After decades of searching, the Philadelphia Flyers seemingly found their goaltender last season after calling up top prospect, Carter Hart.
While Hart alone wasn’t enough to save what was a sinking ship most of the year in Philly, he showed flashes of the kind of potential he can have moving forward.
One of the worst kept secrets in the NHL over the years has been the Flyers lackluster history at the goaltending position. While not without some bright spots, overall, goalie has always been a sore spot for the orange and black.
It’s still early, however, from Hart’s growth as a goaltender through juniors to the pro-level, to comparisons with others at the same position, there are plenty of reasons to believe Hart will lead the Flyers in the crease for years to come.
Hart’s Numbers Have Improved at Every Level
Having just turned 21 years old, Hart has already accomplished a lot in his short career, having dominated in juniors before bursting on the NHL scene.
There was once a popular belief that it takes goaltenders a lot longer to grow into their positions when compared to others on the ice. Though, in Hart’s case, he’s improved quickly at every level.
In juniors, playing for the Everett Silvertips, Hart made impressive leaps in performance each season. As the numbers went up, so did the accolades, eventually leading to Hart becoming arguably the best player in the entire WHL.
In his first full-time action at the junior level, the 2014-15 season, Hart posted and impressive .915 save percentage (SV%) and a WHL best 2.29 goals-against average (GAA) in 30 games.
The following year, the 2015-16 season, Hart played 63 games, improving to a .918 SV% while posting a lowered 1.99 GAA. Hart was a WHL All-Star and at the end of the season won the CHL Goaltender of the Year award as well as the Del Wilson Trophy, given to the top goaltender in the entire WHL.
The 2016-17 year, Hart’s second full season with Everett, he finished the year with a .927 SV% and kept a steady 1.99 GAA in 54 games. Hart was once again named a WHL All-Star, finished with the best SV % and GAA in the WHL and won the Del Wilson Trophy for the second straight season.
In Hart’s final junior season, his numbers took their biggest leap. By the end of the 2017-18 season, Hart finished with a remarkable .947 SV% and an equally impressive 1.60 GAA in 41 games. Hart was a WHL All-Star for the third straight year, while also posting the WHL’s best SV% and GAA for the second straight season. Hart was the CHL Goaltender of the Year while also earning the Del Wilson Trophy for the third straight season. If that wasn’t enough, Hart was also the WHL Player of the Year.
From juniors, Hart would move to the AHL where his numbers suffered due to the team playing in front of him along with the time it takes for a young player to get acclimated to the professional game.
In a small sample size, just 18 games, Hart posted a .902 SV% and a 3.05 GAA while at Lehigh Valley.
Despite the numbers, Hart showed enough to earn a call-up to the Flyers quickly. At the NHL level, Hart did what he did for four seasons at the junior level, he responded.
In 31 games last season for the Flyers, Hart made an immediate impact, posting a 16-13-1 mark, with a .917 SV% and a 2.83 GAA.
Hart’s Rookie Season Among Flyers’ Best
Hart’s output in his first season put him in rare company among Flyer goaltenders during their rookie campaigns.
Comparing Hart to other rookie goaltenders in Flyers’ history based on his minutes last season (minimum 30 games), only Doug Favell, Roman Cechmanek and Brian Boucher finished with a better SV% than Hart’s.
Also, each player had some advantages over the 20-year-old Hart, who made a relatively quick jump from his cup of coffee in the AHL to the NHL. This is especially true considering the position he plays.
Favell finished the 1967-68 season with a .931 SV% in 37 games, splitting time with eventual Hall of Famer, Bernie Parent. Playing in the Flyers’ expansion season in the West Division, no doubt helped both Favell and Parent, however. The West Division included five more expansion teams, including the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Oakland Seals. Largely, each team featured expansion draft talent and players who wouldn’t have made the NHL otherwise.
Cechmanek posted a .921 SV% in 2000-01 with the Flyers in 59 games. However, at 29 years old, Cechmanek had already played six seasons of pro hockey with VHK Vsetin, the most successful team in Czech Republic history, before entering the NHL.
Meanwhile, Boucher ended the 1999-00 season with a .918 SV% at 23 years old. Also, before being called up by the Flyers, Boucher received some professional experience in the AHL, playing parts of two seasons (50 GP) with Flyers’ affiliate, the Phantoms.
As far as GAA goes, only Boucher (1.91 GAA), Cechmanek (2.01 GAA), Favell (2.27 GAA) and Sergei Bobrovsky (2.59 GAA) had better rookie seasons than Hart.
Bobrovsky was 22 years old in his rookie season, two years older than Hart in his first season. Also, Bobrovsky had a better defensive core in front of him, featuring the likes of Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle.
Hart’s Numbers Stand Up Against NHL’s Best Rookies
We’ve covered how Hart’s first season numbers compare to other rookie years in Flyers’ history, but how does his rookie year stack up against rookie goaltenders league-wide?
Under the same sample size (minimum 30 games), Hart’s numbers from last season rival some of the best posted by a rookie goaltender in NHL history.
Looking at SV% first, only Niklas Backstrom, Carey Price and Joonas Korpisalo posted a better mark than Hart in their rookie years.
Backstrom finished with a .929 SV% in 41 games for the Minnesota Wild in the 2006-07 season.
Price ended the 2007-08 with the Montreal Canadians with a .920 SV% in 41 games.
Meanwhile, Korpisalo also posted a .920 SV% in 31 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2015-16 season.
The next comparison, GAA, sees only nine players finish ahead of Hart’s rookie numbers:
- Niklas Backstrom – 1.97 GAA
- Steve Mason – 2.29 GAA
- Eddie Lack – 2.41 GAA
- Carey Price – 2.56 GAA
- Sergei Bobrovsky – 2.59 GAA
- Joonas Korpisalo – 2.60 GAA
- James Reimer – 2.60 GAA
- Mike Condon – 2.71 GAA
- Fredrik Norrena – 2.79 GAA
- Carter Hart – 2.83 GAA
Hart’s Skill and Intangibles Make the Difference
Skill obviously goes a long way, however, it’s only one factor in the makeup of an elite goaltender. For Hart, he not only has the skill and technique down, but many intangibles as well.
Hart always seems to find himself in the best position to block a shot, his skating and flawless squaring ability have him ahead of the curve compared to most goaltenders at his age.
One thing that stood out about Hart last year may seem simple on the surface, but it’s invaluable for any hockey team. Hart always seemed to make the saves he should, while also making saves on shots he shouldn’t have a chance at blocking. Almost always under control in the crease along with his knack for making spectacularly athletic saves, helps to build trust from the team in front of him.
Those qualities also go a long way toward building confidence in himself, which is something Hart has never seemed to lack.
All of these things lead to a strong mentality, another strong intangible, which is something former Flyers’ GM Ron Hextall spoke about when Hart was just 17 years old.
“Carter’s got some special qualities. His ability, that’s one thing. But mentally, everything that we talked about, our scouts saw. The mental part of the game, he’s very strong. He’s a real student of the game. He wants to get better, asks a lot of questions.
“Quite honestly, it’s almost hard for me to relay that a 17-year-old understands what he’s got to do to become a pro and hopefully an NHL goalie one day. Typically, kids are 20, 21, 22 before they realize, ‘You know what? I gotta get better.’ He’s impressive.”Source- ‘”Special” Prospect Carter Hart Selfish at Flyers Development Camp, NBCSports 07/20/2016
Hart has shown, with improvements at every level, that he’s capable of being a difference maker and perhaps one key building block that could eventually lead the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup since 1975.
For the first time in many years, the Flyers have found their savior in net.
Sports writer with over 15 years of experience, covering high school to pro sports.
Rec League hockey legend.