Plans quickly changed or were clarified with the Felix Sandstrom situation.
A day after it appeared the club's goalie prospect was headed to play in Finland for the 2021-22 season, Sandstrom on Tuesday signed a one-year, two-way, $750,000 contract with the Flyers.
Sandstrom had recently agreed to a one-year contract with TPS Turku to play next season in Liiga (Finland's top pro league), per the league website. If Sandstrom, who was a restricted free agent this offseason, had gone to play in Finland next season, the Flyers still could have retained his NHL rights by extending him a qualifying offer in July, which was likely.
That is no longer the case as Sandstrom will be staying in North America and competing for the net at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.
"We've had ongoing talks with Felix and about the opportunities," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Monday. "Most importantly, he played really well at the end of the season. The most important thing for him is to make sure he's getting No. 1 goaltender ice time and he's doing everything he can to continue his development. The last month was a big step forward for him. We'll just continue to speak and see what the right solution is for him going forward."
Sandstrom was selected by the Flyers in the third round of the 2015 draft. The 24-year-old Swedish native spent a good bit of the 2020-21 season on the Flyers' taxi squad and practicing with the big club.
With the original uncertainty and eventual late start to the AHL season in 2020-21, Sandstrom started the year on loan to Vasterviks IK of the Allsvenskan League in Sweden. He then joined the Phantoms, going 5-3-3 with a 3.19 goals-against average and .903 save percentage through 11 games. He played well over his final six outings with Lehigh Valley, putting up a 3-1-2 record and 1.85 goals-against average.
The decision for Sandstrom to play with the Phantoms next season fuels the competition in Lehigh Valley's net. Last week, the Flyers signed their other Swedish goalie prospect Samuel Ersson to his three-year entry-level contract. Alex Lyon, who has played parts of the last five seasons with the Phantoms, is a pending unrestricted free agent this offseason. At this point, it's uncertain if the 28-year-old will be brought back. The Flyers also have prospects Kirill Ustimenko (signed 2017 third-round pick), Ivan Fedotov (unsigned 2015 seventh-round pick) and Matej Tomek (unsigned 2015 third-round pick) in the system.
Ustimenko missed the 2020-21 season after undergoing surgery on his left hip to repair a torn labrum. The 22-year-old was on the Flyers' 31-man playoff roster in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament last summer.
Sandstrom, who is likely to be exposed in the July 21 NHL expansion draft, Ustimenko and Ersson are expected to battle for playing time with the Phantoms in 2021-22.
"You never can predict ice time," Fletcher said Monday when asked about Sandstrom. "I think there's a strong possibility he would get a lot of ice time, but we have Ustimenko and Ersson and still making a decision on Alex Lyon, so you can't guarantee ice time. The important thing for Felix is that, whether it's here or over there, he gets an opportunity to play."
This offseason, the Flyers have a decision to make for their 2021-22 backup netminder spot and will peruse the free-agent market in doing so. Along with Lyon, 36-year-old veteran Brian Elliott is a pending unrestricted free agent.
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