While not necessarily having much of an impact at the NHL level, it was announced Thursday afternoon that The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will be without Kirill Ustimenko for the upcoming season. The 21 year-old from Belarus sustained a torn labrum and has since had surgery on his hip. His timetable sits at four to five months. Because of the shortened season, that means he will likely miss the entire year.
While Ustimenko was seemingly set to split time in Lehigh Valley with Alex Lyon, new return-to-play rules appeared to crown him the starter, with Alex Lyon being on the taxi squad. The Phantoms are now short a goalie, and subsequent moves have been made to bring one of their own back into the fold. Ustimenko’s injury has had a bit of a ripple effect in the short amount of time that it’s been publicly known.
Felix Sandstrom Re-Called
Kirill Ustimenko had already been re-called from his loan to HK Gomel in Belarus before his surgery. Now that he likely won’t be participating in the 2020/21 season, the Flyers have brought back goalie Felix Sandstrom from his loan to Västerviks IK of the Hockey Allsvenskan league. According to Chuck Fletcher’s press conference Thursday, Sandstrom has been back in North American for some time now.
Sandstrom has a chance to right the ship this season with Lehigh Valley. Last year was spent with the Reading Royals of the ECHL and Sandstrom didn’t necessarily have the strongest showing. He had a 13-11-1 record in 25 games with a .885 save percentage and 3.27 goals against average. Ustimenko outperformed Sandstrom by a solid margin. With Sandstrom appearing to be the starter in Lehigh Valley, for now, he has a chance to regain his form prior to the 2019/20 season. It will be a big ask, but certainly not out of the question for the 2015 third round pick.
Phantoms Need a Goalie
Long-time Phantoms starter Alex Lyon is now a part of the taxi squad, basically playing as a reserve for the Flyers. That leaves Felix Sandstrom as the lone goalie on the Phantoms currently. The Flyers will likely have to go out and sign a free agent goaltender to fill in for Ustimenko while rehabbing his injury. The Phantoms require three goalies, Alex Lyon being one of them, so the backup role is seemingly open.
Options are few and far between for the Phantoms. A veteran goalie would make the most sense, being able to help Sandstrom along in his development. Names like Cory Schneider and Jimmy Howard are still available, but at what cost? If the Flyers could go out and nab one of those two, it would provide a solid veteran to accompany Sandstrom in net for Lehigh Valley.
Ustimenko’s injury comes at a time where the Flyers can ill-afford to lose anyone. With the shortened season beginning January 13th, the Flyers need as many hands on deck as possible. Going out and signing a goalie to pair with Sandstrom is likely next on their to-do list, but it will likely be a one-year deal.
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