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Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: German Rubtsov gearing up for first full season in North America

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Rubtsov’s post-draft season didn’t go as many hoped it would, but a strong finish and a new locale bode well for 2017-18.

Kate Frese / SB Nation

When the Flyers traded down and selected German Rubtsov in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, it wasn’t a slam-dunk, no-brainer choice. Established scorers like Kieffer Bellows and Julien Gauthier were on the board at the team’s original selection spot, and while scouts were generally impressed with Rubtsov’s skillset, he came with risks.

To start, the Russian forward had been caught up in his country’s melondium doping scandal, which resulted in the country’s entire U18 team being banned from the World Championships. While it’s important to note that Rubtsov merely used a substance that Russian officials had provided all players, the scandal prevented teams from getting that final look at the player prior to the draft, and may have sent up additional (probably unfair) character red flags as well.

But the bigger issue was simply his contractual status as a player. Rubtsov was coming off a full season in the MHL (Russian junior hockey) and found himself locked into the Vityaz Podolsk organization in the KHL. As a result, the Flyers would have little control over his development in the immediate future, and also lacked a guarantee that Rubtsov would come over to the United States at all.

Considering the research that the Flyers did on the prospect prior to draft day, it’s likely that they had some degree of certainty that Rubtsov’s end goal was the NHL, but the risk remains. For example, top Minnesota prospect Kirill Kaprizov recently signed a three-year extension in the KHL, despite clearly being NHL-ready. Assuming he honors the entirety of that deal, Kaprizov will be 23 before he joins the Wild.

This is why Russian prospects often slip in the draft, for reasons unrelated to xenophobia — there’s just an added element of risk. But after watching his development stall during the first half of his draft+1 season, Rubtsov’s camp stepped in and helped the prospect choose a new route to the NHL, this time through the Canadian junior hockey system.

No. 11: German Rubtsov

Position: C
Age: 19 (6/27/1998)
Acquired Via: 2016 NHL Draft -- Round 1, Pick 22 (Pick acquired from Winnipeg along with Pick No. 36 in 2016 in exchange for Picks No. 18 and 79 in 2016 on June 24, 2016)
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Chicoutimi (QMJHL) - 9 G, 13 A in 22 GP
Nationality: Russian
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: 12

From October through the start of January, German Rubtsov’s season could only be described as a mess. He played in 30 hockey games in his home country, but 15 of those were spent in the MHL, a league in which he already had excelled during the 2015-16 season. His performance was fine — 15 points in 15 games — but not otherworldly. And in his 15 games spent with his KHL squad, Rubtsov could not manage even a point in very limited usage. He was quickly falling into the strange middle ground of being too good for Russian juniors, but either not ready (or not high enough in his coach’s estimation) for worthwhile minutes in the KHL, the second-best league in the world.

Everything came to a head in the World Junior Championships in late December/early January. Rubtsov did make the team (which was an impressive accomplishment considering his country’s general preference towards selecting older players), but again was not used as a key contributor. In five games, Rubtsov again did not score a point, and exited the tournament early with a broken nose. For fans getting their first glimpse of the team’s most recent first round selection, Rubtsov didn’t exactly stand out in a positive way.

However, that tournament can be viewed as the pivot point for Rubtsov’s entire 2016-17 season, even though the production wasn’t there. That’s because he never would again return to Russia once the WJC concluded.

Rubtsov had been drafted by the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL during the previous summer, when it still appeared possible that he would jump to North America to start the season. Even though he ended up staying in his home country, the Saguenéens retained his rights indefinitely. And in the wake of the tournament, they apparently made a big push to bring him west.

The teams and agents quickly got involved, and by January 9th, it was reported that his KHL contract had been terminated and Rubtsov was free to play in the QMJHL. His first game would come on January 19th, in which Rubtsov would finish with two assists. In many ways, that day was the true start of his Draft+1 season.

The points just kept coming. After six games, Rubtsov had nine points (three goals, six assists), and added another 11 in eight February games. Primarily playing the wing on Chicoutimi’s top line, Rubtsov looked dangerous every night, finally allowing for North American fans to see the talent that had so enticed the Flyers’ front office.

Rubtsov’s short QMJHL debut ended on April 4th, when he suffered a hand injury that forced him to sit out the postseason. Still, a performance of 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 16 games in a new league, in a new country, while adapting to new teammates midseason is undeniably impressive. Small sample size caveat attached, but his point-per-game rate of 1.375 was higher than that of fellow Canadian junior forwards Michael McLeod (1.28 PPG), Julien Gauthier (1.11 PPG) and Max Jones (1.09 PPG), all of whom were also 2016 first-rounders.

That strong finish has the hype train back rolling when it comes to German Rubtsov. Finally given a major role in an age-appropriate league that can be viewed by Flyers fans, Rubtsov more than held his own. That carried over to development camp in Voorhees, which gave fans their first direct look at the prospect. His skating ability and passing prowess were on display throughout the week, and he apparently stood out in the scrimmages as well.

So what comes next for German Rubtsov? He’s almost certainly not NHL-ready, considering his inability to carve out a role for himself last year in the KHL, a lesser league. But unlike most under-20 prospects in Canadian juniors, Rubtsov actually has multiple non-NHL options. Because he was contracted with a KHL team when drafted, he is not subject to the CHL-NHL agreement that prohibits junior players from jumping to the AHL before age-20. As a result, the Flyers could send him back to Chicoutimi, or they could assign him to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms instead, if they believe he is ready for a stiffer challenge. He’s already signed to a NHL entry-level contract (on March 2nd), so placing him in the AHL would require no additional paperwork.

However, I personally believe he would be better served spending a full season in the QMJHL. After bouncing between three leagues last season, a complete year in a major role against age-appropriate competition would be a good way to inject some normality into what has been a very unconventional development process. It would take an absolutely stellar performance in Flyers training camp to convince me that Rubtsov would be best suited for the Phantoms on what projects to be a roster stacked full of useful forwards. Unless he’ll be sliding right into a guaranteed top-six role in the AHL, I believe heavy usage in all situations in the QMJHL is the best move for the 19-year old.

At development camp, Hextall was noncommittal on the “QMJHL or AHL?” question, but he did confirm that the NHL was a serious longshot for Rubtsov in 2017-18. The 2016 first-rounder is almost certainly at least one year away from the big club, but considering his promising play in juniors last year, his stock is trending upwards. It will be up to Rubtsov to continue that trajectory this year, whether it occurs in Canada or Lehigh Valley.

How We Voted For German Rubtsov

Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
9 12 11 12 9 9 15 11 9 13 15 12

How We Voted At No. 11

Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Robert Hagg Carter Hart German Rubtsov Scott Laughton Anthony Stolarz Samuel Morin Oskar Lindblom German Rubtsov Scott Laughton Philippe Myers Philippe Myers Robert Hagg

How The Community Voted For German Rubtsov

Ranking # of Votes
Ranking # of Votes
1 0
2 0
3 4
4 3
5 8
6 14
7 31
8 45
9 98
10 111
11 113
12 137
13 98
14 94
15 73
16 63
17 59
18 28
19 7
20 11
21 7
22 6
23 5
24 1
25 2
NR 16

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Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25: