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.”
“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.”