Entering this past season, the Flyers incredibly shallow prospect pool had a few bright spots. One of those bright spots was, believe it or not, in goal. They had former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League MVP Nic Riopel, highly touted undrafted free agent Sergei Bobrovsky coming over from Russia, and the organization's #1 prospect Joacim Eriksson making the jump to Sweden's top professional league all in the system. In addition, they had 2009 third round pick Adam Morrison in the WHL.
By the end of the season, Sergei Bobrovsky was the Flyers' starting goalie while 2006 fourth round pick Jakub Kovar started all 52 games for his Czech League team, recording a 0.924 save percentage. Undrafted free agent Brian Stewart found success in the ECHL, while Nic Riopel had an up-and-down season, also in the ECHL. In all, the Flyers had Bobrovsky, Eriksson, Riopel, Stewart, Morrison, and Kovar, only one of whom had a contract for next season. Decisions would have to be made, but #1 prospect Eriksson seemed safe to receive a contract.
Apparently, the Flyers have decided Eriksson wasn't worth it. According to Hockey's Future, Joacim Eriksson was the Flyers best prospect in an organization that ranked 28th out of 30 NHL teams in prospect strength. Yet the Flyers opted not to tender him. This obviously doesn't make much sense. We aren't talking about trading a top prospect for cap space or for a roster player who can win now, or even for another draft pick. No, the Flyers decided that their best prospect wasn't worthy of even a contract.
The explanation offered by GM Paul Holmgren today, via CSNPhilly's Tim Panaccio, wasn't much consolation. "You only get two years and they need to develop the way it should be," Holmgren said. "That’s part of the process sometimes. Is it great? No. It’s the nature of the business right now."
What's missing from this explanation, of course, is the progress made by Eriksson last year, his final season in the Swedish Minor Leagues. When he was looking to make the jump to the Elitserien, he received a lot of interest from around the League, with as many as six different teams contacting him. After the Flyers suggested he play in the Elitserien, he decided to think about his choice before turning Brynäs down and choosing Skellefteå.
It may have been a bad choice. Eriksson only played in 17 games for Skellefteå this year, finishing 14th in the league with a 0.907 save percentage. But Eriksson made the jump and held his own. He didn't play much, nor did he have great success, but he progressed. For a #1 prospect, he did what was asked. Being the 14th best goalie in the top league in Sweden at age 20 wasn't enough though.
Now, the Flyers did sign free agent goalie Niko Hovinen last month, who found success in the top league in Finland this past year. The difference is that Hovinen has gone from a 0.895 save percentage in his SM-Liga debut three years ago to 0.913, prior to this year's 0.921 save percentage. That looks impressive, but it was 10th best in the league. The Flyers have apparently chosen the older, taller Hovinen over the younger, more athletic Eriksson, as Paul Holmgren alluded to.
But it didn't have to be a choice between the two. Neither goalie would have migrated to North America this summer, and neither goalie would have gotten much playing time even if they had. The organization currently has Bobrovsky, Michael Leighton, and Johan Backlund all on one-way deals next year. Obviously, not all of them are guaranteed to return, but the assumption is that two of those three will be getting 55 or more starts in the organization.
So rather than retain the services of their best prospect, in a position of need, the team passed. It is difficult to come up with explanations for why, as the team had room on their 50-man contract limit. They could have instead decided - rightfully so - that Adam Morrison wasn't worth an NHL contract. Or that Brian Stewart was redundant in an organization with Hovinen. Or even that Nic Riopel hadn't proven enough as a professional to warrant another contract. They may still decide all those things, but deciding not to sign Eriksson is difficult to rationalize.
Now, it may be true that Eriksson never makes the NHL, that he doesn't get drafted in this year's NHL Entry Draft, or even that he was never good enough to warrant a #1 prospect ranking in the first place. Even in that scenario, for an organization that has seen Jeremy Duchesne, Michael Lee-Teslak, Martin Houle, Rejean Beauchemin, Scott Munroe, and others wallow in their minor leagues for years just this decade, saying that Eriksson wasn't as worth the risk as those goalies is quite the bold statement.
The Flyers, frankly, aren't in a position to be letting their #1 prospects walk for nothing. Especially when they are 20 year old goalies fighting for playing time in a highly competitive league. Then saying he didn't develop enough.