Contrary to an earlier report, Felix Sandstrom will be back with the Philadelphia Flyers organization next season.
On Tuesday, general manager Chuck Fletcher announced in a statement that he has inked the 24-year-old netminder to a one-year, two-way contract. It carries a cap hit of $750,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 at the AHL level, with a minimum salary of $110,000, according to CapFriendly.
Who Is Felix Sandstrom?
The Flyers selected Sandstrom 70th overall, in the third round of the 2015 draft, out of the Brynas organization. The 6’2″, 191-pound Swedish netminder was ranked third among international goalies by NHL Central Scouting that year, behind Ilya Samsonov, now of the Washington Capitals (selected 22nd), and Daniel Vladar of the Boston Bruins (selected 75th).
Sandstrom continued his development in his native Sweden until the tail end of the 2018-19 season. At that point, he signed his entry-level contract. Then, he won his first-ever North American game, with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Before that, he was named Best Goalie by the IIHF Directorate at the 2017 World Junior Championship. He had a .915 save percentage and 2.17 goals-against average in six tournament appearances, and the award came despite a 2-1 loss to Russia in the bronze-medal game. The Russians’ Samsonov got the nod as best goalie on the media all-star team.
Sandstrom spent most of the 2019-20 season in the ECHL with the Reading Royals. He put up a record of 13-11-1, with an .885 save percentage and 3.26 GAA.
Sandstrom This Season
With North American hockey slow to get underway in 2020-21 due to the coronavirus, Sandstrom got into five games on a loan to Vasterviks of Sweden’s second-division Allsvenskan. He returned to Pennsylvania in early January. Then, he spent the rest of the year shuffling from Lehigh Valley to the Flyers’ taxi squad.
All told, he got into 11 games with the Phantoms. He amassed a record of 5-3-3 with a save percentage of .903 and a 3.19 goals-against average. Sandstrom truly found his rhythm late in the year, when he was given a stream of steady starts. He gave up just 12 total goals as he took the net for six of the Phantoms’ final 11 games.
Tuesday’s announcement of Sandstrom’s signing came as a bit of a surprise. One day earlier, the Finnish club Turku had announced that it had inked the netminder to a one-year deal. It’s not clear exactly how things changed. Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Monday that “We’ve had ongoing talks with Felix and about the opportunities,” per Jordan Hall of NBC Sports Philly.
“Most importantly, he played really well at the end of the season,” Fletcher added. “The most important thing for him is to make sure he’s getting No. 1 goaltender ice time and he’s doing everything he can to continue his development. The last month was a big step forward for him.”
Crease Assignments Unclear
In a perfect world, that No. 1 time will come as the Phantoms’ starter. Brian Elliott, 36, is almost certain not to be returning as Carter Hart’s backup with the big club next season. No. 3 Alex Lyon also an impending unrestricted free agent. So the Flyers do not have a clear goalie pipeline at the moment. Right now, Hart doesn’t even have a backup or partner for next season.
“You never can predict ice time,” Fletcher said Monday, when asked about Sandstrom’s situation. “I think there’s a strong possibility he would get a lot of ice time, but we have Ustimenko and Ersson and still making a decision on Alex Lyon, so you can’t guarantee ice time.”
Lyon, 28, played three years of collegiate hockey at Yale. He was signed by the Flyers as a free agent in 2016. Lyon spent most of his first four seasons in Lehigh Valley. Last year, he played just four games with the Phantoms. He stayed with the Flyers as their regular taxi-squad stopper.
Lyon saw some game action late in the season, after Carter Hart was shut down due to injury. Rusty and playing behind a Flyers team whose playoff hopes had already been dashed, he finished the year with a 1-3-1 record and an .893 save percentage at the NHL level.
A New No. 2?
After Hart’s struggles as the starter last season, it’s plausible that the Flyers will look to add an NHL-level netminder who has more experience than Lyon, and who’s younger than Elliott. A good fit would be someone who can carry a decent share of the workload if necessary, while pushing Hart to be his best.
It’s unlikely that Sandstrom or either of the Flyers’ other top netminding prospects, Kirill Ustimenko or Samuel Ersson, will be ready to challenge to for that spot this fall. None of the three has ever played an NHL game or fully established himself at the AHL level.
Ustimenko, 22, did well with Reading in his first season in North America in 2019-20, but didn’t play at all in 2020-21 after undergoing hip surgery. Ersson, 21, signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers on June 3. He’s expected to make his North American debut this fall.