Philadelphia: The One You Have Been Waiting For
With the 119th pick in the 1982 NHL Entry draft, four years before I entered this world, the Philadelphia Flyers selected goaltender Ron Hextall. And to this day, June 15, 2010 – 28 years later – Mr. Hextall remains the last Flyers’ goalie drafted and developed who spent a significant period of time with the Orange-and-Black.
They say you have to go through tough times to experience the good times… or something like that, but enough is freaking enough in Philadelphia. This has been flat-out goalie torture.
How much torture do you ask? With a little help from Tim Panaccio, let’s go back in time before we jump to the future.
In 1994, some young Russian named Evgeni Nabokov was taken in the ninth round 219th overall – at pick 218, the Philadelphia Flyers chose goalie Johan Hedberg. Much to the dismay of the Philadelphia Flyers, Hedberg never played a game with Philly and has gone on to play 246 NHL games, more than any goalie the Flyers have drafted since Hextall.
In 2002, the Flyers were poised and ready to select Cam Ward, but traded up in the draft to select defenseman Joni Pitkanen, instead.
Summer of 2003, with two first-round draft picks, the Flyers tried furiously to move up and select Marc-Andre Fluery, he went to the Penguins and the rest is history.
November 2003, Mikka Kiprusoff was offered to the Philadelphia Flyers by the San Jose Sharks via trade, before he was shipped to the Calgary Flames; the asking price – a simple second-round pick.
March 2004, the Flyers acquire Vladamir Malakov from the New York Rangers for Rick Kozak and a 2005 second round pick that was later transferred to the Atlanta Thrashers – that Flyers draft pick turned into Ondrej Pavelec.
In the infamous 2006 draft, the Philadelphia Flyers were set on taking South Jersey boy Bobby Sanguinetti, when the Rangers swooped in and stole him right before the Flyers were about to pick. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was on the draft board and very much in play, so much in play that the Flyers made a last second decision, and selected ‘that kid’ Claude Giroux instead. No qualms about that pick, just another keeper the Flyers could have had their hands on. Hindsight – Giroux was the right pick.
Point being, the Flyers realize the goaltender is a key position. But for some reason, goaltenders and the Philadelphia Flyers just do not mix. But with the recent NHL draft results, there is more hope in Philadelphia for the men between the pipes then every before.
You don’t need to be a high pick to turn into a starting goaltender – Kiprusoff, Tomas Vokoun, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonas Hiller, Nik Backstrom, Nabokov and Stanley Cup champion, Antti Niemi were all selected after the 100th pick in the draft – or not selected at all.
Enter Joacim Eriksson.
You know all about him, I’ve talked to him regularly, you know what he is all about. Drafted with the 196th pick in 2008, Eriksson is turning into one of the best goalie prospects in the NHL – and hopefully, the kid the Flyers organization has been waiting for.
In his first season with Leksand in the Allsvenskan League (Sweden) Eriksson put up some eye-popping numbers compiling a 2.40 goals-against average, and .926 save-percentage. During the post-season, Eriksson was just as good posting a 2.39 gaa and .923 save %.
“I am very happy with my personal performance this season (with Leksand) but disappointed with how it went for my team as a whole,” Eriksson told me via e-mail Monday afternoon.
“I worked hard all the time, every practice, I got a lot of help and because they believed in me, that gave me self-confidence,” he went on to say.
One of the most important aspects of a young goalie is their mindset, if they play with confidence, it can be the major difference in success or failure.
“I have gotten better with everything in my game but I feel that I have gotten especially better mentally. It was a big step going from the junior league to the senior league and that helped me a lot,” Eriksson said.
With that confidence, Eriksson signed a two-year contract with Skelleftea of the Elitserien (Swedish Elite League) one of the best professional Leagues in the world.
“We signed with Skelleftea because they showed a lot of interest in me and it felt very good when I was here (on my visit, before I signed),” he said.
So this is where it gets tricky. How close is he to turning pro? When is he going to be a Flyer? I know, I know, that’s all everyone wants to know.
Here is the deal. Eriksson and his agent (Joakim Persson) are quite frankly, doing what the Flyers tell him to do. He has signed a two-year deal in the SEL, but, Eriksson has a clause in his contract that he may opt out at any time, if the Flyers, his agent, and he agree on a deal. No questions asked.
“My agent has spoken with the Flyers and they want to see me in the Elitserien here first (before they offer me a contract), it is possible for me to leave for Philadelphia at anytime,” Eriksson said.
“(If/when a contract offer comes from the Flyers) I would want to sign it, it has always been my dream to be the starting goalie on an NHL team.”
The ball is in the Flyers corner, and they’re doing what they said they would do all along – take their time with him.
In talking to people of knowledge in the situation, the Flyers are very high on this kid and do not to want ‘mess it up’ so to speak. They want to take their time. Everyone wants to see what this kid has in North America, but they’re doing the right thing in taking their time with the 20-year old. If he could be the next great goalie between the pipes in Philadelphia, like many people believe, after waiting 28 years, what’s another handful of months?
NOTES: Keep in mind the Flyers have also just resigned Johan Backlund for two seasons and have signed highly touted goalie prospect Sergei Bobrovsky (see story here: http://www.thehockeyguys.net/?p=1101). Although I think Bobrovsky and Eriksson will be more than capable starting goaltenders in the near future, the Flyers are still without a legit starter for this season, and have lots of options. They may sign a veteran and wait for Eriksson/Bobrovsky, resign Michael Leighton and wait for Eriksson/Bobrovsky, acquire a young proven goalie, or even acquire another young, more North American proven goalkeeper. My next article will be all of the Flyers viable options between the pipes.