, one of these three gentlemen may challenge Boosh for his spot before this season is over.