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 -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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