After popping at world juniors, Mikhail Vorobyev sees 'good opportunity' with Phantoms

After popping at world juniors, Mikhail Vorobyev sees 'good opportunity' with Phantoms

VOORHEES, N.J. — Not many people knew who Mikhail Vorobyev was when the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships began last December.

They found out quick who he was by the end.

Vorobyev led the tournament with 10 assists in seven games for Team Russia, which captured the bronze medal. He didn’t register a goal but his 10 points were third most.

“Vorobyev popped at the world juniors when he’s playing with his peers,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said recently during development camp at Flyers Skate Zone.

“Our guys really liked him his draft year. We got him in the fourth round probably because he was in Russia. He was hidden a little bit.”

After one full season playing in the KHL for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Vorobyev signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers in late April. The 20-year-old center will spend the 2017-18 season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms as part of an interesting forward group.

Lehigh Valley finished as the second-best AHL team last season with 101 points in the regular season, but it lost to the Hershey Bears in five games during the first round of the playoffs.

This season, Vorobyev figures to have a spot in the regular lineup, but the forward competition in the AHL could be as competitive as it will be with the Flyers.

Still, Vorobyev believed coming overseas was for his best interests.

“If you want to continue development,” Vorobyev said through an interpreter, Flyers skating coach Slava Kouznetsov, “this is a good opportunity to get better. In Russia, I think I reached up. That’s why I’m switching to North America to get better than I already am.”

It may take Vorobyev a while to get accumulated to the North American lifestyle, especially since he doesn’t speak English, but having Radel Fazleev at Lehigh Valley should help.

Fazleev is entering his second season in the AHL. He’s been in North America full-time since 2013-14, his first season in the WHL.

At development camp, Vorobyev had three other Russians — Fazleev, German Rubtsov and camp invite Ivan Kosorenkov — and Maksim Sushko, who’s from Belarus but speaks Russian, to lean on. Fazleev was the only development camp veteran of the bunch.

Like Rubtsov last summer, Vorobyev wasn’t able to attend development camp in 2015 and 2016 because of his contract obligations in the KHL. Having Kouznetsov around also helps.

"It is a big help,” Vorobyev said. “I'm feeling much more comfortable. The guys are helpful. It's easier to have conversation. They explain the rules, especially the guys who were here the previous years.”

The adjustment for Vorobyev will come largely off the ice. The Salavat, Russia, native doesn’t view the smaller rink as an obstacle, but it usually is for Europeans and Russians.

"When I traveled with the Russian team, I always liked to play on the smaller surface,” Vorobyev said. “I like it. There's no adjustment, basically."

Vorobyev isn’t the only player coming overseas this season for the Flyers. Oskar Lindblom, a 2014 fifth-round pick, believes the biggest transition for him will be the rink size.

“That’s the big thing,” he said. “It’s a little bit faster over here, so you have to think a little faster and be ready out there. Otherwise, you're going to get hit or not make the play."

Both Vorobyev and Lindblom were middle-round picks. Lindblom’s ascension has caught the eyes of the Flyers and their fans. Lindblom is expected to be a Flyer in 2017-18.

While Lindblom has earned the hype, Vorobyev’s progression has been interesting too. Both are examples of how far the Flyers’ scouting department has come in recent years.

Vorobyev earned a steady role in the KHL last season after splitting the 2015-16 season with Salavat Yulaev and Tolpar Ufa of the MHL.

For the average folk, Vorobyev’s numbers last season will not turn any heads. He had just three goals and 11 points in 44 games for Salavat Yulaev, but with young players in the KHL, it’s hard to judge strictly on statistics. What should be of note is the ice time.

During the regular season, Vorobyev averaged 9:47. That number shot up to 13:29 per game in five postseason contests. That signals his Salavat Yulaev coaches trusted him enough to play him.

It's easy to see the difference with Vorobyev and Rubtsov. Vorobyev carved out a spot on his team at 19 and 20 years old. Rubtsov couldn’t crack his KHL lineup.

Both are now in North America. The Flyers have three options with Rubtsov: QMJHL, AHL and NHL. They technically have two choices with Vorobyev, but he’ll be in the AHL.

“The Russians are a little bit of a different animal because if you’re playing in the KHL,” Hextall said, “you got a young kid playing against men in a top league and keep them down on the fourth line and give him seven minutes. It’s hard to show a whole lot in seven minutes.”

Vorobyev has added at least 13 pounds since the Flyers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2015 NHL draft. He’s currently listed at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds.

“If you look at his weight, his body makeup, it’s changed quite a bit since we drafted him,” Hextall said, “and again, he popped at the world juniors last year. Quite honestly, if you asked our scouts, I don’t think they’d be too surprised.”

The world junior performance was Vorobyev’s coming out party in North America. He was exciting to watch on a Russian team that also featured Rubtsov, who struggled in the tournament. Vorobyev displayed playmaking and vision not many ever he knew he had.

Vorobyev did most of his damage setting his teammates up from behind the net and said at development camp behind the net is an area he’s comfortable.

“Behind the net, I felt comfortable and got points off feeding the puck to the slot,” Vorobyev said. “If my partners did not score, I wouldn’t get assists. It is pride [to lead the tournament in assists], but the partners, that’s who I relied on.”

Senators' Brady Tkachuk fined maximum allowable amount for crosscheck on Flyers' Scott Laughton

Senators' Brady Tkachuk fined maximum allowable amount for crosscheck on Flyers' Scott Laughton

Suffice it to say Scott Laughton got the best of the Senators on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

He was the first star in the Flyers' 4-3 victory, scored the game-winning goal during the third period, added an assist, stood up for his teammates and got under the skin of Ottawa forward Brady Tkachuk.

So much so that Tkachuk went after Laughton, crosschecking the 25-year-old forward in the back and jumping him during the final minute of regulation. The NHL reacted quickly to the play, fining Tkachuk $2,486.56, the maximum allowable under the CBA.

Following his third-period marker, Laughton had words for the Senators' bench. He was fired up, especially after Ottawa's hits on Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee, which led to some fights. Laughton could not partake in the dropping of the gloves because he recently returned following surgery on a broken finger, which is still healing.

I knew it was coming. It’s part of the game when you do that stuff and chirp the bench, you know it’s going to come. I just can’t drop my gloves right now with my finger and everything. I’ve got some padding there so once I do that, I guess it’s a penalty or something. That’s just the way it went.

- Laughton

But Laughton still had the backs of his teammates. He was physical throughout, especially after the first-period hits on Konecny and Farabee. He also allowed his game to do the talking.

Laughton has four goals in his last six contests and the Flyers are 6-1-1 since his return following a 13-game absence because of the finger injury.

Would Laughton have liked to fight?

"Yeah," he said.

He did plenty enough.

Tkachuk's crosscheck and check to the league are proof of Laughton's work.


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Multiple fights, a potential costly injury to Travis Konecny and a different kind of Flyers win over Senators

Multiple fights, a potential costly injury to Travis Konecny and a different kind of Flyers win over Senators

Updated: 4:22 p.m.


The win was ugly.

But a really good one for the Flyers.

A lesser opponent tried to work them up, throw them off, and the Flyers still found a way to pull out a 4-3 decision over the Senators on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

They did so while losing their best player during the first period and despite being outshot 30-21.

Scott Laughton was superb yet again with a multi-point game. He was physical when the game became physical and he scored the game-winning goal, his fourth marker in the last six games.

The Flyers (17-8-5) showed they can win when they’re far from their best, which is a good sign. They are 12-3-4 with 28 points since Nov. 1. The Capitals entered the day with an NHL-leading 28 points over that span.

The Senators (12-17-1) have lost six of their last seven games.

• The biggest storyline to come from Saturday’s game was Travis Konecny leaving the ice and never returning following a crushing hit by Mark Borowiecki in the first period.

The fights then broke out with Jakub Voracek and Joel Farabee doing the honors (see story).

The 22-year-old Konecny already had a goal in the game and has been arguably the Flyers’ most important piece to their turnaround through two months of this season.

Konecny was presumably getting checked for a concussion. If he were to miss any time, it would be a significant loss for the Flyers, who are 2-4-4 when Konecny goes scoreless in a game.

After the game, head coach Alain Vigneault said Konecny had an upper-body injury and the Flyers would have further updates Monday.

• Ivan Provorov kept on humming Saturday, matching his goal total of seven from last season by sending home a third-period missile to put the Flyers ahead 3-2 (see highlights).

The Flyers are 15-5-4 since Oct. 21. Over that stretch, Provorov has six goals, nine assists and a plus-10 mark.

• The Senators’ game-tying goal in the second period was an inexcusable one to give up by the Flyers. Carter Hart and Shayne Gostisbehere misread each other terribly, which allowed Anthony Duclair to swoop in for a shorthanded marker.

Both Hart and Gostisbehere need to be more aware in that situation.

The good news is Gostisbehere continues to push offensively and Hart has been awfully good since Nov. 1 — really, all season for that matter.

Gostisbehere has three goals in five games following a three-game benching. The 26-year-old defenseman had one goal in his previous 22 games.

Hart finished with 27 saves.

• Morgan Frost picked up his first point in eight games on Konecny’s goal.

Before the game, Vigneault expressed his confidence in the 20-year-old center who is centering the Flyers’ top line.

The 2017 first-round pick deserves some patience just like a lot of young players.

• Next week, the Flyers open a three-game road trip, which features matchups with the Avalanche on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN), the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and the Jets on Sunday (5 p.m. ET/NBCSP+).


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