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Future of Flyers Goaltending in Good Hands With Carson Bjarnason

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Carson Bjarnason

They say that when one door closes, another door opens. Such is life with Philadelphia Flyers goaltending and the team’s 2023 second-round pick, Brandon Wheat Kings goaltender Carson Bjarnason.

The Flyers raised eyebrows when they drafted Bjarnason and fellow teenage goalie prospect Yegor Zavragin with two of their higher picks in the 2023 NHL Draft. In fact, the organization made the Wheat Kings netminder a top priority, evidenced by their trading up via the Chicago Blackhawks to make it happen. Adam Gajan, Michael Hrabal, and Trey Augustine were all taken within the first 10 picks of the second round, so the Philadelphia brain trust went and got their guy.

But Bjarnason wasn’t always destined to be a top draft pick in the NHL. In fact, the Flyers prospect’s pro journey was almost over before it started. Standing at just 5-foot-9 and having been passed over entirely in the WHL Draft, Bjarnason got his break thanks partly to his longtime goaltending coach, Tyler Plante.

Humble beginnings in Brandon

With his first draft experience gone awry, it was up to Bjarnason to work hard and fight his way onto a team. In Brandon, Manitoba – 30 miles west of Bjarnason’s native Carberry – Plante stayed prepared for the chance his protégée took the leaps necessary to reach the next level.

“He had been coming [my hockey school] for years, and I’d always kind of known about him. Two kids that came back every year, and they were both from the Carberry area; one was Carson Bjarnason, and the other was Gavin Renwick,” Plante explained. “These two kids, they would battle, and they would work hard, they would compete, and every year we’re like, ‘Oh, jeez! Flip a coin!’ who do you give the hardest worker to, right? I always liked putting them together because they worked their butts off all the time, never gave you a shred of attitude, small-town mentality guys – meat-and-potato and always worked hard. The closer we got to the Western League, I think that Barney took a step, and he grew, to be fair. He grew and got big and that seems to be pretty relevant in the game of goaltending right now, that big stature.”

Size is only half the battle, of course. For the Flyers prospect, it came down to how he used it and how that translated to the next level of competition.

“I noticed that he really shot up, and I was actually sending videos to our GM at the time. We had gone through the draft process, and I kind of pushed him. . . the year leading up to his draft year wasn’t amazing. Like he was OK, but he had grown a lot, and he’s always had those components, the work ethic, the attitude, the character – I’ve always liked that about him,” Plante added. “When the growth happened, and I saw him after the [WHL] draft, I said, ‘Jeez, this guy’s really sprouted up.’ I was taking videos secretly and sending them to our general manager at the time, who was Darren Ritchie.”

“I’m sending this video comping [Bjarnason’s] movement to the pro guys, and obviously he was 14 or 15 or whatever, so he wasn’t quite there, but he looked like a miniature version, so after some discussions with Ritch, we got him thrown on our list, and the rest is history.” 

“I was comping him to other guys who were at camp, like a Jiri Patera, who was the same size, if not bigger,” Plante added. “There was a Logan Thompson, who I remember was a big fan of Carson when he was young.”

As Bjarnason would tell it, his growth spurt wasn’t without adjustments. It’s something all players have to go through when they have one, but with goalies, it requires a mental adjustment, too. What angles you can take, how much of the net you take up, and how shallow you should be in the crease all change with growth.

“It’s a bit of a playing style thing, but you also get used to that body after a certain amount of time,” Bjarnason said. “I’ve been growing strength-wise lately, so it’s been good that way.”

Bjarnason’s mental makeup and how it leads to success in the NHL

Hard work and dedication are only part of what it takes to play sports professionally. With that journey comes ups and downs; how a player handles it means everything. In Plante’s eyes, this is what makes elite goaltenders elite. He also knows that Bjarnason is already well-equipped for the challenges ahead.

“When you get Carson, one of the things about him is, almost, his lack of understanding of hockey culture. He’s getting more and more in tune to it as he gets older. The pressure was the pressure he was putting on himself just to get to the next level,” Plante remarked. “I don’t think he looks at the outside pressure too often, from my experience with him. Right now, I just think it’s the pressure he puts on himself because he wants to be the best version of himself every time he’s on the ice.”

Bjarnason, cool as a cucumber in his crease at all times, gives credit to his Carberry roots for his confident, lax demeanor. Carberry, half an hour from Brandon, is home to roughly 2,000 people.

“For me, people underestimate growing up in a small town and being pretty close with everybody you know. It keeps you humble for sure,” he started. “It’s something I’m going to be forever be grateful for. It’s a big part of me and the people there, and especially my parents and my family that helped raise me.”

Bjarnason’s inspiration and play style

The Flyers would be ecstatic to have a goaltender half as good as Carey Price was in his prime. A three-time gold medalist with Canada, Price won the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Vezina Trophy with the Montreal Canadiens in 2015. Price is a player who Bjarnason both looks up to and models his game after.

“If you asked Carson who he modeled his game after growing up, it would be Carey Price,” Plante told Philly Hockey Now. “If I was to comp him to someone – and putting him in the same category as Carey Price – Carey Price is the best to play his style. That’s the type of goaltending Carson seems to try to play like.” 

When I brought Price’s name up to Carson, his face lit up like the moon in the midnight sky.

“To put my name beside his… definitely isn’t even in the same conversation,” Bjarnason exclaimed. “That’s somebody I’ve modeled my game after, somebody I’ve really tried to mold myself around technicality-wise. I still watch all of his old videos.”

Price, unfortunately, hasn’t played in two seasons, and his playing days appear to be over. In the meantime, Bjarnason has been keeping up with the Flyers religiously.

“I’ve watched every [Flyers] game this season, just really picking up on things and making sure I’m watching the live feed,” Bjarnason added. “Erss’s (Sam Ersson) style of play is so calming; he definitely has a different kind of aura to him. The way he carries himself is just super confident, and that’s somebody you definitely would want to lean on as a team.”

“I’ve been watching some Casey DeSmith. Thatcher Demko – just his movement and compete and everything. They’re pros there for a reason. I’m just trying to take everything I can and pull it out from everybody’s game.”

2023 NHL Draft

Bjarnason, who went undrafted in the WHL draft, got his first true taste of the experience at the 2023 NHL Draft. Recalling the nerve-wracking but exciting day, neither he nor Coach Plante, who was at the draft with him, had the slightest idea that Danny Briere and the Flyers would move up and make the pick.

“I had no idea, and when I heard it happen I was really excited for him. I know that Brady Robinson is [the Flyers’] development goaltending coach, and I’d worked with him as a child through him and Ian Clark,” Plante said. “I was really excited for Barney because I knew that their goalie program is excellent and I thought it was just another opportunity for him to learn and get better from that. It was a really exciting day. I was really glad to be a part of it.” 

Bjarnason also recalled his hectic pre-draft schedule, noting that he had interviewed with nearly every team in the NHL. When that happens, usually, you’re doing something right.

“I really had no idea what was going to happen. I was sitting halfway through the second round; I didn’t know who wanted to take me,” Bjarnason said. “I talked to 28 teams or something at the combine. I do remember the Flyers being one of them. Mark Greig was in there. Ridly, I played with when I was 16, so that was one that really stood out to me in that interview.”

“When the Flyers took me, it was just immediate thoughts of the city; obviously it’s become a hockey town pretty quick. Being able to go there for training camp, it was just spectacular. It was an unbelievable experience.”

Fit with the Flyers and looking towards the future

Before his time to push for the NHL comes, Bjarnason has his sights set on representing another set of colors. That would be Canada, whose roster he was left off of for the 2024 World Junior Championships. The 18-year-old is working tirelessly to ensure that isn’t the case next time.

“It’s definitely something I wanted to work towards this year – something I was hoping to crack,” Bjarnason recalled. “There’s always this year coming up. You want to be the starter there, so that’s the biggest thing.”

Further down the road lies Philadelphia, where the Flyers are the perfect fit.

“You hear the stories about Torts, and you read and everything, and I don’t know him at all, but he seems like he likes lunch pail guys that show up to the rink every day ready to make themselves a better version of themselves,” Plante added. “If that’s the case, then they’ve nailed it with Carson.”

And before Carson got back to business on the ice, he had a special message to be delivered to Flyers fans.

“I’m ready to come. I’m ready to be a Flyer,” Bjarnason said with a huge grin. “I’ve been putting in the work this year to make that debut one day and give [Flyers fans] somebody to look forward to watching every night.”

For more Flyers news and up-to-date coverage, visit Philly Hockey Now and like our Facebook page.
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