When the Flyers drafted German Rubtsov with the 22nd overall pick in Friday night’s 2016 NHL Draft, they knew what they were getting.
They aren’t concerned about the melondium doping scandal that cost Rubtsov and his under-18 Russian teammates a chance at playing in the World Championships, and the North American hockey world at-large is in agreement on that topic.
Here’s what an NHL scout told Sportsnet before the draft:
“These are young kids, so you don’t know if they knew what they were taking or if they could even say no,” one scout said. “So you don’t read anything into a positive test as far as character goes. You wonder and worry about the kids if there are any long-term health implications, but that’s as far as it goes. They’re the victims in this.”
Ron Hextall echoed that same thought on Friday night after his team picked Rubtsov.
“We did our research on this kid, trust me,” Hextall said. “Up down and all around, inside their country and everything else. We’re convinced that it’s not an issue. ... If that [unknowingly taking a drug] happened to you, do you think you should be responsible? We dug deep here in terms of the character. Deeper than I’ve ever dug. Really good character. Really good team guy.”
So the doping part of this isn’t a concern, even if at face value it can seem a little concerning. But then there’s always the other question of Russian players: when are they coming to North America? Do they even want to come to North America?
In the case of fellow Russian Ivan Provorov, last year’s No. 7 overall pick, the Flyers knew of his commitment to playing on this side of the Atlantic. He’s been here since he was in his early teens when he played in in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and the USHL before heading up to Brandon to play for the Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League.
But Rubtsov is still in Russia, and he even has a contract with his hometown KHL team, HC Vityaz, for the next two seasons.
“My agent is still working on my contract to get out of Russia,” Rubtsov said through a translator on Friday. “I’m hoping to play here in North America. Obviously first I’d like to try if I could make it at the NHL level but if not I’ll play wherever they tell me I should.”
So, what’s Hextall have to say about that?
“He’s got a two-year deal right now,” Hextall said. “Whether [he gets out of it] or not, we don’t know. We’re prepared if he’s gotta stay there for two years, so be it. If he can come over before, that’s terrific. We understand all the possibilities and are comfortable with it. ... We’re prepared that he’s going to the KHL this season.”
It’s understandable that Hextall can’t talk about this in detail, since it’s truly a matter between Rubtsov, his agent and the KHL team. And let’s be real here: the way a player gets out of a contract like this is purely money. When Rubtsov says “my agent is working to get out of Russia,” it probably means he’s negotiating some sort of under-the-table payment.
So maybe Rubstov pays and gets out of it and is North America soon. You can understand why Hextall, at least when speaking with the media, is unsure of that possibility.
One Canadian Hockey League team is banking on that happening though. On Tuesday morning at the CHL Import Draft, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Chicoutimi Saguenéens selected Rubtsov with the 27th overall pick.
Les Saguenéens sélectionnent le russe German Rubtsov #CHLImportDraft #LHJMQ— Saguenéens (@SagueneensLHJMQ) June 28, 2016
The worst case scenario is that Rubtsov plays two seasons in the KHL and then comes to North America — be it with the Flyers in the NHL or likely, at that point, the Phantoms in the AHL. That’s not really a terrible situation as the KHL is clearly a solid league and not the worst place for an 18-year-old to develop pro hockey skills.
The best case is that he gets out of that KHL contract and comes over right away. If that happens, he’ll probably go to Chicoutimi first. Hextall said at the Draft that he doesn’t foresee him playing in the AHL as an 18 year old.
Despite that, there’s obviously benefit to him being here, even if it is in the QMJHL, since there’s more opportunity for the Flyers to be in contact with him on a regular basis and have more oversight into his development than they would if he’s under the control of a KHL team.
Ultimately, no matter where he plays this season or next, the Flyers are in a decent situation with Rubtsov. Any concerns about his contract situation and his involvement in the doping scandal are pretty inconsequential.