Being the first team in NHL history to win 10 consecutive games and miss the playoffs will leave a sour taste in your mouth, but the Philadelphia Flyers must look back on the last 82 games and use them as a guide to the future.
When Anthony Stolarz was first recalled this season, the team and fans got a glimpse into that future. Stolarz went 2-0, kicking the 10-game streak off and then recording a shutout on the road in Detroit for the ninth win of the streak. He was phenomenal for a kid just being called up, but when both Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason got healthy, we wondered whether or not we would see Stolarz for the remainder of the season.
Stolarz was eventually recalled, but for emergency reasons, and still played impactful hockey. In his seven appearances this season, Stolarz had a 2-1-1 record and a .928 save percentage, helping the Flyers pitch two shutouts in the process. Seven games isn’t nearly enough of a same sample size to determine what Stolarz is made of at this level and what his potential ceiling could be.
Dave Hakstol acknowledged that following a shootout loss to the Hurricanes on the final game of the season.
“I think it’s a small sample size,” he said when asked about if Stolarz is ready for a full NHL season. “I’ve seen enough to think that he’s really making nice progress. In terms of answering your question; I think that’s one that needs to be answered over time.”
Hakstol didn’t shy away about Stolarz’s impact and how much he has progressed over the course of the season from the minors to the real deal.
“Well there were a couple times where he showed good presence,” Hakstol continued. “I go back to the game in San Jose coming in after one there and he did an excellent job. So I think that showed a little bit about where he was at in terms of his mental process. He was ready to go, he was confident that night, he went in and he did a good job and his team played hard in front of him and I think we’ve seen a continuation of that every time he’s been in that regardless of the situation whether it was in relief or tonight like he did in a start.”
Speed, physicality, and tougher competition were all topics Stolarz touched on following the shootout loss about how different the game is at the NHL level.
“It’s a lot faster than the American [Hockey] League,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun being here and I’ve just gotta keep working hard, working on my game, and take everything that I’ve seen on video and just bring it back to Allentown for the rest of the year and just continue working on my game this summer.”
“I definitely think the speed here is a lot quicker,” he continued. “The guys here are a lot bigger. You’ve got to fight through traffic a lot harder. For me, it’s just going out there and working as hard as I can to save a puck.”
Stolarz knows there’s going to be a difference from him come next season.
“Definitely confidence,” he said. “Obviously, coming up here and being able to play at this level and kind of show I can hold my own kind of makes me want to go out there and just work that much harder and continue to work on my game and just continue working hard so I can try to earn a spot here next year.”
The young goaltender completely believes he’s going to be a future starter in the league and thinks that Philadelphia is the place for it.
“Of course, I need to get some experience,” Stolarz said. “It’s not going to just be given to me so I have to continue to work hard and work on aspects of my game. It’s obviously a lot different than the American [Hockey] League. I just have to continue to work on little things. Things happen quicker and guys are smarter so I just have to try to keep up with that.”
The Flyers have a huge decision to make in the offseason regarding their future in net. With prospects like Felix Sandstrom, Alex Lyon, and Carter Hart preparing to come up the pipeline and be the future in net and with Neuvirth already under contract for the next two seasons, the Flyers will have to make a decision on what they want to do with Stolarz sooner rather than later.
The obvious sign is to try and protect him from being drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights during the expansion draft and expose Neuvirth, but nothing is quite clear.
With no decision on Mason’s future in Philadelphia being made yet, the Flyers will need to be smart with where they see their team headed and whether or not Stolarz is going to be a big part of it. He’s ready to work towards it and the small sample size shows the progress that has been made.
Stolarz wants to be the future in net for the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s only a matter of time until we find out whether the organization believes the same thing.
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