It was a busy Thursday afternoon for Flyers GM Ron Hextall. He announced the Alex Lyon injury, signed camp invite Yegor Zamula to an entry-level contract and cut 11 players from the training camp roster. Among those cuts was 2016 1st rounder German Rubtsov. This may come as a bit of a surprise to some as word around camp was that the young Russian forward was turning some heads in practice. And he may have had his best performance of camp against the Rangers, getting on the scoreboard with a one-timer past Henrik Lundqvist and flashing his offensive upside. Still, he finds himself cut from the NHL roster and ready to start the year with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. And while I’m sure he’s disappointed, I believe it will be the best thing for him. Why? I’m glad you asked!
An old adage in hockey is that coaches don’t have time to teach you things at the NHL level; you’re expected to come in and help the team win by any means necessary. While we can debate how erroneous that statement is in and of itself, there is some truth to it. Most coaches will typecast you very quickly as a player. You’re a “skill guy” or a “checker” or a “scorer” or a “shutdown defenseman”, so on and so forth. In Rubtsov’s case, he’d likely be typecast as a defensive forward. Ron Hextall himself has said he’s more “South than North” at this point, meaning his defensive game is further along than his offensive game. I would agree with that assessment. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that Rubtsov would be an effective checking center in the NHL right now. And therein lies the problem. I believe Rubtsov has untapped offensive potential. He’s flashed it over the past 2 seasons playing for 4 different teams across 2 continents at two different forward positions, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together. Overall he seems to defer in the offensive zone, play as the third man high and relegate himself to a complimentary role. My concern is that if he were to play in the NHL right now, he would be typecast into a defensive role and not be given the chance to further unlock his offensive abilities. He’d play 4th line minutes, maybe some PK time here and there, and be tasked with playing “his game”, a game that in my opinion is only scratching the surface.
We’ve witnessed it ourselves in Philadelphia with Sean Couturier. Now, by no means am I directly comparing the two players. Couturier was far more accomplished and productive as a junior player. That said, Couturier was relegated to a shutdown role for years. He impressed the coaches enough as an 18-year-old to make the opening night roster and quickly gained a reputation as a defensive stalwart. From that point on, largely up until this past season, he was pigeon-holed as a shutdown center. That’s not what I want for German Rubtsov.
As a Phantom, he will be in a league that has time to teach him, enhance his strengths and improve upon his weaknesses. He will (hopefully) have a coaching staff that looks to take the aggression he displays on the forecheck and in the neutral zone and unleash it in the offensive zone. He’ll get to play bigger and more meaningful minutes, giving him more on-ice time in game situations to develop his craft.
I have long been a fan of German Rubtsov, going back to his draft year playing in the MHL. Call it bias or even blind hope, but I believe there is more than meets the eye and even the analytics (in some cases) with him. I feel he has more to learn and even more to give and for that reason, I believe Lehigh Valley is the best place for him at this time. Seeing him impress this camp was an encouraging step in the right direction. Hopefully Rubtsov gets the coaching he needs and develops into the player I believe he can become.