Flyers

Finally with his age group, German Rubtsov now eyeing bigger things

Finally with his age group, German Rubtsov now eyeing bigger things

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.”

Which 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.”

Future Flyers Report: Wisconsin's Wyatt Kalynuk one of four prospects to watch in Big Ten

Future Flyers Report: Wisconsin's Wyatt Kalynuk one of four prospects to watch in Big Ten

It’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

• The Flyers have some exciting young defensemen at the pro level. They also have some at the college and junior ranks.

Two that have received a lot of attention are Cam York and Egor Zamula. York was the Flyers' first-round pick this summer and is in his freshman year at Michigan, while Zamula is a near-point-per-game 19-year-old playing for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen.

Another defenseman to keep tabs on his Wyatt Kalynuk, who the Flyers selected in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. The junior at Wisconsin had a goal, eight shots and seven blocked shots over two games against Notre Dame last weekend.

The 16th-ranked Badgers sport exciting underclassmen with Cole Caufield (2019 top-15 pick), Alex Turcotte (2019 top-five pick) and K'Andre Miller (2018 top-25 pick).

“The goal is to win a national championship," Kalynuk said this summer at Flyers development camp.

Kalynuk is a huge piece for Wisconsin. The 22-year-old has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) through 12 games.

"Probably my biggest strength is skating," Kalynuk said. "At Wisconsin, getting bigger, stronger and faster just improves it even more.

“I would consider myself a late bloomer, but it’s not a knock on me or anybody."

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher checked out the Badgers last season in February. Wisconsin was playing Flyers prospect Tanner Laczynski and Ohio State. With Kalynuk, Laczynski, York and Bryce Brodzinski (2019 seventh-round pick at Minnesota), the Flyers will be watching plenty of Big Ten hockey this season.

Quick hits

• Goalie Kirill Ustimenko, a 2017 third-round pick, had a 32-save shutout for the ECHL's Reading Royals in a 1-0 win last Saturday over the Wheeling Nailers. The 20-year-old has a 2.57 goals-against average in 10 games (six wins).

• Isaac Ratcliffe has missed the Phantoms' last three games with an injury. The 2017 second-round pick is transitioning to the pro level with three points (one goal, two assists) in 12 games.

• Noah Cates scored his team-leading fifth goal in Minnesota Duluth's 3-2 win Saturday over Miami (Ohio). The 2017 fifth-round pick is a sophomore on the country's ninth-ranked team.

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said this summer.

• Jay O'Brien, a 2018 first-round pick, is second in the BCHL with 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) through 26 games for the Penticton Vees.

• Wyatte Wylie, another defenseman to watch, is a point-per-game player right now with five goals and 14 assists in 19 contests for the WHL's Everett Silvertips.

 

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Morgan Frost call-up has to do with everyone (especially James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, Jakub Voracek)

Morgan Frost call-up has to do with everyone (especially James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, Jakub Voracek)

VOORHEES, N.J. — Could Morgan Frost have used more time in the AHL?

Possibly.

But 20 games into the 2019-20 season, the Flyers were in a spot where they needed the 20-year-old’s ability. Uniquely, Frost impacts all four of the Flyers’ lines.

The Flyers are searching for greater balance and consistency within their forwards. They haven’t had it through 20 games and it’s a reason why they’ve been up and down during a 10-6-4 start.

Frost’s advertised prowess for playmaking permeates the big club’s makeup. Monday’s arrival of the 2017 first-round pick allows head coach Alain Vigneault to do many desired things with the Flyers’ lineup.

It moves Claude Giroux from the middle back to left winger, where he’s had his career-best success, without seriously hampering the Flyers at center. Frost will play between Giroux and Travis Konecny, a spot that accentuates the prospect’s strengths.

“T.K. is not a 10-year veteran, but he’s one of our young players that is definitely on the uprise and playing real well,” Vigneault said. “We’re playing Morgan with our captain. The captain will lead the way and help the young man out.”

It pieces back together the Flyers’ fourth line of Andy Andreoff, Michael Raffl and Tyler Pitlick, which was strong and gives the Flyers the necessary depth to augment Vigneault’s system.

“We felt that by bringing Morgan in and being able to go back to Raffy’s line, which had success with Andy on the left side and Tyler on the right side, it gave us better balance,” Vigneault said.

It keeps Sean Couturier with Oskar Lindblom, a duo that has highly performed, while adding Joel Farabee to the group. The trio showed promise in the 4-3 shootout loss Saturday night and it’s important the 19-year-old Farabee is around talent.

“Whoever we’ve played with Coots has played well,” Vigneault said.

And, most notably, it creates a line of James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes and Jakub Voracek, three players that haven’t produced the way everyone expects them to produce. JVR, Hayes and Voracek have combined for 29 points in 20 games. They are three of the Flyers’ four highest-paid players, all with an average annual value of $7 million or above. 

Vigneault knows those players must perform overall and especially at 5-on-5 for his team to take a legitimate step forward.

The Hayesy line, Jake and James, that should be a big, good NHL line, they should be able to contribute 5-on-5 and play well both offensively and defensively.

All those guys, I love the person. I love Kevin Hayes as a person, James and Jake I’m starting to know, they’re great people. I need more from the hockey player. Two different distinctions, right? The person and the hockey player. Those three guys, I need more from the hockey player. I know that they want to do well. We’re 20 games in. It’s time. I’m not telling you anything that I haven’t told them. Obviously they feel pressure, but that’s why they’re paid the big bucks. You’ve got to deliver, you’ve got to produce, and we expect those guys to produce.

Older guys, because of their reputation, because of what they’ve done in the league, they have more leash, they have more money in the bank. Some of our guys, they’ve used a few withdrawals. I’m not stating anything that [anybody doesn’t know], but I expect more from James, I expect more from Kevin, I expect more from Jake as far as 5-on-5 play. You’d ask those guys, they’d tell you the same thing. They need to be better for our team to get into the playoffs and we’re aware of that.

Vigneault and general manager Chuck Fletcher speak daily with AHL affiliate head coach Scott Gordon. On Sunday, Vigneault spoke with Fletcher for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. After hearing from Gordon, they felt the time was right for Frost.

“Putting our two minds together, we came up with this,” Vigneault said. “It wasn’t about coming up with a plan, it was just looking at our overall team — our four lines, our defense.”

As much as it was about Frost and the Flyers, it had a ton to do with van Riemsdyk, Hayes and Voracek. Frost is here and will make his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Panthers in Florida. While many eyes will be on Frost, Vigneault will continue to look for more from van Riemsdyk, Hayes and Voracek.

He’s a head coach with a track record of making the playoffs — and he sure doesn’t want to miss them in Year 1 with the Flyers.

 

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