BUFFALO, N.Y. — Were it not for the Russian drug scandal involving its under-18 World Junior squad this year, chances are, German Rubtsov would have been a top-10 NHL draft prospect.
The entire U-18 team was banned by WADA for testing positive for meldonium, a performance enhancer, at this year’s championships in Grand Forks.
Which is why Rubtsov fell in Friday’s draft at First Niagara Center as the Flyers traded down four picks to No. 22 to pluck a kid who was supposedly their best two-way centerman (see story).
“We were caught taking a not-allowed substance and weren’t allowed to go into the tournament,” the 6-foot-1, 174-pound forward said. “Obviously, a disappointment but it is over and I look to the future.
“None of us knew. We had a little glass of juice and tablets and [were] told in the morning to take this because it is good for your health. The coaching staff gave it to us.”
General manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers did extra homework on him because of the scandal.
“We dug deep here in terms of his character,” Hextall said. “I dug deeper than I’ve ever dug. More research on this kid than I’ve ever done. Really good character and team guy.”
Rubtsov, who turns 18 on Monday, does not speak English and used Flyers scout Ken Hoodikoff as his interpreter. Hoodikoff spent much time with Rubtsov this past year.
“We had lots of contact, more than any other team,” Rubtsov said. “Not worried I didn’t go higher. I was hoping to be drafted by the Flyers. I like Philadelphia. All year they kept an eye on me and talked to me. They put a big effort in.”
Rubtsov’s agent is Mark Gandler, who also represents Ivan Provorov. Gandler wants him playing somewhere in North America this season but that could be a long shot.
“He’s got a contract [with Vityaz],” Hextall said. “We’re prepared he’s going to the KHL this year. Not a lot of chance of him coming over here.”
Hextall said even if Rubtsov did come here, he would not be ready, even for the Phantoms.
“I’d like to try to play at the NHL level,” Rubtsov said. “If not, I’ll play wherever they tell me.”
European observers believe were it not for the scandal, Rubtsov might have been a top-10 pick.
“The Russian factor and him not being at the Under-18 was a big platform for him and there were multiple reasons [for sliding down],” Hextall said.
By trading down from No. 18 with Winnipeg, the Flyers missed out on drafting highly-touted Kieffer Bellows, a pure goal scorer.
The club needs goal-scoring wingers. Rubtsov is projected as a solid, all-around centerman.
Scouts say Rubtsov has considerable defensive awareness for such a young age. He likens himself to Evgeni Malkin and does not come from a hockey family background.
“I need to work on my quickness in every which way,” Rubtsov said. “I am a two-way player and pride myself on my hard work.”
Hextall emphasized his speed.
“He’s a really good hockey player, he brings speed,” Hextall said. “He’s got good size. Still 17. Really, really smart and plays the game the right way but pushes the pace.”