From the moment Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers selected him 22nd overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, German Rubtsov has been facing adversity. A big reason why the Russian forward dropped in the first round was due to a doping scandal that disqualified the Russian U-18 team from the 2016 World Junior Championship.
Following the fallout from that incident, Rubtsov had to handle moving from Russia to North America, as he joined the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for 16 games last season. To go along with the cultural change, the forward had to deal with several injuries that knocked him out for a good chunk of the 2016-17 campaign: a foot injury in Russia, a broken nose at the WJC, and a hand injury that eliminated him from the QMJHL postseason. Although he’s been fairly healthy recently, he’s had to adjust being dealt from the Sagueneens to Acadie-Bathurst Titan earlier this season.
With all these hurdles in his way, Rubtsov has still managed to post six goals and 16 assists in 21 games this year. He also has 48 shots on goal this season and a 57.58 goals for percentage at 5-on-5 play (5.03 Rel GF%), according to Prospect-Stats. Let’s take a look at how Rubtsov got to these totals.
To go along with the common characteristics often used to describe him, I think Rubtsov possesses a quick release, but doesn’t get to show it off often. His goal on October 21st against the Saint John Sea Dogs illustrates this, as he beat Alex D’Orio pretty cleanly on a wrist shot from the middle of the circle. Another example of this was his power-play goal against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada a week later, as he ripped a shot between Michael Kemp’s legs and past Emile Samson’s glove for his first in a two-goal performance.
Something both of these goals highlighted is Rubtsov’s patience with the puck in the offensive zone. His goal against D’Orio came after he held onto the puck for another half second while the far side of the net opened up, his first goal against Samson came after he let Kemp position himself as a screen, and his second goal against Samson saw Rubtsov put the puck in a mostly open net as he let bodies converge in the low slot in front of the Armada netminder to take away his vision.
His second goal against Blainville-Boisbriand also showed Rubtsov’s smarts. Vladislav Kotkov took the puck behind Armada’s net and started to look for somebody to pass it to in front. Rubtsov recognized this and immediately gravitated to a soft spot in the slot, which allowed Kotkov to set him up for the goal.
Rubtsov, as advertised, has shown off his hands on a few goals this season. He used a nice forehand-backhand deke on Kyle Jessiman in a 6-3 win over the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles on November 4th and redirected a shot past Val-d’Or Foreurs’ Jonathan Lemieux thanks in part to his own screen on December 1st.
So far this season, half of Rubtsov’s 48 shots have come from the right circle. He’s totaled 24 shots that are either in the right circle or on the outline of the circle. Nine of Rubtsov’s shots have come between the circles from around the faceoff dots or closer. He has also taken six shots from the left point.
As a player that is in his second season after being drafted, Rubtsov’s 48 shots in 21 games isn’t exactly stellar. According to Prospect-Stats, his 2.29 shots per game is 70th among QMJHL forwards who have played at least 21 games in 2017-18 heading into Wednesday’s action. Wondering why his shot per game rate wasn’t all that impressive, I reached out to Jerome Berube, head scout for HockeyProspect.com, and asked him for his analysis of Rubtsov so far this season. In his limited viewings this season, Berube “didn’t see him passing on shots too much,” and thinks Rubtsov’s shot selection could have been better (something that seems apparent with less than a fifth of his shots in all situations coming in the slot).
More of these will be analyzed below, but Rubtsov had a few noteworthy helpers with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and for Team Russia in the CIBC Canada Russia Series. He’s had a few secondary assists this season where he actually earned the assist on a play. The best example of this is when he created a play that led to the opening goal for the Sagueneens in a 4-0 win over the Victoriaville Tigres on October 6th. Rubtsov carried the puck around the perimeter of the offensive zone before he hit Samuel Houde with a cross-ice pass, who tapped it to Kotkov for a layup.
Houde was also the benefactor of great play from Rubtsov on October 18th, as the Flyers’ prospect showed great instincts on a pass in the neutral zone. After Olivier Galipeau sent a pass from deep in the defensive zone to Rubtsov at the opposing blue line, the forward quickly slid the puck between his legs to a streaking Houde, who flew past a flat-footed Adam McCormick and beat Kevin Mandolese to open the scoring.
Outside of QMJHL action, Rubtsov’s lone assist in the CIBC Canada Russia Series was an important one. With just under three minutes remaining in the final game of the series, Rubtsov and Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect Vitalii Abramov had a 2-on-1 that saw Abramov dish a pass to Rubtsov in the slot. After he drove to the net and made a move on Team QMJHL’s goalie Samuel Harvey, Rubtsov dealt it back to Abramov for a rather easy game-winning tally.
Of his eight primary assists this season (he was given two secondary assists on November 10th, actually had a primary assist and secondary assist), Rubtsov completed a pass on seven of them and had a shot of his lead to a goal off a rebound once. Of the seven passes, three were cross-ice passes and two saw Rubtsov move the puck into the slot.
Since his first game with Acadie-Bathurst on November 3rd, Rubtsov has formed a pretty successful line with Anaheim Ducks’ prospect Antoine Morand and Jordan Maher. In the 13 games since Rubtsov joined the Titan, the Rubtsov-Morand-Maher line has accounted for 15 of the team’s 57 goals. According to Berube, the construction of the line could explain it’s success so far this season:
“(Rubtsov) defintely had the puck a lot in (the games I’ve watched this year). He likes to have the puck on his stick, often carries the puck into the offensive zone. Morand is a good, smart player who is a pass-first player, but he needs good wingers to perform. Maher is more of a shooter.”
The chemistry between these three came through in Rubtsov’s first game with Acadie-Bathurst, as he and Morand completed a pair of cross-ice passes in a span of seconds while cycling before they scored one of the Titan’s six goals in the victory over the Screaming Eagles.
The trio also utilized passes from below the goal line to set up goals on a few occasions this season. Rubtsov started a passing sequence that saw the puck travel below the goal line to Morand, who threw it back to Rubtsov in the right circle, who then fired it cross ice to Maher for a dunk against the Drummondville Voltigeurs on November 10th. Rubtsov and Morand also worked behind the net for a goal against the Armada the following day, as the two passed it back and forth below the goal line a few times before Rubtsov hit Maher with a cross-ice pass for a one-time goal.
As mentioned above, Rubtsov had a secondary assist while playing on this line where he did a lot of the legwork for the goal. In the first period of a win over the Screaming Eagles on November 4th, Rubtsov caused a turnover in the neutral zone and carried the puck into the offensive zone. Once he got below the goal line, Rubtsov threw a pass to Morand in the slot, who backhanded a pass to Maher for an easy dunk.
Although there are plenty of positives to Rubtsov’s game, there are definitely some concerns. For one, some feel he may not have the skill level of a top-six forward, as stated by The Athletic’s Corey Pronman back in October:
“I’ve been one of those people although have liked him a little more when I’ve watched this season. He’s by no means a zero offensively. I like his instincts and he has quality hands but there is a lack of next-level type of talent that could make him a clear top six forward. He’s a well-rounded guy who has a game that can translate to the pros though.”
Berube also spoke to this concern, and tossed in another issue with his play:
“I would say his desire was lacking in my viewings this year. He didn’t work hard and was a bit lazy on the ice. His toolset is good - skating, strength, shot, and vision - but with that skillset and playing in the Q at 19, I would expect him to be more dominant than what he has been this year.”
The lack of production is a real concern for Rubtsov. According to Prospect-Stats, Rubtsov is 11th with 1.05 points per game and tied for 26th with 0.67 primary points per game among 65 QMJHL forwards who are at least 19 years old and have played 21 games or more this season. He has never been clearly over a point-per-game player in his career unless you count his 16-game stretch last year with the Sagueneens where he racked up 22 points. Points aren’t everything, but it would be nice to see bigger numbers for a first-round pick playing in his draft +2 season.
As for the lack of desire, that could be a concern for Rubtsov. The only argument against this statement is it’s possible Rubtsov’s playing style with the puck is just very methodical. He’s a forward that seems to prefer slowing the game down and holding on to the puck for a little longer than most players to let plays develop. When a player does that often rather than attempting to take on defenders with speed or muscle, it might be misconstrued as a lack of effort. However, Berube does watch a bit of QMJHL hockey, so he probably isn’t saying this lightly.
There are a lot of positives to take away from Rubtsov’s play in the QMJHL over the last two seasons. The player Rubtsov has been advertised as (‘smart player with great hands and instincts’) is evident when one watches him play. Although he hasn’t manufactured a ton of points in any league he’s ever played in, perhaps finally settling down with a contending team will change that fact.