Flyers left winger James van Riemsdyk says Carter Hart reminds him of his former Toronto teammate, Auston Matthews.
No, Hart, the Flyers’ on-the-rise goaltender, hasn’t suddenly developed the dazzling offensive skills that Matthews possesses.
But he does have the same driven attitude.
“The thing with Hartsy, I think he is so mature beyond his years,” van Riemsdyk said after a training-camp session last week. “I kind of compare him to Auston Matthews in this way. As good as he is and as good as he was coming into the league, he is not satisfied. As much success as he has had so far, he wants to be the best player in the league. He is always thinking about ways he can get better and things he can improve on.”
That drive, coupled with his instincts, talent, and unflappable nature, has the 22-year-old Hart on a path toward becoming an elite NHL goaltender.
Becoming one of the league’s best “is his goal. It is also our goal as an organization,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “He is very demanding on himself and really pushes himself on and off the ice and the mental preparation that goes into that position.”
“I want to be able to give our team a chance to win every night,” said the soft-spoken Hart, who did that in most games last season. “I don’t want to just be another NHL player. I want to be the best and I want to be the best NHL goaltender.”
Vigneault believes Hart can join the league’s elite. So does goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh.
“He will have an opportunity to prove it,” Vigneault said. “We need him to prove it. If we are going to be a Stanley Cup contending team, we are no different than anyone else, we need top goaltending, elite goaltending, and we think Carter can do that for us.”
To be considered a top-tier goalie, however, Hart needs to show he can excel on the road. He was a disaster in road games last season: a 4-10-1 record with a 3.81 goals-against average and an .857 save percentage.
At home, he was 20-3-2 with a 1.63 GAA and a .943 save percentage.
That said, he was very good in the postseason, during which all games were played in the “bubble” in Toronto.
Hart, who plays for an organization that has been a goalie graveyard for most of its history, is “confident in his process and I think that sets you up to have success for a long time,” van Riemsdyk said, “and that sets you up to overcome adversity and things like that. It’s been impressive to watch him go about his business and watch him grow as a player and a person. The sky is the limit for him.”
A Flyers icon named Bernie Parent agrees.
“They’re going to win a Cup with him,” said Parent, a Hall of Fame goaltender who said there’s “no ceiling” for Hart. “He’s a heck of a goalie. He’s smart, and I like the combination with [Brian] Elliott. It’s like the combination we had when I was in Toronto. [Jacques] Plante was about 15 years older than me, and Hart and Elliott have, what, a 10- or 11-year difference [actually, 13]. So you help each other and there’s no competition and it’s very effective.
“Instead of competing, you’re working together.”
In the offseason, Hart rested and recovered for a while at his home near Edmonton, then started an ambitious training schedule with his personal goalie coach, Dustin Schwartz, and his trainer, Phil Daly.
So the shortened training camp shouldn’t be a deterrent, and he hopes to be his sharp self when the season starts Wednesday against visiting Pittsburgh.
It will be Hart’s first game since the Flyers’ playoff run ended with a 4-0 Game 7 loss to the New York Islanders on Sept. 5. Hart then took a rest from a long, pandemic-interrupted schedule, his first full season in the NHL.
“We knew it was going to be a condensed schedule this year,” he said after first day of training camp. “That’s why I didn’t touch the ice until November third. So, I took about almost two months off the ice. I made a decision with my goalie coach [Dillabaugh] here that it was best I take a little bit more time off the ice to get my body some more rest.”
He now feels mentally and physically ready to handle the majority of the workload during a 2021 season in which the Flyers will play 56 games in 116 days.
“Obviously, it is always important, but I think now more than ever, taking care of your body off the ice is going to be more crucial in a shortened season,” said Hart, who had a 2.42 goals-against average (sixth-best among goalies with at least 30 games) and a .914 save percentage last season and was even better in the playoffs (2.23, .926).
Hart’s offseason included a lot of on- and off-ice workouts until COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta caused him to travel to the Philadelphia area.
“But for the most part, we were able to get done what we wanted to accomplish. I thought it was a really good offseason,” he said. “I was with [goalie] Tristan Jarry, with the Penguins, I know he’s a rival and we’ll be seeing him [Wednesday] here. Seeing a lot of them this year. But me and him got a lot of work done this year and I feel good and I feel ready.”
While working with Schwartz, Hart said, the two of them looked at some things they wanted to “tidy up a little bit. The one thing for me was just playing with different depths in the crease and seeing if I can manage different depths in the crease in different scenarios. … Just working on a lot of different scenarios and situations that maybe I can gain a little bit of ice here. It’s something we played with a little bit this offseason and something I will continue to play with.”
Hart is excited about the season and the new-look East Division.
“I know we have a good division with good competition, but we are in the Metro every year, and we always have good competition,” Hart said. “It is nothing that we’re not used to or familiar with. I think with the scheduling and how we are playing each team eight times, it is going to create some competition and maybe some bitterness between teams. It is going to be fun.”