Flyers

When will prospect German Rubtsov get to Flyers? Changing his game could speed things up

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

When will prospect German Rubtsov get to Flyers? Changing his game could speed things up

VOORHEES, N.J. — Ever since German Rubtsov was selected by the Flyers in the first round of the 2016 draft, the Russian center has come with a defensive pedigree.

Reads the game, makes smart plays and cares about the ice behind him.

Sounds like goal prevention.

The Flyers are looking for significantly better goal prevention in 2019-20 — and that's about the forwards just as much as anyone else. In 2018-19, the Flyers finished with a minus-37 goal differential and yielded the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41 to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in the last seven seasons.

As the Flyers creep closer to training camp, a job is up for grabs among the team's bottom-six forwards. Rubtsov, a 21-year-old who can play center or winger, will vie for the roster spot. While he may have an outside chance at making the Flyers when camp breaks, his versatility and awareness are positive traits for the vacancy.

But he wants everyone to see more.

"Last year, I was doing very well in the defensive zone but the coaches told me I had to be active and score more in the offensive zone," Rubtsov said Saturday through translator Slava Kouznetsov, the Flyers' skating coach, as rookie camp began. "I'm changing my game — being good in the defensive zone is not good enough to make the team. I'm going to work equally on both zones."


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

With a concerted focus on pushing north, Rubtsov saw results last season. In his first year with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, Rubtsov scored six goals and 10 points over 14 games. A shoulder injury then abruptly ended his season.

The small sample size opened eyes, though. After all, production is what often gets recognized and rewarded. The Flyers already know about Rubtsov's defensive principles, but his offensive ceiling could be an X-factor in his path to the big club.

So he's healthy and hungry to show everything.

"I'm cleared and 100 percent ready," he said.

Rubtsov looks in excellent shape. He's strong, 6-foot and 203 pounds. 

"He's fit and he can play," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said this summer.

If he's not with the Flyers, Rubtsov will be back with Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon, who watched the prospect race out of the chute last season and flash his 200-foot game.

"He's a smart player and I think that's one of his strengths," Gordon said. "I always felt — and again it's only a [14]-game window that I had the opportunity to watch him — even if things weren't happening for him offensively, he always played well defensively. That doesn't seem like much. You assume everyone's always going to play well defensively, but sometimes that gets in players' heads when things don't happen for them offensively. They try to cheat and find an easy way to get the offense and he wasn't like that."

That was Rubtsov playing with poise. If he continues to add pace, his push for the Flyers will only speed up.

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2019-20 Flyers season grades: Matt Niskanen

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Matt Niskanen

The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the next time the puck drops will officially kick off the race to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October. 

In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall will be grading players based on individual performances. 

Today we will be looking at Matt Niskanen.

Destra

I’m not going to lie — I fell under the category of not fully understanding the trade for Niskanen during the offseason in a one-for-one deal, sending former Flyer Radko Gudas to the Capitals. At the time, the most appealing aspects about the deal were recognizing the level of veteran experience he was going to bring to the blue line and his extensive résumé when it came to the playoffs. 

Now, with his first regular season as a Flyer officially at an end — it’s safe to say he was an absolute steal. Way to win a trade, Chuck Fletcher. 

Not only did he post 33 points (8 goals, 25 assists), making him the second-best defenseman in points on the team, but he elevated his partner Ivan Provorov to new heights in his career as well. The duo built such powerful chemistry on the ice and Niskanen provided the skillset needed to help Provorov hone in on his talent.  

There couldn’t have been a better fit for the Flyers and Provorov. Whatever Niskanen’s next steps are in the NHL, let’s hope he wants to stay in Philadelphia for a little while longer. 

A+ for Niskanen — not bad for his 13th season in the league. 

Emmer

The Flyers went from averaging the third-most goals against per game (3.41) and a minus-37 goal differential in 2018-19 to then tying for the seventh fewest goals against in the league and drawing a plus-36 goal differential this season—a major key for that success was Niskanen.

Niskanen had a lasting impact throughout the regular season on special teams. Most notably, the penalty kill which he helped improve from 78.5% in 2018-19 (26 th in NHL) to 81.8%  11th in NHL). His power play minutes were also impressive—4 goals scored on the man advantage were the highest in his career.

He brought leadership to the blueline and the dressing room and was a steady presence the Flyers and d-partner, Ivan Provorov, depended on throughout the regular season.

I give Niskanen an A.

Fordyce 

Niskanen, an experienced Stanley Cup winning defenseman, came to the Flyers via trade for Radko Gudas from the Capitals last offseason. His addition to the team added a veteran leader to the roster as well as a possible mentor for some of the Flyers young defensemen. In his first season with the Flyers, he did both admirably.

Niskanen’s presence on that top defense pair with Ivan Provorov allowed Provorov to open up his game more and become a better overall player. Niskanen is a smart defenseman, who is rarely out of position, and this allows Provorov as his defense partner to freelance a bit more, which is one of the strengths of his game. Niskanen also has great puck skills from the point, getting pucks toward the net by pass or shot and creating opportunities. 

No-brainer, Niskanen gets an A.

Hall

What an acquisition by Fletcher. In the Gudas-Niskanen swap, the only other hit for the Flyers was salary related — obviously taking on Niskanen's $5.75 million cap hit as well as retaining 30 percent of Gudas' $3.35 million cap hit.

Niskanen made the trade unquestionably worth it for his new club.

Not only did the 33-year-old Stanley Cup champion significantly improve the Flyers at 5-on-5, on the power play and the penalty kill, but he also did wonders for the rebound of Provorov, a 23-year-old who had far too much on his shoulders last season.

Niskanen's winning pedigree has rubbed off on everyone. With eight goals and 25 assists, he also had a chance to crack 40 points for the second time in his well-established career before the regular season was cut short because of the coronavirus outbreak.

A well-deserved A for Niskanen.

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Flyers Talk podcast: Carter Hart's leash, team awards and NHL playoffs analysis

Flyers Talk podcast: Carter Hart's leash, team awards and NHL playoffs analysis

On the latest Flyers Talk podcast, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Katie Emmer and Jordan Hall discuss Carter Hart's leash, team awards and the return-to-play tournament.

From the 24-team madness to prospects and Oskar Lindblom, let's dive in:

0:55 — Scott Laughton is the most improved Flyer; who were the other candidates?

5:15 — Analyzing the length of Hart's leash in the 24-team tournament

14:30 — Six games a day in the 24-team tournament?!

19:15 — Which Flyers player will love the bubble setting the most?

24:05 What to make of the Wyatt Kalynuk decision

29:20 — Which prospect benefits most from Kalynuk's departure?

33:00 — Why the Flyers won't fret over the loss

36:00 — Lindblom, ring that bell! A special moment

Subscribe and rate Flyers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

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