BUFFALO — The Philadelphia Flyers made a smart trade during Round 1 of the NHL Draft, sending the 18th pick and the 79th pick to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for the 22nd pick and the 36th pick.
Dropping four spots in Round 1 — with a lot of quality dropping on the board all night -- and jumping up 43 spots elsewhere in the Draft? Really smart stuff from Ron Hextall and Company.
That’s especially true since it means we still held a first round pick, which the Flyers used on Russian forward German Rubtsov. Here’s what we had to say about Rubtsov in our profile of him earlier today:
The case to pick him: Rubtsov is viewed as one of the smartest forwards in the entire draft. His hockey IQ is supposedly off-the-charts, and scouts seem convinced that he'll stick at center as he progresses in his professional career. In Russia, he's already being used as the "tough minutes" forward on his team, matching up against top lines and playing heavy minutes on the penalty kill. Rubtsov also revels in playing a physical game, whether that be leading the way on the forecheck or battling for loose pucks in the defensive zone.
While Rubtsov isn't quite the physical specimen, it's not ridiculous to compare him to Sean Couturier in terms of style of play. Clearly, Couturier thrived in his first season under Dave Hakstol, and if the Flyers want to replicate that skillset with their draft selection, Rubtsov would be the ideal pick.
The case to pass on him: As has been the big question surrounding Couturier during his NHL career, Rubtsov's ultimate offensive upside remains unclear. He's merely a decent skater, and doesn't seem to possess the goal scoring talent of prospects like Bellows, Kunin or Gauthier. Rubtsov's high-end hockey IQ makes it less likely that he'll be a complete bust, but there's legitimate concern that he lacks a single standout physical skill to aid him in becoming a dynamic player at the next level.
Also, while Rubtsov has hinted that he will move to the CHL next season, that's not a guarantee. Hextall may be concerned that Rubtsov will stay in Russia, which makes it tougher to keep an eye on him, and could delay his eventual move to the NHL. Combined with concerns over his scoring potential, that may be enough to keep the Flyers from targeting the Russian.
There may be slight disappointment that the New York Islanders selected forward Kieffer Bellows with the No. 19 pick, as he was definitely the best possible selection for the Flyers of the group available here. The same could be said for Julien Gauthier, who the Carolina Hurricanes took with the No. 21 pick (and who we selected at No. 18 in the SB Nation Mock Draft). But it’s clear that the Flyers didn’t see much distance between Bellows and Gauthier or Rubtsov.
Let's get this out of the way -- Rubtsov isn't the sniper that many fans wanted the Flyers to nab during the first round of the draft. But he brings a complete package to the table in terms of skillset. Considering his high-end hockey sense, Rubtsov is almost certain to stick as a center even as he moves up the rankings, and he brings offensive upside to the table as well. Players with a reasonable ceiling of a possession-driving top-six center usually don't fall into the early 20s, and the Flyers took full advantage.
Corey Pronman of ESPN.com ranked Rubtsov 13th in the entire draft, and raved about his complete skillset.
The well-rounded Rubtsov was the top player on the inaugural Russia under-18 team this season, and showed well in international play. Offensively, he has the traits one would expect of a top Russian prospect. He's an above-average skater, with a good first step and an easy stride. His skills aren't elite, but he shows good hands and is able to create space for himself. His hockey IQ is very impressive, as he displays great patience with the puck, sees his options well and always finds himself involved with the play. Rubtsov is a fierce competitor in puck battles and, despite having a lean frame, is able to win a fair amount of them. He's also a quality defensive center, who has been leaned on all season in critical defensive situations, and is often a threat to score shorthanded. Though he and the rest of his teammates were disqualified from the under-18 world championships, it's hard to see his draft stock slipping too much.
The disqualification from the under-18 world championships was due to the entire Russian team testing positive for meldonium, a banned substance in international play. But it's unfair to blame Rubtsov here -- he was simply following instructions from the Russian training staff. If Rubtsov had been one of only a few players to be disqualified, it would be a larger cause for concern, but this incident seems more like an unfortunate set of circumstances rather than a black mark on Rubtsov.
Some theorized that the meldonium scandal could hurt his draft stock, but I doubt NHL teams blamed Rubtsov. However, his absence from the under-18 tournament did take away one last chance to impress scouts, and that may have contributed to other players leaping over Rubtsov in the rankings.
The Flyers clearly weren't scared off. Rubtsov immediately slots in as the organization's second-best forward prospect after Travis Konecny, and their top prospect at center by far. He may not be a high-volume shooter like Bellows, or a beast in the high-danger areas like Gauthier, but German Rubtsov has the potential to be a two-way difference maker, an upside that the two snipers can only dream to achieve.