Finally settled in, Stolarz focused on development


Finally settled in, Stolarz focused on development

VOORHEES, N.J. -- It had been a crazy couple of years for Anthony Stolarz.

Two seasons ago, the now-19-year-old goalie barely made it onto the roster of the NAHL’s Corpus Christi IceRays. His family had to drive from their home in Jackson, N.J., to New York before flying to Dallas where Stolarz eventually made the team.

The following year, he made plans to attend and play for the University of Nebraska Omaha, but after a while of riding the bench, an opportunity arose in London, Ontario, to join the OHL’s Knights.

So, once again, Stolarz hustled to a new city.

Now, finally, he knows exactly where he fits in, and he’s free to focus solely on his development.

“It’s finally nice to be settled in and know where I’m going to be this year,” Stolarz said. “Being settled in, it’s going to be a benefit for me. I’m not going to have to think too much about anything or make any difficult decisions.

“I’ll be in one place all year, so that’s something that will be a change for me -- and it will be very nice.”

The towering netminder (he’s 6-foot-6) will return to London this fall and rejoin the defending OHL-champion Knights, where he finished his first season with a 2.29 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 20 games.

And when he arrives, he said, he’ll be an even stronger player than he was at this time last year.

“I think my patience is something I’ve worked on,” he said. “Rebound control. Those are two things that I worked on with [goalie coach] Jeff Reese this week, and I think from Day 1 when I was here at development camp last year 'til now, it’s tremendously improved.”

That improvement was absolutely on display Monday, when Stolarz teamed up with fellow Flyers goalie prospect Carsen Chubak to help the Flyers' rookies shut out the Washington Capitals' rookies, 1-0, in the teams' annual rookie game.

Stolarz’s family still resides in Jackson, and the ability to spend the summer at home meant he was a mere 45 minutes away from Skate Zone. That proximity allowed Stolarz to work out at the Flyers’ practice facility five days a week and spend time around players like Marc-Andre Bourdon, Nick Cousins, Derek Mathers and Mark Alt, who were also in town.

Talking to players who have been around the organization and have played at the pro level taught him a lot, Stolarz said. But there are still elements of his game that need improvement.

“Definitely just foot speed and beating the pass,” he said. “A big thing we’re working on this week is getting across [the crease] and getting hard pushes and moving around the crease. You look at the guys out here, and it’s definitely a lot faster than what I’m used to.

"For me, it’s just getting used to that pace and making myself quicker during the season and the offseason, to be able to compete at this level.”

When the Flyers drafted Stolarz in 2012 in the second round (45th overall), he was a confident, aggressive 18-year-old. His attitude showed even in his draft interview, when he joked with reporters and was hardly shy like draftees often are. That mindset, too, has improved, Stolarz said.

“In terms of the aggressiveness, I think I’ve calmed down a little bit,” he said. “I’m not as all over the place. A big thing with coach Reese, he’s wanted me to simplify my game and stay back a little more and let the game come to me, and I think I’ve definitely seen improvement with that.”

That said, Stolarz is still confident. He's aware of the pressure he faces, considering where the Flyers selected him, and his eyes are still on the ultimate goalie prize.

“Going in as a second-round pick, I feel that I want to live up to expectations,” he said. “I want to come to Philadelphia and be the No. 1 guy, be the guy.”

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: Which one move is most likely at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?
There has been a lot of chatter about why the Flyers should sell at Wednesday's trade deadline. They won't be buying. Sell is the wrong word here. The Flyers are not selling and changing course. They are not trading Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and starting over. Instead, the next logical step in the rebuild is to shed an expiring contract and open up a spot for a kid.

It just so happens the Flyers have three expiring contracts on defense, and one player comes to mind who would be attractive to contending teams and also paves the way for a defenseman at Lehigh Valley to gain some valuable NHL experience the rest of the season.

That player is Mark Streit, a 39-year-old puck-moving defenseman who can help a team's power play and provide some veteran leadership to boot. Streit has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he has a list of 10 teams he can be traded to, but that should not be a roadblock in moving him. He'll be a free agent on July 1 and a playoff run is far more attractive than wasting away the final two months of the season in mediocrity.

Streit does have a high cap hit ($5.25 million), but the Flyers could retain some of it. He comes off the books on July 1 and a rental for an acquiring team anyway. The cap hit would not be a deal-breaker here. That is an easy hurdle to clear in this situation.

There are valid arguments against trading Streit, and moving, say, Michael Del Zotto, another attractive expiring contract. Streit is a veteran voice in the Flyers' room and respected within the organization. He's still a valuable piece here. In a perfect world, general manager Ron Hextall can shed both Streit and Del Zotto and open up two spots on the blue line, clearing the way for two (2!) Phantoms defensemen to get some experience.

But, trading Streit is the one move I see as most likely to happen before Wednesday's deadline. Acquire a draft pick for Streit and call up Robert Hagg or Sam Morin. In this scenario, the bet here would be on Hagg. And remember, it's not selling, it's the next step.
Before the season, I was a big believer in trading one of the Flyers' goalies at the March 1 deadline.

Now, it makes even more sense in a season that appears to be headed for not much of anything.

Why hold on to two goalies set for unrestricted free agency when you'll almost certainly lose at least one for absolutely nothing this offseason? 

Michal Neuvirth turns 29 next month, as does Steve Mason in May. Both are having down seasons, but are still tradable and capable goalies -- whether it be in a starter's role or backup duty.

Is either goalie the Flyers' future when the team is ready for contention?

The orange and black are stocked with goaltending prospects in Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Stolarz got a small taste of the NHL earlier this season and could more than hold down the second-string fort the rest of 2016-17. When the offseason comes, then you worry about what's next between the pipes.

But right now, one of the most rational decisions for the Flyers at the trade deadline would be moving a goalie. Neuvirth currently carries a more reasonable cap hit at $1.625 million, while Mason is at $4.1 million. Make a tough decision and start prepping more for the road ahead.

I think a trade can and should be done by Wednesday.

Thanks to injury and Dave Hakstol's recent emphasis on defensive structure, Del Zotto hasn't been in the Flyers' lineup much recently. Del Zotto is now healed from the lower-body injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks, so the part about an emphasis on defensive structure is important here when talking about his status with the Flyers.

Del Zotto has never been a defense-first type player. His strength is clearly his offensive ability. But unfortunately for Del Zotto, that's just not what the Flyers need out of their defensemen these days. So it should be no surprise he has slid down Hakstol's depth chart as the need for his role has decreased dramatically. But there are plenty of teams out there, contending ones, too, that could use some offensive punch on the blue line and on the power play. Del Zotto has played in only 30 games this season with four goals and six assists and is a role player these days, but there's a role for him somewhere out there. It's just not in Philadelphia anymore.

His $3.875 million cap hit is a bit steep, but he's a UFA at season's end, so it will come off the books. That should make a team much more willing to take a chance on Del Zotto and his cap in exchange for a draft pick, which Hextall values. Plus, he's not likely to be back here next year anyway, as the Flyers will likely start infusing more of the defensive talent they have in the minors into the big club. So might as well get something for him while you can. Contending teams can never have too much depth and those teams like to build depth through the trade market at this time of year. There's a fit somewhere out there for Del Zotto before the March 1 trade deadline.

Flyers Weekly Observations: More proof to sell at the deadline

Flyers Weekly Observations: More proof to sell at the deadline

Another week of Flyers hockey this season is in the books.

And this mostly unsuccessful week was especially deflating because a playoff berth gets further and further away as the losses keep piling up. Time is running short to keep this season alive.

The Flyers got off to a solid start this week with a 3-2 win late night in Vancouver on Sunday. But they could not keep the momentum going home, as they were overwhelmed by the NHL-best Capitals in a 4-1 defeat on Wednesday. The Flyers played well outdoors in Pittsburgh on Saturday but were still doubled up in a 4-2 loss.

Let's dive deeper into the week that was for the Flyers.

• After the win in Vancouver on Sunday night, you thought maybe that would be a boost for the Flyers as they headed back home. Well, not so much. Instead, this week proved just how far away the Flyers are. They couldn't keep up with the Caps on Wednesday, and while they played better Saturday at Heinz Field, it still wasn't enough. As of early Sunday evening, the Flyers are six points out of the final wild-card berth in the East. Five points don't seem like much, but with as poorly as the Flyers have been playing, especially offensively, and how the handful teams they're contending with for that spot (Florida, Toronto, Boston, N.Y. Islanders, Tampa) are playing much better these days, six points seem like a mountain. All those factors combined should tip the Flyers' scale heavily into sell mode before Wednesday's trade deadline. Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and both Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth are all prime candidates to be moved. There are 21 games left heading into Tuesday's meeting with Colorado. There's time, but with the way this week and recent weeks went, the Flyers shouldn't hesitate to make a move if there's one they like, no matter what the standings look like.

• Let's go back to the Washington game on Wednesday for a moment. The opening sequence of that game was, in a lot of ways, a microcosm of Dale Weise's first season with the Flyers. He made a great hustle play to nullify an icing and help set up Jake Voracek's goal. But he canceled that out with an unnecessary push of Washington goalie Braden Holtby that took Voracek's goal off the board and helped put the momentum right back in the laps of the Capitals. The good plays Weise has made this season have been greatly outweighed by his mistakes. Weise has two goals this season, both scored in the state of Florida on back-to-back nights in November.

• Sticking with the Capitals game Wednesday, there was a sequence late in the second period of that game that stuck out to me when the score was 2-1 in favor of Washington. As a fruitless Flyers' power play wound down, Matt Read controlled the puck along the half-wall. Instead of trying to get the puck toward the net, he carried the puck into heavy traffic behind the Washington net. The Caps eventually won the battle along the boards and skated out of the zone with the puck. Moments later, Evgeny Kuznetsov put the puck toward the net. It hit the stick of Radko Gudas and pinballed past Michal Neuvirth to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. Proof that sending the puck toward the net is almost never a bad play.

• Love the goal Voracek scored outdoors in the second period Saturday night. He controlled the puck behind the net, shook a Pens defenseman, cut to the front of the net and extended to slide the puck past Matt Murray and give the Flyers some life at 2-1. It was a classic power move. Voracek can be deceptively strong and quick, so he's capable of scoring in that manner. If not for Weise's goalie interference Wednesday, Voracek would be on a three-game goal-scoring streak.

• Saturday night's effort in Pittsburgh was all too similar to what we've become accustomed to lately. A fine performance with some encouraging aspects, but not enough to get over the hump as a mistake or two winds up costly. The Flyers outshot the Pens, 38-29, but Matt Cullen's stuff-in that made it 3-1 really hurt. But the Flyers still had life after Shayne Gostisbehere scored to make it 3-2. But Chad Ruhwedel added the backbreaker for the Pens minutes later. Neuvirth has played well recently and earned the Stadium Series start, but Saturday was not a good showing for him. Wouldn't be surprised at all to see Steve Mason back in net Tuesday against Colorado.

• It's got to be nice for the Flyers to see Ghost snap his 34-game goalless drought with that power-play goal Saturday. And it's got to be nice for Ghost to get that monkey off his back. The Flyers desperately need his offense, and in an effort to change things up, Dave Hakstol and staff had Ghost move back and forth from the half-wall to the point on the power play. Gostisbehere has struggled to hit the net this season, but the Flyers desperately need his offensive touch, so he needs to keep shooting. It's like they say in basketball -- shooters shoot. That's what they do.

• I get hot and cold on the concept of outdoor games. Loved it when the league first introduced them with the Winter Classic and held one a year. But I get cold on them when there are more than one or two a year. The league can oversaturate a really cool thing and take away the games' luster. That one year they had a Winter Classic and then outdoor games in New York (twice), L.A. and Chicago was just ridiculous. But Saturday night's game in Pittsburgh looked awesome. The set-up, the rivalry, playing at night … everything about it was great. Just keep them to one or two a year and don’t ruin them.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Colorado (7 p.m./CSN), Thursday vs. Florida (7 p.m./CSN), Saturday at Washington (7:30 p.m./CSN)