We've seen the Flyers' prospect pool take huge steps forward in the last three to four years, and the gains they've made have come all across the board. After not developing any defensemen for more or less the entire history of the franchise, they've got a group of young blueliners as good as that of any team in the league. And they've assembled a group of quality goaltending prospects that runs six- or seven-deep, something not many franchises can say.
Yet the more some things change, the more others stay the same. For all of the strides we've seen from the Flyers all across the prospect pool, they still believe as much as any team that you build depth down the middle. And that starts with strong play from your centers, in all three zones of the ice -- which brings us to this year's first-round draft pick, German Rubtsov.
No. 10: German Rubtsov
Age: 18 (6/27/1998)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Russian U18 (MHL) - 12 G, 14 A in 28 GP
Nationality: Russian (Chekhov)
Acquired Via: 2016 NHL Draft -- Round 1, Pick 22 (Pick acquired via Winnipeg along with Pick No. 36 in 2016 for Pick Nos. 18 and 79 in 2016)
The fact that the Flyers passed over snipers on the wing like Kieffer Bellows and Julien Gauthier to trade down and eventually draft Rubtsov this past June was a source of consternation for a portion of the fanbase, some of which was upset that the Flyers passed on a type of talent that the system lacked and some of which seemed to be annoyed that the Flyers ended up drafting a two-way center the way they seem to quite often.
And one is well within their rights to not like the pick. Still, there are two things to consider here. First, the Flyers have a pretty solid track record in the recent past when it comes to drafting centers in the first round. Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier ... you know the list well. You don't need to blindly trust their decision-making on it, but most would agree that this is an area of the draft where they've had some success.
And second, there still is some long-term uncertainty with the Flyers down the middle. Claude Giroux is still outstanding, but it's fair to ask for how much longer that'll be the case. Sean Couturier's coming off the best year of his career and hopefully that was a sign of things to come, but after that it gets uncertain very quickly. Nick Cousins has two solid months of NHL play to his name, which is a start but not anything the Flyers can bank on. Former centers Brayden Schenn and Scott Laughton are both likely going to be on the wing for the forseeable future. And for how much the Flyers' farm system has improved, they're surprisingly thin at center. The only centers we've profiled so far in this countdown are Jordan Weal, a likely AHL/NHL tweener, Radel Fazleev, a sixth-round pick who's probably an NHL long-shot, and Pascal Laberge, whose play improved this past season when he moved from center to right wing. (Travis Konecny is also a former center, but seems all but certain to play at the wing in the NHL.)
So it's not hard to see more depth at center as a need for the organization, and Rubtsov is a guy you can pretty reasonably count on to be a solid NHLer. His calling card leading up to the draft was his high-end hockey sense and two-way play, which are of course both good attributes for a center in today's NHL.
His offensive production to date isn't stellar -- he was at just under a point per game in the Russian junior league this past year -- but as someone who was very young for his draft year (he didn't turn 18 until a few days after he was drafted), he's held his own. This upcoming year is a big one for him in terms of showing what he can do offensively.
Unfortunately, so far things have been a bit rocky for Rubtsov. While he is at Russia's highest level in the KHL, Rubtsov's ice time has been fairly low with HC Vityaz, and he's even been scratched multiple times already. There are obvious downsides to this; namely, that Rubtsov needs playing time against good players in order to get better, and that right now his options appear to be to either get minimal ice time at the KHL or to play in Russia's minor leagues against lesser players.
But while the Flyers are certainly hoping that Rubtsov's age-18 season takes a turn for the better before long, the situation could still work out for them. Rubtsov is currently under contract with Vityaz for two seasons, but if things continue to play out like this for him, he could look to get out of that contract at the end of this season and head to North America next year, similar to how Stars first-rounder Denis Guryanov did last year after a similar first post-draft season in the KHL. That'd give them a chance to monitor his development much more closely, if it's something Rubtsov and his agent were able to pull.
Wherever Rubtsov plays and whenever he ends up playing, there's a lot at stake for the Flyers when it comes to his development. The Flyers' tendency to build down the middle depends on them hitting on draft picks like German Rubtsov, and him hitting his ceiling would go a long way towards fortifying that center depth long-term.
How we voted for German Rubtsov :
How we voted at No. 10 :
|Mark Alt||Taylor Leier||Samuel Morin||Samuel Morin||Nick Cousins||Philippe Myers||Nick Cousins||Anthony Stolarz||German Rubtsov||German Rubtsov|
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016:
- Honorable Mentions
- No. 25: Wade Allison
- No. 24: Felix Sandstrom
- No. 23: Mark Friedman
- No. 22: Alex Lyon
- No. 21: Mark Alt
- No. 20: Carter Hart
- No. 19: Petr Straka
- No. 18: Pascal Laberge
- No. 17: Radel Fazleev
- No. 16: Jordan Weal
- No. 15: Philippe Myers
- No. 14: Taylor Leier
- No. 13: Nicolas Aube-Kubel
- No. 12: Oskar Lindblom
- No. 11: Robert Hagg