Philadelphia 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: Still questioning the Morgan Frost draft pick?

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Aaron Bell/CSNPhilly/USA Today Images

Future Flyers Report: Still questioning the Morgan Frost draft pick?

Welcome back to the return of the Future Flyers Report, a weekly column tracking the development of the Flyers’ prospects. This year, we’ll try some new tricks along the way.

We’re nine days out from the Flyers’ season opener, and when preseason ends, it’s expected that a few mainstays of this report from years past will graduate to the NHL. That’s OK. As the Flyers enter their youth movement, we’ll continue evaluating their first-year players with weekly reports on their progress throughout their rookie seasons.

The CHL opened its regular season last week, and international leagues have been underway since earlier this month. As hockey season returns, let’s dig into the future.

Morgan Frost, C, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Think back to draft night in June, when the Flyers traded Brayden Schenn to the Blues and then used the 27th overall pick on Frost. Not many knew who Frost was, and the projections had the centerman as a second-round pick. Fans reacted as such on social media, without ever seeing Frost play. I didn’t know too much about the player when the Flyers drafted him, but all the reports were positive and I immediately thought of the Travis Sanheim draft. It’s too early to say Frost will rise to that level of prospect, but he showed in development camp the hockey smarts and playmaking ability that drew the Flyers to him.

Frost had an explosive start to the season this weekend, especially Saturday night in the Greyhounds' season opener against Oshawa, a 7-4 loss. He picked up two assists in Sault Ste. Marie's loss, but his first helper was a dandy. Frost found Tim Gettinger open in the faceoff circle across the ice, through multiple defenders with a slap-pass and Gettinger finished with the goal. On Sunday night, Frost followed up with a shorthanded penalty shot for his first tally of the season.

It was exactly the type of start you'd want to see from Frost, who was sort of a riser in his draft class. It's his third season in the OHL, and you want to see a leap offensively from him. He got off to a strong start this weekend.

Felix Sandstrom, G, 24, 6-2/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
One of the Flyers’ top goalie prospects, Sandstrom was expected to miss the start of the season because of a simple laparoscopic procedure, but the procedure was postponed. Sandstrom made his first start Thursday, stopping 29 of 32 shots in Brynäs’ 4-2 loss to HV71. With Oskar Lindblom, German Rubtsov and Mikhail Vorobyev in North America, Sandstrom is the most intriguing international prospect in the Flyers’ system. It’s a safe bet he’ll be the top-selling international flavor of this report this year.

Connor Bunnaman, C, 19, 6-1/207, Kitchener (OHL)
Before the Rangers’ first game Friday against Flint, Bunnaman was named the 53rd captain in Kitchener history, replacing Frank Hora, who is with the Phantoms on an AHL contract. Bunnaman joins Mike Richards (2003-05) and Bill Barber (1971-72) as Flyers draft picks who wore the ‘C’ with the Rangers. Paul Evans, who was drafted by the Kings but later played for the Flyers, was the Rangers’ captain in 1973-74. Bunnaman also played in his 200th career OHL game Friday night, recording three shots and no points in a 5-3 Rangers loss. He was highly effective in the Rangers’ 3-1 win over Sarnia on Saturday night with five shots on goal, his first assist and a plus-three rating.

Anthony Salinitri, C, 19, 5-11/170, Sarnia (OHL)
This is an important season for Salinitri if he wants to earn an entry-level contract with the Flyers. This will be the Flyers’ final season of holding Salinitri’s rights before having to decide to either sign him or let him go. They elected not to sign Sam Dove-McFalls this summer, and Salinitri, a 2016 sixth-round pick, is in a similar situation. There’s no guarantee the Flyers sign him, and he was cut early during training camp. With a 50-contract limit, the pressure is on Salinitri to make a major impact this year in Sarnia.

Salinitri’s 2017-18 campaign didn’t get off to a bad start, though. In his first game Friday night, the centerman scored his first goal of the season and also potted a shootout goal in the Sting’s 4-3 win over the Guelph Storm. He did lose 10 of his 13 faceoffs, however. On Saturday night, against Kitchener, Salinitri was a minus-two with two penalty minutes, two shots on goal and no points. He won two of his five faceoffs in the 3-1 loss.

Pascal Laberge, C/RW, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Laberge is another prospect with an important season ahead of him. After dealing with more adversity in 2016-17, this time with concussion issues, Laberge has to put himself back in good standing within the Flyers’ organization. General manager Ron Hextall, while understanding of the situation, made it clear this summer he didn’t like the way Laberge competed at times last season. In training camp, Laberge showed he still has a lot of work to do. Still, the 2016 second-round pick still has plenty time to develop.

I would expect Laberge to have a bounce-back season. In Victoriaville’s season opener Friday night, Laberge was the top-line center. He was held pointless in the Tigres’ 2-1 win over Gatineau, registering three shots and winning 50 percent of his draws. Laberge picked up his first point of the season Sunday night, setting up Maxime Comtois' game-winning goal in the Tigres' 4-3 overtime win over Shawinigan.

Quick hits
• Rubtsov was unavailable for Chicoutimi during the Saguenéens’ opening weekend because of paperwork, according to La Presse. He should play this week.

Isaac Ratcliffe, a hulking 6-6 winger, netted a shootout goal in Guelph’s 4-3 loss to Sarnia on Friday but didn’t register any points in either of the Storm’s first two games.

David Kase, a 20-year-old European prospect who’s playing in the SHL this season, had a goal and assist with three shots in Mora IK’s 5-1 win over Rogle on Thursday.

Olle Lycksell, a 2017 sixth-round pick, has four assists in four games with the Linköping HC J20 team.

Linus Högberg, a 2016 fifth-round pick, has an assist in three games with Växjö (SHL).

Valeri Vasiliev has three assists in four games and is averaging over 17 minutes with Severstal (KHL). Vasiliev, 23, was a seventh-round pick in 2012.

• The Russian goalies: Ivan Fedotov has a 1.92 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in four games with Toros Neftekamsk (VHL). Kirill Ustimenko has a 2.00 GAA and .904 save percentage in six games with Dynamo St. Petersburg (MHL).

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers play a preseason back-to-back set when they visit the Rangers on Monday, then host them Tuesday.

With such a schedule setup, head coach Dave Hakstol already has two lineups in mind as the Flyers continue their evaluation for the opening night roster. The training camp roster is technically at 29, but with three players injured (Cole Bardreau, Colin McDonald, Anthony Stolarz), it's actually at 26 and must be down to 23 by the Oct. 4 season opener.

The obvious roster hopefuls are forwards Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Mike Vecchione, and defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

"Everybody that's here is still in the mix," Hakstol said after practice Sunday at Flyers Skate Zone. "I said it a couple days ago, this is when the competition gets pretty high."

If Sunday's practice combinations are any indication of what Monday's lineup will look like at Madison Square Garden, Travis Konecny, Vecchione, Leier and Lindblom will be extras. They were the four-man rotational line Sunday.

Hakstol said there could be some differences from the groupings Sunday when it comes to Monday's game. However, he does hope to play each bubble player at least one of the two games. So whoever sits Monday is more than likely to play Tuesday.

Eyes on Patrick
Patrick is feeling better and better.

After assisting Shayne Gostisbehere's overtime winner in Wednesday's 3-2 preseason split-squad win against the Islanders, Patrick played 16:50 Thursday in the 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. The No. 2 overall pick saw some power-play time, had a few shots on goal and a pair of takeaways.

"Last game was the most comfortable I've felt," Patrick said Sunday.

He's now played in three preseason games, as well as the rookie game.

Patrick centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds on the second unit at practice, a spot which suits his strengths playing between two finishers with a good blend of ways to score.

Look for that line to stick Monday.

"We've only had one game together, but I think Simmer's obviously a top player in the league, he was an All-Star last year, he can put the puck in the net and make plays," Patrick said. "So he's big down low to create space. Jordan's great offensively, he's got a lot of speed, so I just try to play smart and find them when they're open and make plays."

Sound with studs
Hagg has put together a strong camp and preseason.

The 22-year-old defenseman is well-groomed and prides himself on play in his own end. Playing alongside Gostisbehere doesn't hurt, either. It allows Gostisbehere to focus a bit more on producing offensively because Hagg understands his defensive role.

The last two days, Hagg has been paired with Ivan Provorov.

With those two, he isn't complaining and seems to relish being the complementary piece.

"They're pretty good guys to play with," Hagg said.

"I don't mind it. Let them do their job and I'm taking care of the defense, kind of what I did last year, as well. Start getting used to it and I don't have any problems with it.

"I think my best game is in the D-zone, shutting down guys, 1-on-1 battles. And then sure, I can follow up in the game and find some pucks here and there. But my main focus is to be good in the D-zone, take care of that and the rest will take care of itself."

Roster two cents
Vecchione has played only two preseason games thus far and he was among the four-man line at practice. He should play at least one of these games on the back-to-back, but at this point, he looks like he'll start the season at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. There just isn't a spot for the rookie forward right now and he won't be on the roster to be an extra man.

Laughton seems to be a safe bet to make the Flyers' roster. He's been playing in the exact role the Flyers are hoping for him and he proved growth to general manager Ron Hextall last season with the Phantoms.

Leier has done everything you'd ask for from a guy fighting for a spot. However, the numbers game likely pegs him at Lehigh Valley to start 2017-18.

Nonetheless, Hakstol has been impressed by the 23-year-old winger, who had a two-goal game Wednesday in the 3-2 split-squad win at the PPL Center.

"It's about playing his role, what his role is," Hakstol said. "Taylor's a responsible two-way forward. When he's been with us, he's played in that third, fourth-line wing type of role, he's killed penalties — that's his chair. He's done a good job of that so far in camp and that's why he's got himself solidly in the mix."

Can't get enough
Weal is always getting in extra work.

Ever since coming to the Flyers in the January 2016 Vinny Lecavalier trade, he is often the first player on the ice before practice even starts. On Sunday, he was the last one off of it with Konecny. Together, the two took in some bonus ice time.

The 25-year-old Weal just loves the rink and it's gotten him from lots of healthy scratches in 2015-16 to what should be a prominent role in 2017-18.

Quotables
"I think they're going to try to stick to it a little bit more. I don't mind it. It's like impossible to cheat now in faceoffs. But some guys, it's kind of a skill to be able to cheat in faceoffs. I don't know, I think they're going to stick to it, and if they do, it's good. Guys are going to be not trying to cheat because you want to stay in the faceoff dot. We'll see what happens."

- Claude Giroux on refs being stricter in the faceoff circle during preseason

"I had quite a few chances that game. Just being able to jump up in the rush at the right times. You're seeing a lot more in the NHL these days that a lot of the offense is being pushed from D-men getting up in the play and joining the rush and creating chances. That's something I've had as a part in my game all the way through my career. I'm just trying to bring that to this level."

- Travis Sanheim on his goal against the Bruins Thursday

Practice lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek (more on this here).
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Mike Vecchione-Taylor Leier-Oskar Lindblom-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald

Current roster breakdown

Forwards (18)
Cole Bardreau (injured)
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Oskar Lindblom
Colin McDonald (injured)
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Matt Read
Wayne Simmonds
Mike Vecchione
Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal
Dale Weise

Defensemen (8)
Shayne Gostisbehere
Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg
Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning
Sam Morin
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim

Goalies (3)
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
Anthony Stolarz (injured)