Flyers

Finally with his age group, German Rubtsov now eyeing bigger things

Finally with his age group, German Rubtsov now eyeing bigger things

VOORHEES, N.J. — Ask any prospect at Flyers development camp what their goals come September’s NHL training camp are and it’s hard to find an offbeat answer.

“It’s a trick question, right?” German Rubtsov said last Friday through an interpreter, Flyers skating coach Slava Kouznetsov. “Everybody wants to play in the NHL.”

When training camp breaks in October, the Flyers have three options for Rubtsov:

The 2016 first-round pick can play in the NHL.

He can return to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL.

Or he can play in the AHL since the Flyers drafted him out of Russia.

“Playing in Chicoutimi, I felt comfortable,” he said. “Every game was a point or point plus, thanks to my partners as well. Before that, I played KHL. I think I’m ready to try the league.”

Which league?

The league,” Rubtsov said. “Big.”

The 19-year-old Rubtsov likely won't be donning the orange and black in the fall. That should not come to a surprise to anyone.

With the drafting Nolan Patrick last month and the arrival of Oskar Lindblom from Sweden, the forward competition is already as competitive as it’s been in a while.

Even with the 51 combined games Rubtsov played in 2016-17 between the KHL, MHL, QMJHL and 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships, more minor league seasoning will be needed.

Whether that will be in Chicoutimi or Lehigh Valley remains unanswered for now.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. “To me, it’s not fair to make a decision predetermined right now, ‘OK, he’s going here, he’s going there.’

“We’ll leave that door open in terms of NHL. I’d probably say it’s a long shot. But American League or junior, we’ll see as we go along here where the best place for him to develop is.”

Rubtsov attended his first development camp last weekend. He was unable to attend last summer’s camp because of his contract obligations with the KHL’s HC Vityaz.

There was some controversy surrounding Rubtsov and the Russian under-18 team prospects going into the 2016 NHL draft. Team Russia was banned from the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships because of a meldonium doping scandal.

After being drafted, Rubtsov insisted that he and his teammates unknowingly took a banned substance. Hextall further investigated the situation and still felt comfortable selecting the center, who also had two years left on his contract with Vityaz.

The original plan was for Rubtsov to stay in the KHL until his contract expired before coming to North America, but he struggled in the KHL and was too advanced for the MHL.

Eventually, Rubtsov’s agent, Mark Gandler, negotiated a release from his contract with Vityaz on Jan. 9, and Rubtsov joined the Saguenéens, who owned his CHL rights.

Rubtsov didn’t debut with Chicoutimi until Jan. 19 because of a broken nose.

“The moving to the United States was the first thing,” Rubtsov said. “In Chicoutimi, the first couple of games were not comfortable. Then everything came to normal.

“I feel comfortable. Being in the United States before and playing in Canada helped, so I’m feeling pretty comfortable [now] and everything is pretty much good.”

The difference between the Rubtsov in the KHL and the Rubtsov in the QMJHL was noticable. He struggled to get minutes in the KHL, averaging 6:33 in 15 games and failed to register a point. He had just five shots and won 31.8 percent of his faceoffs.

He was a point-per-game player in the MHL, a Russian junior league, recording 15 points in 15 games with the Russkie Vityazi Chekhov. That was the player he resembled more in the Q.
 
Rubtsov made an immediate impact with the Saguenéens. He picked up two assists and fired six shots on goal in his first game, and he picked up nine points in his first six games.
 
“When you see a kid playing with his peers, it’s a lot different than playing in the KHL,” Hextall said. “You saw it a little bit with Ruby. Ruby goes from KHL and all of a sudden, he goes to Chicoutimi with his own age group and you’re like, ‘Woah.’
 
“We certainly weren’t surprised by that.”
 
The Chekhov, Russia, native missed Chicoutimi’s final six games of the regular season and then its postseason because of a fractured hand. He finished his brief QMJHL stint with racking up 22 points in 16 games — nine goals, five power-play markers, 13 assists with six multi-point games and was held scoreless just three times.
 
Last season, Rubtsov dealt with a broken nose and a fractured hand at the end of the campaign. He said he dealt with injuries in the KHL as well and played through them.
 
“I played until I wasn’t able to hold the stick,” Rubtsov said. “When the hand completely gave up that’s when I came [to Philadelphia for surgery].”
 
“That's kind of what you want," Hextall said. "You want guys who will push themselves and do what they can to try to be the best they can and try to help the team win. It certainly comes into the mix in terms of the character of a player and person.”
 
When the Flyers drafted Rubtsov last summer, their forward prospect group was not as deep as it is now. Hextall added seven forwards in 2016, including five of his first six picks. Last month, he added seven more, including three in the top 35.
 
So the question with Rubtsov, does he still project as a center with the Flyers? He played both center and wing last season in Chicoutimi. The versatility at his age is attractive.
 
“There are certain guys in the middle you want to move out of the middle because when they get to the NHL level, maybe their sense isn’t quite high enough or their size or there’s a blemish,” Hextall said. “He doesn’t have that blemish. He’s a smart player, he skates well.
 
“He’s going to be big and strong enough in a couple years. He’s going to be one of those guys truly who’s going to be really good in the middle and we may want to keep him there.”

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes.

Dougherty
If Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss in Winnipeg confirmed anything, it's the Flyers cannot break up their top line. They might not be able to score much, but their only scoring is coming from Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

The Couturier line accounts for 48 percent of the Flyers' offense, or 25 goals. Factor the defense and top line together, and that's 59 percent, as the blue line has produced six tallies this season.

Of the 21 goals the Flyers have scored that do not come from the top line or blue line, 12 have come from two players, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds hasn't scored in 11 games, and Filppula has one goal in his past nine games.

Two lines have stayed intact since Day 1 — the Couturier line and the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been hesitant about breaking up his fourth line, and rightfully so. Laughton, Leier and Raffl have chemistry, and they're almost always cycling in the offensive zone.

Nolan Patrick just returned after missing three weeks because of a "suspected" concussion and played sparingly against the Jets. He should help the Flyers' scoring woes, but he won't solve them. I think it's time to break up the fourth line, and based on the Winnipeg game, it looks like a possibility Hakstol is considering.

Here's why. Raffl played on the second power-play unit against the Jets, which was a first this season. Perhaps Hakstol didn't want to throw Patrick back into the fire and watched the rookie's minutes.

Breaking up lines Nos. 2, 3 and 4 is the best course of action. Travis Konecny is struggling with confidence, Jordan Weal hasn't been great, and those are two players the Flyers need to get going. It's time to end the Dale Weise in the top-nine experiment.

With what the Flyers have, here is what I would do:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Michael Raffl
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Hall
There's no need to panic if you're the Flyers.

First, you finally have a no-doubt-about-it top line. Voracek, Couturier and Giroux have blended beautifully and are doing damage, as the Flyers entered Friday one of only three teams in the NHL with a trio of players over 20 points each. Don't break that up just because there's an imbalance below it. 

And second, it's a long season. Ups and downs are common and things can change quickly. Just look at last season. The Flyers ripped off 10 straight wins and scored the NHL's second-most goals through the first two months of 2016-17. As we all know, they didn't make the postseason and finished as a bottom-third goal-scoring club.

The Flyers simply need to continue experimenting with their middle six and see what eventually works best. A little patience was going to be required when you're relying on a 19-year-old rookie in Patrick, a 20-year-old still finding himself at this level in Konecny and a 25-year-old facing his first full NHL season in Weal.

And let's not forget, the defense is exceptionally young with two rookies (Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim), a 20-year-old leader (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player coming off a sophomore slump (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But back to the forwards. 

If you recall, a stretch from Oct. 10-17 featured Filppula centering Weal and Simmonds on the second line, with Patrick centering Konecny and Weise on the third unit. It resulted in a pretty productive three-game span in which the Flyers picked up two wins and outscored the opposition 18-9.

I really liked the dynamic of that middle six. And the Flyers can now return to it with Patrick suiting up. He will be eased back into heavier minutes, but he can make a difference when healthy and comfortable. Patrick and Konecny can still play plenty of minutes on the third line with less pressure and potentially more favorable matchups.

We've seen Weal and Simmonds work well together, and Filppula adds smarts and steadiness down the middle.

But the important thing to remember is the Flyers are only 19 games into an 82-game grind. Scoring can come and go at times, and there's no reason it can't come down the line.

So, here's what I like best for the Flyers right now:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl