Phantoms Roster Projection: Goaltending

GUEST POST:  der Eishockeyzuschauer, ALLENTOWN, Pa

Lehigh Valley Phantoms shot-stopper Anthony Stolarz will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing second half in the American Hockey League last season ... (photo courtesy "Faceoff Violation" blog)

Lehigh Valley Phantoms shot-stopper Anthony Stolarz will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing second half in the American Hockey League last season … (photo courtesy “Faceoff Violation” blog)

 

The 2016/17 hockey season figures to be one of paramount importance to all four of the goaltenders currently under contract to the Philadelphia Flyers organization. This because established NHL veterans Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth as well as former 2nd round draft pick Anthony Stolarz and intriguing but untested rookie Alex Lyon will all become free agents upon the conclusion of this particular campaign.  And conventional wisdom says all four players, respectfully, will all be eager to enjoy the kind of standout season which can greatly strengthen their position at the bargaining table come new contract time next summer.

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It is all but etched in stone that Mason, the 28-year-old Canadian workhorse who has already made 405 NHL appearances over the course of his career, and Neuvirth, the 28-year-old with 200 career NHL appearances who was summarily dropped by the Czech Republic coaching staff after being shelled 6-0 by Canada in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey opener, will be the two goaltenders on the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening night roster.
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As far as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are concerned, the goaltending situation is not necessarily so pre-determined, although there is absolutely no question that Stolarz, the 22-year-old native of New Jersey who started out at the University of Nebraska at Omaha before heading off to play in the Canadian junior system, will be the favorite to be the Phantoms’ first choice going into this season if only based on his overall experience as a professional. Stolarz, who made a total of 47 AHL appearances (2.60 avg, .916 svpct) his second tour of duty with Lehigh Valley last term, was in very good form for the first three months of last season but then somehow lost his way after being selected to participate in the 2016 AHL All-Star Game. Over the course of his 25 starts in the calendar year of 2017, Stolarz had a somewhat inflated 3.04 goals against average to go along with a lackluster .907 save percentage.
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Stolarz (6’6″ 232 lbs) was recalled by the Philadelphia Flyers on no fewer than five different occasions during the 2016/17 season but, significantly, never actually got into any National Hockey League games last term. “Stolie The Goalie” is on the final leg of his three-year entry level deal with the Flyers organization. Another season of no NHL appearances would say a lot about where Stolarz fits into Philadelphia’s long-range plans.
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Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers organization went out this summer and reputedly outmaneuvered at least fifteen other NHL teams, if not more, to recruit the somewhat highly sought after collegiate netminder Lyon. The 23-year-old native of Minnesota backstopped Yale University to NCAA tournament appearances in each of his final two seasons on campus and was also the third-string goaltender for the United States national team at the 2015 IIHF World Championship hosted by the Czech Republic. A detailed scouting report on Lyon from an authoritative source reads as follows :
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“Lyon’s strengths are his hands and his ability to adapt and develop. He uses his posts well and makes smart, confident decisions with his save selections. His hands play an important role in his game, because he does not have the skating ability that you would like to see from a goaltender of average size. When he is caught out of position, he is able to make up for it with above average (puck) tracking skills … Although he has made considerable improvement in each season (at Yale), it is hard to say what his ceiling is. His willingness to learn certainly helps his case, but the pro game will be his toughest challenge. As the speed of the game around him increases, he will need to make positional adjustments to account for his skating ability. There’s obvious risks involved with that, but he’s a prospect that is worth a look because of his raw skills and reputation as a hard worker.” — Greg Balloch, “In Goal Magazine”
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Lyon (6’1″ 200 lbs) will probably get at least one start between the pipes when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms host the visiting Charlotte Checkers for a pair of American Hockey League exhibition contests at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown on October 7th & 8th.
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Skating around in the shadows of the third-tier East Coast Hockey League while patiently awaiting his opportunities these past two seasons has been Martin Ouellette and the 24-year-old native of Quebec is back for another term after being signed to an AHL contract by the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this summer. The former University of Maine goaltender vastly improved upon his numbers with Lehigh Valley from his rookie term while making nine appearances (2.36 avg, .933 svpct) for the Phantoms in the AHL last season. Ouellette figures to have profited from his strong showing with the Reading Royals (31 ga, 2.10 avg, .922 svpct) in the ECHL a year ago and will undoubtedly be looking to make some sort of statement with his play in training camp this fall, too.
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Ouellette (6’2″ 194 lbs) could find himself on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ opening night roster if Lyon does have too much difficulty making the transition from the collegiate to the professional game but will most likely be returned to Reading.
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Mark Dekanich is a 30-year-old journeyman from Colgate University who had a commendable campaign in the ECHL for the South Carolina Stingrays (35 ga, 2.16 avg, .925 svpt) last term after returning from a two-year stint in the Kontinental Hockey League with Croatian club Medvescak Zagreb, where he was a teammate of former Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Aaron Palushaj. The well-traveled native of Vancouver has one NHL game for the Nashville Predators under his belt in addition to 163 career appearances on behalf of four different clubs in the AHL, as well. Dekanich, who did manage to make one start for the rival Hershey Bears last season, will most likely be assigned to the Reading Royals.


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

9 replies

  1. I guess I didn’t realize how much time the veteran “Dex” spent in ECHL last season. However, given the pattern of the last two years–veterans Zepp and Barbie–I still project Dex to the Phantoms to start the season. If for no other reason: He’s had his helmet custom painted and new custom pads made with Phantoms colors and logos. Perhaps he’s been told that he has the inside track on the veteran netminder spot in Allentown.

    He’ll have to earn it, of course, and I’ve heard good things about Lyon already from Flyers rookie camp.

    Stolie certainly took a step last season from where he was in 2014-15. He seemed to wear down, as you point out, and perhaps that consistency and durability is his next step, for this season.

    One thing is for certain, if this team has designs on not just making the Calder Cup tournament for the first time in 7 years, but doing anything with such a bid, they’ll need quality goaltending throughout the season and into the playoffs. Like a lot of things, we can look North and West for an example: Pittsburgh fleeced Wilkes Barre of goaltending on their way to the Stanley Cup, which cost the Baby Pens a chance in the Calder playoffs. Meanwhile, the ECHL Nailers were left mostly intact to go deep in the Kelly Cup tournament. I know that’s an overly simplistic view by me, but it’s how I kind of saw things shake out last Spring. In the end, they got the Lord Stanley, though, which is the ultimate goal for any organization. So Mase and Neuvy have to stay healthy and effective. Stolie needs to be consistent and healthy, and Dex and Lyon and Marty need to battle for that back-up spot. I’m optimistic, though, I think the talent is there, as well as a modicum of depth. Go Phantoms!

  2. There is no question for the first three months of last term that Stolarz showed major improvement from his rookie season of 2014/15 — but then all that improvement seemed to fly right out the window pretty much right after he got picked to play in the annual AHL All-Star Game. As we discussed at the arena last spring, I think a book which discusses how to consistently beat Stolarz was both published and read by all the other AHL teams not so long after the holidays. It is now incumbent upon Stollie The Goalie to ‘adjust to the adjustments’.

    Discounting the certain amount of hype that has always seemed to accompany Lyon ever since he came onto the collegiate scene, I think the fact that the former Yale goaltender has a two-way NHL contract with the Philadelphia Flyers whereas Dekanich has ‘only’ an AHL contract speaks volumes about what the Flyers organization’s plans are for these two players this season … I do think that the addition of Dekanich brings the minor league goaltending corps the kind of “organizational depth” that is unprecedented in the short history of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

    PS – It is important to remember that there is definitely a much bigger difference in the quality of play with respect to the American Hockey League vs East Coast Hockey League than there is with respect to baseball’s AAA International League vs AA Eastern League.

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