Flyers

Future Flyers Report: German Rubtsov tearing up the Q, Robert Hagg hot, look at Phantoms' goalies

Future Flyers Report: German Rubtsov tearing up the Q, Robert Hagg hot, look at Phantoms' goalies

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this week’s report, we highlight the Phantoms’ goalie situation, a defenseman on the brink of the NHL, a center tearing up the QMJHL and much, much more. Let’s dig in.

Robert Hagg, D, 6-1/191, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Hagg’s development progresses a step forward each game, a positive sign for the Flyers. With the NHL trade deadline approaching — March 1 — Hagg could find himself as a call-up if the Flyers decide to sell at the deadline, or find a taker for an expiring contract on the blue line (Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz). Last week, Hagg continued to see his more assertive play in his own zone begin to translate to the stat sheet. He registered two goals and two assists in three games last week, including a goal and an assist on his 22nd birthday Wednesday.

It took Hagg eight games to get his first point of the season and 16 games to record his third. In his last 15 games alone, he has three goals and five assists and is a plus-7. He’s second on the Phantoms with a plus-11 rating and is on track to finish as a plus player for the first time since he played just 10 games in 2013-14. Last season, he finished as a minus-11. Through 42 games this year, he’s at a plus-22 jump in that category. There is an argument as to how much weight we should put into plus/minus, but that's a considerable jump.

German Rubtsov, C, 6-0/190, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Another Future Flyers Report, another check-in on Rubtsov. After escaping an injury scare, Rubtsov didn’t miss any time last week for the Saguenéens and didn’t miss a beat, either. The 2016 first-round pick had his first multi-goal game in the Q, his fourth and fifth multi-point games and seven points in three games last week. He was named the first star (one goal, two assists) of Chicoutimi’s 4-3 win over Rimouski on Sunday, and the second star (two goals, one assist) of the Saguenéens’ 5-2 win over Val-d’Or on Thursday. Since coming over from the KHL, the center has six goals and 10 assists in 10 games. With the increased role and playing on the North American surface, the Flyers have to feel a lot better about Rubtsov’s development now than they did two months ago, and he’s quickly become a must-watch forward in the QMJHL.

Alex Lyon, G, 6-1/201, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
Let’s check in on the Phantoms’ goaltending situation. Coach Scott Gordon has done an excellent job splitting the net up between Lyon and Anthony Stolarz since Stolarz returned to Lehigh Valley on Jan. 6. Let’s begin with Lyon, a first-year pro who has started nine of the 17 games since Stolarz’s return. Lyon got the starting nod in two of Lehigh Valley’s three games last week with mixed results. On Wednesday, Lyon turned in a 27-save shutout, his third of the season and his professional career. But on Saturday night, the Yale product allowed four goals on 21 shots in the Phantoms’ 4-3 loss to St. John’s. His 20 wins have him second in the AHL behind Tristan Jarry and Jack Campbell, who both have 21.

Anthony Stolarz, G, 6-6/210, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Stolarz got the nod Friday against St. John’s and stopped 19 of 21 shots faced in a 4-2 win. It was his eighth start since his stint with the Flyers while Michal Neuvirth battled a left knee injury. With how Gordon has divvied up the net, it’s a safe bet Stolarz gets the start Tuesday at Wilkes/Barre-Scranton. The Phantoms have four games this week, so it could be a 50/50 split. What’s interesting going forward is both Stolarz and Lyon are restricted free agents after the season and the Flyers will certainly want to bring both back. Consider both Neuvirth and Steve Mason are unrestricted free agents, too, it’s also a safe bet that either Stolarz or Lyon could be the Flyers’ backup next season to either Neuvirth or Mason. The super early favorite has to be Stolarz considering his experience, both in the AHL and NHL.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 6-1/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
For precautionary reasons, according to Sons of Penn’s Alexander Appleyard, Lindblom was held out of the Sweden Hockey Games portion of the Euro Hockey Tour because of a lower-body injury. Lindblom has been cleared to play for Brynäs IF when the SHL season resumes Tuesday. Last week, Lindblom spoke with Brynäs’ Kari Litmanen about his season, his development and how often he talks with the Flyers. Here are some highlights, with the help of Google Translate.

On his development: “The strength and speed have been developed and I feel like I can do a little more with the puck than before. My development has meant that I can keep the puck an extra second and the little extra seconds allow me to get away a pass for a shot.”

On communication with Flyers: “I’m talking the most with their development responsible for forwards. During the season, it is quite a bit of contact — that the focus is on the present. (The Flyers) usually sends video links and clips of match situations I’ll check in order to develop my game and get better.”

Quick hits
• Rouyn-Noranda defenseman Philippe Myers was cleared to return from his concussion, suffered at the world juniors, last week, but did not play. He’ll likely play Wednesday.

• Phantoms forwards Taylor Leier and Scott Laughton are battling injuries. Leier has missed five straight games, while Laughton suffered his injury Friday. Gordon did not offer any new information Saturday, per Highland Park Hockey’s Tony Androckitis.

Sam Morin had his second career multi-point game last week with the Phantoms, registering a goal and an assist in Lehigh Valley’s 5-0 win over Binghamton on Wednesday.

Pascal Laberge tallied a goal and an assist and was named the No. 1 star in Victoriaville’s 4-3 shootout win over Québec on Saturday. In the shootout, Laberge deked Québec goalie Evgeny Kiselev with a nifty move and scored, but it was ruled no good because he didn’t keep the puck going forward. Close call. You can decide yourself here if it was a goal or not.

• Another shutout for Everett’s Carter Hart, who turned in a 31-save blanking of Moose Jaw Saturday. Hart now has a WHL-leading eight shutouts and 2.01 goals-against average.

• Ohio State freshman Tanner Laczynski has gotten back on track after a brief slump after returning from the world juniors. Laczynski had a goal and two assists in two games against Minnesota. He now has two goals and three assists in his last five games. 

Merrick Madsen made 32 saves and yielded two goals in No. 4 Harvard’s 6-2 rout of No. 6 Union on Friday.

• Western Michigan winger Wade Allison added an assist Friday against Nebraska-Omaha. His five-game point streak was snapped Saturday. He has nine points in his last nine games.

How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

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How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

For the first time in his nine-year career, Michal Neuvirth knows when he gets home at night after a game, there will be someone waiting for him with a smile.

Win or lose, it doesn’t matter to Neuvirth, or especially to his one-month-old daughter, Emily Gudasová Carolina.

“When you come home, there’s a baby waiting and it's such an amazing feeling that someone is waiting for you at home,” Neuvirth said after Tuesday's 5-1 win over Florida. “Last year, I was mostly here by myself, so I definitely like it better having a family with me now.”

Family now consists of his newborn daughter, his fiancee Karolína Gudasová and uncle Radko Gudas, Gudasová’s older brother and Neuvirth’s Flyers teammate.

To those of us on the outside, the responsibility of fatherhood seemingly has altered Neuvirth’s disposition. He smiles more, cracks a few jokes and elaborates just a little more with his answers to the media. Perhaps, he can tolerate us because there’s a deeper purpose and a sense of providing that comes with fatherhood.  

“It’s amazing feeling being a dad,” Neuvirth said. “For me, I just have another motivation to play for my family now.”

Of course, it also helps I’ve yet to see Neuvirth yawn or show up to practice with bags under his eyes. He has escaped any late-night drama with an eight-day road trip to start the season, and for now, he apparently has a rare lifetime pass for any early morning feedings.  

“I have an amazing fiancee. She takes care of her (Emily) as much as she needs to,” Neuvirth said. “I usually put her to bed at 10-10:30. During the night Karolina goes and feeds her in the living room, and I’m a deep sleeper, so she doesn’t wake me up.”

As Gudasová has kept an eye on the cradle, Neuvirth has secured the crease. He’s allowed three goals in his two starts this season with a .956 save percentage, which has initiated the debate for more playing time.

Interestingly, adapting to a new addition is something Neuvirth has also discussed with teammate and fellow netminder, Brian Elliott, who went through a similar set of circumstances with his son, Owen, last season in Calgary. Elliott called that first month with the Flames “a huge adjustment” and his October numbers reflected that.

Six games into the season, Neuvirth apparently has it all figured out. 

Of course, a good night’s sleep has a way of bringing clarity to the situation.

Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

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Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

On the first day he was officially a member of the Flyers, Jori Lehtera was literally pumped. So much so, the weight room warrior hit the gym that morning and slapped on a few extra plates on each side of the barbell.

“My wife woke me up and said, ‘Do you know we’re going to Philadelphia?’” Lehtera said Sept. 11, after the first day he skated with his new teammates in Voorhees, New Jersey.

"I said, 'That's good.' I went to the gym and had a little bit bigger weights than normal. It was good. I needed some change because my game wasn't that good there."

Lehtera was acquired by the Flyers from the Blues at the 2017 NHL draft in the Brayden Schenn trade. In the span of one year, Lehtera’s status has plunged from a top-line center on a playoff team to the 13th forward on a non-playoff team.

That’s not to say the Flyers have failed to recognize Lehtera’s skill set and utilize him effectively, he just didn’t show enough in the preseason to warrant playing time.

The fourth-highest paid forward on the Flyers’ roster has started the first six games of the season as a healthy scratch. Dave Hakstol has opted for the speedier Dale Weise, who’s earning roughly half of Lehtera, who has a $4.7 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

Lehtera's opportunity could come as early as Thursday against the Predators. Wayne Simmonds left Tuesday's game for precautionary reasons with a lower-body injury.

If Simmonds can't go — general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday he'll have an update on Simmonds Thursday — Lehtera is the next guy up as Hakstol would have to shuffle his lines.

“I’m still excited,” Lehtera said recently. “Camp wasn’t good. I wouldn’t say terrible, it was OK. I’m kind of still looking to find my spot. When I get my opportunity, I’m going to take my spot. Where it is, I don’t know.”

Lehtera bolted St. Louis, the city he spent his first NHL seasons, in a cloud of dust. His "Spirit of St. Louis" was completely sucked dry during his time in St. Louis, as he finished the 2016-17 season with just seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.

“The whole season was a struggle,” Lehtera said. “I just couldn’t get everything out of myself. It wasn’t just a couple of things. It was a lot of big things, and a lot of small things together.”

Playing for Ken Hitchcock, who just passed Al Arbour for third on the NHL’s all-time wins list, has a way of wearing down a player’s psyche.

According to Hitchcock, who rejoined the Dallas Stars this summer after he was fired by the Blues back in February, Lehtera’s struggles were partly a result of centering the team’s top line with superstar winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

“First couple of years there was no attention being paid (to Lehtera)," Hitchcock said in the summer, "and last year, there was a lot of attention of being paid. He lost his confidence because he was in and out of the lineup, so the line wasn’t that effective. The line got special attention for the first time. Because of the way our lineup was built, we were really able to take advantage of matchups.”

Lehtera and Tarasenko developed a lethal chemistry as teammates for Novosibirsk in the KHL, but it didn’t translate to the smaller NHL rink, where time and space to operate with the puck is at a premium. Tarasenko’s reputation quickly earned the attention of the NHL opposition and their top defensive players.

“You saw that chemistry right away,” said Brian Elliott, a teammate of Lehtera’s for two seasons in St.Louis. “They were a dynamic duo and then they were split up, and I think he was looking for that guy to pass to and things like that.”

Compounding Lehtera’s struggles was a concussion he suffered that knocked him out of the lineup for several weeks in February. Once Lehtera returned, he was never quite the same, as he struggled with the speed of the game.

“We played him at wing after he came back from being injured, but his natural position is at center, and that’s where he played his best hockey,” Hitchcock said. “He’s a guy strong on the puck, good down low player, he protects the puck well.” 

Interestingly for a guy listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and lacking quickness, Lehtera would appear to be more suited at the wing position.

And the potential opportunity Thursday alone may have Lehtera pounding out a few more extra reps in the gym.