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For Flyers, under-the-radar signing could be a big deal

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Chuck Fletcher Philadelphia Flyers offseason
Philadelphia Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher has high hopes for promising goaltender Ivan Fedotov, who signed an entry-level contract last week.

We will have several weeks to discuss the NHL draft, and I’m on record as saying I’d take dynamic center Matthew Savoie if he is available when the Philadelphia Flyers make the fifth overall pick on July 7.

But I want to circle back today to the Flyers’ recent signing of 6-foot-7, 205-pound goalie Ivan Fedotov.

It went under the radar, but he could be a more-important player than expected.

General manager Chuck Fletcher has said when training camp rolls around, Fedotov will battle for the No. 2 spot, behind Carter Hart.

And if he is dominating in camp – like he was in Russia’s KHL – well, who knows how many games he could play?

But first things first.

First, Fedotov, who signed a one-year entry-level contract that carries a $925,000 cap hit, must make the team. If he plays like he did for CSKA Moscow in the KHL playoffs — he went 16-6 with a 1.85 GAA and .937 save percentage while leading the team to the championship — that shouldn’t be a problem.

Ah, but getting acclimated to the smaller North American rinks won’t be easy. Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr said there’s another major change in store.

 

More traffic

“In the NHL, there’s a lot more traffic at the net,” Fletcher said. “A lot more throwing pucks at the net and jamming the net. There’s certainly things that goalies have to adapt to, and some do it quicker than others.”

Flahr also talked about “the traffic and style of play” being much different than in the KHL. “Things happen quicker in the NHL,” he said. “If you watch European hockey, a lot of the game is on the perimeter and guys shoot from the outside. Over here, you see the quick plays from down below the goal line to out front, and being able to make those reads and deal with the people in front of you is the adjustment a lot of goalies have to make.”

He noted that some Euro goalies “pick it up quickly. He’s not a 19-year-old kid; he’s played at high levels. He’s played in the Olympics, he’s played in KHL championships. Hopefully, he’ll be a quick study when he comes over here.”

As for Hart, he had an abysmal season in 2020-21 (3.67 GAA, .877 save percentage) and made strides this year (3.16, .905), though he didn’t resemble the confident goalie who played so well in his first two NHL seasons.

Analyzing Hart

“I thought Carter’s season this year was a step-up from last year,” Fletcher said. “At five-on-five he was, I think, 20th in the league in terms of numbers and effectiveness.”

Among goalies who played at least 30 games , Hart had the 24th-best save percentage at five-on-five (.917) and the 28th-best goals-against average (2.71) in those situations, according to naturalstattrick.com.

“Like the rest of our team, everybody struggled on the PK,” Fletcher said. “I think the PK numbers probably drove his number down a little bit, but five-on-five, he did a good job.”

Well, not really. His numbers are far below average. Expectations need to be much higher for a goalie who excelled on the junior level and was very good in his first two NHL seasons.

“He gave us a chance to win games early in the year,” Fletcher said. “He’s 23 years old and there’s not many 23-year-old goalies who are No. 1 goalies in the National Hockey League right now. Yet, he’s going into his fourth full pro season. Typically for goaltenders it’s 25, 26 when they truly hit their prime. To me, he’s on track. He’s playing well and I’m excited for what the future holds.”

Pushing Hart

The hope is that Fedotov – and perhaps someone else – will push Hart and make him better, make him more dialed in.

“He can compete for the No. 2 job,” Fletcher said of Fedotov. “He’s coming off a remarkable playoff run and was good in the Olympics. He’s 25 … he’s right at that age where he’s put his time in. He’s developed, and he’s ready to go. Like every goalie coming over from the bigger ice surface, sometimes there’s a little bit of adjustment with angles.

“In terms of ability,” Fletcher added, “we think he’s ready to challenge for an important role.”

Flahr said Fedotov has “steadily gotten better and better over the years” since then-GM Ron Hextall drafted him in the seventh round in 2015. “His last couple seasons have been solid, and this year he took it to another level, and he was obviously a huge reason why they won the championship there.”

Can he continue his progression in the NHL and give Hart some healthy and much-needed competition?

Stay tuned.

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