Realistically, Carter Hart, the teenage goalie whom some view as the Flyers' future cornerstone, is two years away from making it to the NHL.
By then, he'll be 21, but perhaps more mature, mentally, than many seasoned veterans.
Hart, you see, has been working with a sports psychologist since he was in grammar school in Alberta. He stops shots partly because of his great reflexes and athletic ability, but he thinks a sports psychologist has made him more focused, more calm, in the nets.
"I'd probably say about 90 percent of it is mental," Hart said recently about playing the game's most important position. "Confidence is everything. Everything is between your ears."
Hart, named the Canadian Hockey's League's top goaltender the last two seasons and owner of some jaw-dropping statistics, attributes a lot of his success to John Stevenson, a sports psychologist who has worked with many pro athletes, including Braden Holtby, the gifted goaltender who helped Washington win its first Stanley Cup earlier this month.
Stevenson "was my first goalie coach when I was 10 years old," said Hart, who will be one of the marquee prospects on display when the Flyers open their development camp in Voorhees on Thursday. "He doesn't do that part of the game anymore. He just does work with the mental side. He's a psychologist, and I've worked with him for a number of years. He's helped me a ton, and I wouldn't be where I am without his help. …
"He's helped me not only through hockey, but life as well. I've learned a lot from him. He's not only just my sports psychologist, but he's a good friend of mine, so I can talk to him about pretty much anything, which is really nice to have. You can talk to your parents pretty much about anything, but there are some things you can't tell your parents."
Hart, whose goalie coach in the Western Hockey League says he reminds him of (gulp) Carey Price because of his mobility, said he started using Stevenson as a sports psychologist when he was 11 or 12.
At that time, Stevenson was also his goalie mentor.
"But as I got older, the sports psychology became more intense," Hart said. "I mean, when I was younger, it was more basic, but as I got older and understood more things and had more experiences, there's been different things he's taught me and I've learned a lot."
During the season, while playing for the WHL's Everett Silvertips in Washington, about 30 miles north of Seattle, Hart tried to call the Edmonton-based Stevenson at least once a week to check in and fine-tune his mental approach to hockey.
"There's a lot of people who have helped me over the years," Hart said. "Back home, I have a good team of people who I can lean on. They've really helped me become who I am, and I'm really lucky to have those people. My goalie coach, Dustin Schwartz, back home and my other goalie coach in Everett, Shane Clifford. All those guys have helped me a tremendous amount."
Stevenson is at the top of the list. He says Hart's mental maturity is off the charts.
"As much as he wants to be a Philadelphia Flyer next year, he also realizes that last summer he pushed way too hard," Stevenson said. "He way overdid it, and he'll tell you that as a result of going way too hard and not taking breaks, he feels that may have contributed to the mono. And I agree with him."
Hart missed about five weeks early in the 2017-18 WHL season because of mononucleosis.
"This summer, he's going to work hard but work smart," Stevenson said. "That realization is how he's really grown. He really knows himself and understands himself and knows what makes him tick. As a young guy, he used to really worry about what other people thought about him, and now that would not faze him at all.
"He's surrounded himself with really good people. He's very open to criticism, whether it's from myself or Dustin Schwartz or Braden Holtby or [Edmonton goalie] Cam Talbot. He listens to them and takes the feedback. That's one thing he did so well at Team Canada's camp with all these different goalie coaches. He's able to take different ideas and incorporate into his game and grow from it."
Stevenson, who used to be the goalie coach for the Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators and now does mental work with military and medical professionals, said Hart was so intent on making the Flyers last year — even though he just turned 19 — that "he just overdid it" and wore himself down. "His training this summer will be quite different," Stevenson said.
Every day, Hart goes to someplace Stevenson calls "his mental gym. Whether it's five minutes or 45 minutes, he goes there. It could be five minutes of breathing. It could be 10 minutes of mental imagery" — in which he recalls past successes. "It could be 10 minutes of concentration grids. It could be ball drills. It could be juggling. It could be meditation. What I've done over the years is give him a whole bunch of [mental] exercises, and he has a smorgasbord to choose from. He doesn't consider the mental part of the game as an adjunct. It is part of his training. So just as much as he goes to the gym to work on his core, he'll spend time every day working on the mental part of the game."
Hart also does yoga "because it incorporates a lot of the mind and body work together," Stevenson said. "You're breathing; you're focused. … We talk a lot about having that quiet mind and being more in the moment."
Stevenson introduced Hart to mental drills at a young age, "and just like his skating, he's continued to work on them year after year after year."
Before each game, Hart gives himself a mental image of that opponent's strengths and how he will respond to the shooters.
It's something he will take into the NHL someday.
"Hockey is a game of patterns," said Stevenson, who taught Holtby some of his mental-preparation techniques when he was 14 years old, "and the best goalies in the world can recognize those patterns."
Goalie search goes on
The Flyers have not had a dominating goalie since current general manager Ron Hextall was with the team in the 1980s and '90s.
Hart is aware of the Flyers' history and the fact they have been in the Great Goalie Search for many decades.
"Everybody brings that up to me," he said. "I don't think it really matters for someone coming into that situation or coming into the organization. That's the past. I mean, coming in, it's a new opportunity; it's a fresh start, coming up from juniors to pros. I know when I came into junior at 16 years old, I was at the bottom of the chain, one of the younger guys. I was just kind of feeling things out because I wasn't familiar with everything. Now it's kind of restarting all over again as I go up to the pro level. I'm going to be one of the younger guys and learning new experiences. It's a pretty cool opportunity."
Flyers fans hope that, down the road, Hart is the missing piece, the player who will put them over the top and end a Stanley Cup drought that has stretched more than four decades. Bernie Parent was the goalie the last time the Flyers won the Cup, back in 1975.
Hart knows there are high expectations for him.
"I hear about it all the time, and I think when I'm ready, I'll be ready," he said. "That's why this summer is huge for me to get stronger and faster, so I can make that jump up to the next level. I think all those expectations, like I said, don't really matter. I just have to worry about what I think about myself. It doesn't really matter what the whole city of Philadelphia thinks about me. Sure it's cool that they think positively of me, but at the same time … the only thing that matters is what you think and your job, and your job is to stop the puck."
The expectations grow when you listen to Clifford, Hart's goalie coach at Everett. During his career, which included a stint as Penguins goalie coach, Clifford has worked with several goalies who have made it to the NHL, including Marc-Andre Fleury and John Gibson.
Hart "reminds me, in bits and pieces, of Carey Price," he said of the Montreal standout. "And in other parts, he reminds me of Fleury. His own physical attributes are pretty special. His mobility reminds me of Carey Price because there's no goalie-specific movement that he can't do. He has amazing speed, and he can change directions to combat a situation. As far as Fleury goes, Carter likes being around the rink and being around the guys. Fleury loves being on the ice, and Carter is the same way."
Added Clifford: "Every goalie is different. Some guys are going to block more shots, some are going to react more, but I think his package that he brings every day is pretty special. I always rave about his ability and his ice awareness. If you look at what he's done in the WHL, you just shake your head. "
Hart led the WHL this season in goals-against average (1.60), save percentage (.947), and shutouts (seven) while compiling a 31-6-3 record. He also helped Canada win the World Junior Championship.
"His numbers," Clifford said, "are crazy. The WHL is a great league and has great players, and it's been positive for his career and his development."
A likely Phantom
The Flyers made Hart the first goalie selected in the 2016 draft, taking him in the second round with the 48th overall pick. He figures to spend next season playing for the Flyers' top farm team in the AHL, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
"It's a good spot in Lehigh, a good place to play, and they have some really passionate fans," he said. "It's one of the nicer arenas in the league, I've heard, so I'm really excited to play there."
In each of the last two years, Hart was on the Phantoms' playoff roster for a handful of games after his junior team's schedule ended. He did not play in any games for the Phantoms, but just being around the team at practices and games was beneficial, he said.
"It was good to go up there and see how the pros live their life and how they treat things at the rink," he said. "Just seeing their lifestyle — not only how they play on the ice but how they live off the ice. From doing their laundry and their meals and all that good stuff. At the pro level, you're on your own and it's a lot different, for sure. You're playing against men, and you're not playing with teenage guys anymore."
Hart, who lives in an Edmonton suburb, will be at the Flyers' development camp starting Thursday. After the five-day camp, he will return home "and get a lot of training in, on and off the ice, and get better."
Paul Holmgren, the Flyers' club president, is taking a cautious approach about Hart's future. Holmgren was asked about Hart's beating the odds and earning a spot with the Flyers in training camp.
"I don't think it would make sense to think about him playing anytime soon for the Flyers," he said.
Hextall said that Hart would be given a chance in training camp to make the team and that "you never want to close a door on players. You also want a player to have a certain amount [of experience] behind him before he walks in. But, hey, Travis Konecny walked in a couple years ago and made our team."
Hart has not set a time frame.
"My goal is to just play in the NHL," he said. "I haven't set a timetable for when I get there."
The AHL is likely his next stop, and it will provide a stiff test.
"The goalies get better, but the players get a lot better, too," Clifford said. "He just has to play games and get used to the speed and get used to the pace. It just takes time to get used to that."
Back home in Alberta this summer, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Hart plans to put on some muscle and spend a lot of time in the weight room and on the ice. He hopes to bulk up to 195 pounds.
"I'm a little skinny right now," he said.
Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh and Brady Robinson, the organization's goaltender development coach, have been monitoring Hart's development throughout the year.
"He's in good hands going forward," Clifford said. "Those guys are very talented, and they care about him and check up on him. I'm going to be sad not to coach him anymore, but at the end of the day, those guys are very good at what they do and it makes it easy to pass the torch, and I'm excited to see what happens with him."
So are Cup-thirsty Flyers fans.
"He's the real deal," Stevenson said.