Future Flyers Report: What impact will Anthony Stolarz's season-ending injury have on future?

Future Flyers Report: What impact will Anthony Stolarz's season-ending injury have on future?

The Future Flyers Report lives to see another week.

With the AHL regular season now over-- spoiler alert: the Phantoms clinched a playoff berth -- and the CHL and SHL playoffs ongoing, there is still plenty of hockey to discuss.

So before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers' prospects still playing. This week, we'll feature a goalie who suffered a season-ending injury and a pair of Swedes who find themselves in the SHL final.

Anthony Stolarz, G, 23, 6-6/210, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
While the Phantoms clinched their playoff ticket last Wednesday night with a 2-1 shootout win over the Wilkes/Barre-Scranton Penguins, they did so at the expense of Stolarz, who suffered a serious lower-body injury and was seen on crutches after the game.

After Lehigh Valley clinched home ice in the first round last Friday with a comeback 5-4 win over Providence, coach Scott Gordon confirmed Stolarz will miss the postseason and will be out three-to-four months, according to Highland Park Hockey's Tony Androckitis.

With his season over -- one that saw a few call-ups and NHL games -- Stolarz now heads into the summer with several questions to be answered. Since the Flyers re-signed Michal Neuvirth, they now have the option to protect either Neuvirth or Stolarz in the expansion draft, which will take place from June 18-20, but selections will be announced June 21.

Expansion draft aside, there are other questions surrounding Stolarz and the Flyers' goaltending situation in 2017-18. Despite re-signing Neuvirth, Hextall and Steve Mason both did not shut the door on Mason coming back next season last week, though Mason made it clear he's not open to returning if it was another season of platooning in net.

Mason also made it known that he is open to mentoring a young goalie -- such as Stolarz -- and understands the Flyers have a few kids coming up in the ranks; he just doesn't believe platoons work with goaltenders and rightfully pointed to Tampa and St. Louis as examples.

All signs still point to Mason leaving, however. Hextall said he believes Neuvirth will bounce back after a tough 2016-17, and gave pause when asked if he believes Stolarz will be ready for a full-time NHL backup job, leaving the door open for the team signing a short-term veteran backup netminder. There is also the slim possibility Hextall brings back both Mason and Neuvirth, promising Mason the No. 1 job. The answers to these questions will begin with the expansion draft because the Flyers have to protect either Neuvirth or Stolarz. If Neuvirth is unprotected and Vegas drafts him, it would then be likely Hextall tries to re-sign Mason. If Stolarz is unprotected and Vegas drafts him, Stolarz leaves. Then there's the possibility Vegas stays clear of both goalies no matter who's unprotected.

Goaltending will once again provide plenty of entertainment as the offseason approaches. There are several different scenarios that could play out that directly impact Stolarz. For now, though, the 23-year-old will spend the summer rehabbing his lower-body injury.

Stolarz finished 18-9-0 with a 2.92 goals-against average and .911 save percentage and one shutout in 29 games with the Phantoms this season. It was an up-and-down campaign in Lehigh Valley, but he did perform well in an extremely small sample size with the Flyers.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 20, 6-1/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
As expected, Lindblom will be coming to North America full-time for the 2017-18 season, Brynäs IF coach Thomas Berglund confirmed to Swedish newspaper Expressen. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week that Lindblom has "come a long way since his draft year," and hopes the Swede will be here competing for a spot in training camp.

On the ice last week, Lindblom played a major factor into Brynäs IF beating Frölunda, 4-3, in seven games to advance to the SHL final, which began Sunday with HV71. Lindblom picked up two assists in Brynäs' 6-0, Game 6 win over Frolunda last Wednesday. He had a goal in Brynäs' 5-2 loss in Game 1 of the final against HV71 on Sunday.

But it was his performance in Game 7 on Saturday that stood out most, as he registered two goals and an assist in Brynäs' 3-1 series-clinching victory. He helped Brynäs take a 1-0 lead in the opening minute, throwing a shot off Frölunda goalie Johan Gustafsson's pads, leaving a rebound for Juuso Ikonen to put in. He then scored his first of the game, backhanding a rebound past Gustafsson to put Brynäs up, 2-0. With Brynäs up, 2-1, Lindblom capped off his game with a wicked wrister past Gustafsson to secure the win for Brynäs.

It was the type of effort Brynäs has come to expect from Lindblom this season. The winger has consistently been the team's best player and one of the SHL's top players all season long.

"A fantastic player who has had a grim development this year," Berglund told Expressen. "I've never seen a player who had such a development. He really has gone from strength to strength, both as a player and as a person."

Felix Sandstrom, G, 20, 6-2/187, Brynäs IF (SHL)
Sandstrom deserves just as much credit for Brynäs IF's advancing to the SHL final as Lindblom does, as the goaltender came up with two enormous performances in goal in Games 6 and 7 to help Brynäs come back from down, 3-2, to win the series, 4-3. Let's highlight his Game 7 performance, an effort that saw Sandstrom turn away 37 of 38 shots in a high-pressure situation. He consistently answered the bell, positioned himself well and didn't bend in a win-or-go-home game. His lone blemish saw a puck bounce off his own defenseman. An incredibly impressive performance for a 20-year-old in that situation, especially considering he pitched a 32-save shutout in Game 6 down 3-2 in the series.

Carter Hart, G, 18, 6-1/181, Everett (WHL)
Hart will get a taste of professional postseason hockey … at least as a backup. Hart joined the Phantoms on Sunday, according to The Everett Herald's Jesse Geleynse, on an amateur tryout contract (ATO). He will back up Alex Lyon in the postseason. It's unlikely he will play, however. With Hart's season coming to an end after Everett was swept by Seattle in the second round of the WHL playoffs, Hart was free to Lehigh Valley on the ATO. Hart finished the 2016-17 season 32-11-6 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .927 save percentage with nine shutouts. He led the WHL in GAA, save percentage and shutouts. He was named the WHL Western Conference Goaltender of the Year. He was one of two WHL goalies on Team Canada during the world junior championships.

Quick hits
Philippe Myers was pointless in three games for Rouyn-Noranda last week. The Huskies were 1-2 in Games 3, 4 and 5 against Chicoutimi. They face elimination Monday in Game 6.

• Saint John swept Val-d'Or in its second-round series and is now 8-0 in the postseason. Samuel Dove-McFalls had an assist in both Games 3 and 4 and a goal and two assists in four games vs. the Foreurs. His team will face either Rouyn-Noranda or Chicoutimi in the semifinals.

Carsen Twarynski picked up a goal in Kelowna's 7-2 win over Portland last Wednesday. He was suspended for the Rockets' 6-2 win in Game 5 Friday. Kelowna faces Seattle next.

Mark Friedman made his professional debut in the Phantoms' regular-season finale Saturday night. Friedman registered an assist and finished as a plus-3 in Lehigh Valley's 4-1 win over Binghamton that clinched the Phantoms 101 points on the season.

• The Phantoms will face the Hershey Bears in the first round beginning Friday night. This is the first 100-point season for Lehigh Valley during the 76-game season era. The last time the Phantoms had a 100-point season was 2004-05 when they won the Calder Cup.

Travis Sanheim played a key role in Lehigh Valley's comeback win last Wednesday against Providence that clinched the Phantoms' playoff berth, picking up two assists.

Report: Flyers sign 2015 draft pick Mikhail Vorobyov to entry-level contract

Report: Flyers sign 2015 draft pick Mikhail Vorobyov to entry-level contract

It appears another prospect has signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers.

Mikhail Vorobyov has now done so, according to a report by TVA Sports' Renaud Lavoie on Tuesday night. Fellow prospect Connor Bunnaman signed last Friday.

Vorobyov, a 20-year-old center selected by the Flyers in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, played in the KHL for parts of the past seasons. With Salavat Yulaev, the 6-foot-2, 207-pounder had three goals and eight assists in 44 games this season.

Vorobyov was on the final year of his KHL deal.

Playing for his native Russia in the World Junior Championships, Vorobyov opened eyes with 10 assists and a plus-6 rating in seven games.

At 20 years old, he's more than likely headed for AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley in 2017-18.

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 1 of the forwards

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 1 of the forwards

We continue our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with the third part of a four-part series. You can find our goaltending review here and defensemen review here.

The core forward group for the Flyers -- Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek -- has been together for six seasons now.

It's sad to say, but it hasn't accomplished anything of significance during that time.

So when fans ask whether it's time to break that core up after a third non-playoff season in five years, it's a legitimate question.

And it's one that general manager Ron Hextall admits he has to think about this summer.

"Pro sports is all about proving yourself year after year," Hextall said recently. "Every one of our players has to prove themselves next year. Will it stay together? I don't know. If we'd have won a couple rounds of playoffs there's obviously a better chance of them staying together.

"Does that mean it's not going to stay together? I don't know what's going to come our way. Am I happy with the team? No. I'm not. How can you be, right? We missed the playoffs and, again, we were capable. I don't know one way or the other whether there's going to be change."

Hextall admitted he was not satisfied with the leadership group, which includes the players above, headed by Giroux, the team's captain.
 
"It's much harder to lead when you're not having a great year because you get a little bit more consumed with your own play because first and foremost you have to perform," Hextall said. "So it does take away. They do tie together.
 
"With G, yeah, there's a little bit of that that happened this year. I'm not singling him out because first and foremost he has to play well for us. He got frustrated by his level of performance. It was up and down. Our leadership can be better, for sure. Again, that's not G, that's our whole group."
 
Here is our look at the forwards (alphabetically) this past season, minus Mike Vecchione, who wasn't here long enough. We will split this up into two parts.
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Age: Turned 32 on March 6
Stats: 82 GP; 4G, 4A, 8 Pts.; minus-1; 12:58
Cap hit: $1.45 million

A tireless worker on the fourth line and penalty kill, Bellemare was rewarded with a new deal that doubles his salary for next season and was given Mark Streit's "A" when the veteran defenseman was dealt at the trade deadline. Like his teammates, there was a drop-off in offensive production. Yet what is troubling is that his effectiveness with Chris VandeVelde on the PK is gone. They routinely generated a shorthanded scoring chance every night and that wasn't the case this season. The PK -- as a group -- was horrendous. If Vecchione makes the roster in the fall, Bellemare is expected to move to left wing permanently.
 
Nick Cousins
Age: Turns 24 on June 20
Stats: 60 GP; 6G, 10A, 16 Pts.; minus-6; 12:00
Cap hit: $840,000

A feisty player with good hockey sense but average speed and hands. Cousins' enthusiasm makes him the kind of role player you can use on any line, which is exactly how coach Dave Hakstol employed him this season. What Cousins has to watch out for now is that the Flyers have quicker, more skilled forwards coming in the next two seasons. And while his ice time was up two minutes over last season, it nose-dived this year in the second half after he was averaging 15 minutes in February. He's the kind of grit player who accepts his role without complaint that Vegas might find attractive in the expansion draft.

Sean Couturier
Age: Turns 25 on Dec. 7
Stats: 66 GP; 14G, 20A, 34 Pts.; plus-12; 18:26
Cap hit: $4.33 million

It's become redundant at this point to say "Coots" should be more offensive-minded. The waiting game is over. When the Flyers drafted him in 2011, the expectation was that they were getting a bona fide 20-25 goal-per-season player who would challenge for the Selke Trophy because of his all-around defensive play. The second half of that prophecy occurred, but the first half has been put to bed. Couturier will never be an offensive centerman and the only thing the Flyers can do now is either trade him or live with it. Yet $4 million is a lot of money for a guy whose goal production is 15 -- at best. That said, his line with Dale Weise and Schenn came alive when Valtteri Filppula arrived because it created better matchups for the Flyers. Also, Couturier was the only Flyer who significantly went from being a minus to finish as a team-high plus-12.
 
Valtteri Filppula
Age: Turned 33 on March 20
Stats: 20 GP; 5G, 3A, 8 Pts.; minus-2; 17:07
Cap hit: $5.0 million

There's still some good tread left on this Finnish centerman's tires. A lot of people had a hard time understanding this move, but Hextall made a convincing argument that Filppula's presence in the middle would create better road matchups that would benefit Giroux and Couturier, and the evidence was there for the choosing in the final weeks of the season. Filppula buys time for the Flyers to get a young center out of the minors or Europe -- perhaps German Rubtsov -- with a steep one-year price but the Flyers were looking short term here and he fits the bill, even though the days of him scoring 20 goals are over. His line with Jordan Weal and Simmonds was excellent. Given his no-movement clause, Filppula has to be protected in the expansion draft.
 
Claude Giroux
Age: Turns 30 on Jan. 12
Stats: 82 GP; 14G, 44A, 58 Pts.; minus-15; 19:07
Cap hit: $8.275 million

Giroux's offseason abdominal and hip surgeries -- much like Shayne Gostisbehere -- ruined his season. He wasn't able to move the way he should. He had no burst of speed, no recovery speed. He made a calculated mistake not admitting his injury held him back until March and allowed himself to become a target of the fans' wrath when he should have been honest up front. Hextall admitted he expected better leadership from Giroux. Some point to Simmonds as the de facto captain. Yet Giroux cares deeply about this team. He was embarrassed at being a minus player this season, too. It's a legit concern that his offensive production has dropped off a cliff since 2011-12, but his salary makes it virtually impossible to trade him in a salary cap world. And there is no indication that Hextall has even considered moving him. Giroux went the entire season without a set line. In fact, Hakstol used him on eight lines. You can't have your No. 1 center playing with that many different linemates. Giroux needs to settle in with steady wingers.

Travis Konecny
Age: Turned 20 on March 11
Stats: 70 GP; 11G, 17A, 28 Pts.; minus-2; 14:05
Cap hit: $894,167

Konecny was Hakstol's personal whipping boy this season, perhaps more so than Gostisbehere. For a coach who staked his reputation on handling young players well and having genuine rapport, this was the complete opposite of what you'd expect. Hextall defended Hakstol in being tough on Konecny because it was about the larger issue of turnovers that were killing the club and skilled players such as Konecny were making too many of them. Give the kid credit. He came through without being terribly scarred and should be even more mindful of what he's doing with the puck next season. Konecny had the talent to score 15 or 20 goals this year regardless, so 11 goals represent a letdown. Yet you see the promise in the kid even if you're not quite sure where he belongs. He was on four different units in the second half of the season. Konecny took 133 shots but had 50 missed attempts. He has much better accuracy than that.
 
Roman Lyubimov
Age: Turned 25 on Jan. 6
Stats: 47 GP; 4G, 2A, 6 Pts.; minus-2; 9:34
Cap hit: RFA who earned $925,000

Whatever it was that impressed the coaching staff in training camp about this Russian import -- perhaps the fact he plays a heavy game -- it wore off quickly with Hakstol. He sat 12 straight games after late February and didn't even dress for the season finale against Carolina. He was slotted on the fourth line and that's where he played when given a chance. Despite good size, the Flyers likely feel they have a quicker, more versatile player in Vecchione, who was signed out of college in April. If the club re-signs him, Lyubimov goes to the Phantoms. If not, he likely goes back to Russia.
 
Michael Raffl
Age: Turns 29 on Dec. 1
Stats: 52 GP; 8G, 3A, 11 Pts.; minus-7; 13:15
Cap hit: $2.35 million

A bad MCL sprain to his left knee suffered against Colorado on Feb. 28 put a premature end to Raffl's season. Interestingly, he could have returned in early April but the club chose to keep him on injured reserve until season's end. What has to be answered, however, is what happened to Raffl offensively from the midpoint of the season -- Game 41 on Jan. 7 -- until he was injured. Over those next 21 games, Raffl didn't have a single point. Then his season ended. Recall, he had 21 goals three years ago in 67 games. Raffl gets a pass because he was just one of many players who had a terrible year. His gung-ho attitude and aggressive nature on the ice sets him apart from others in the dressing room. He could be exposed in the expansion draft and he's one versatile European player who can play anywhere in the lineup, so it wouldn't surprise anyone if Vegas chose him.

Our series concludes Wednesday with our second part examining the forwards.