Quick Hits: August 18, 2019
1) While much of the early training camp attention next month will be focused on first-year pros Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost and whether either rookie will make the Flyers opening night roster
, second-year pro German Rubtsov is flying under the radar to some degree.
It's a shame that Rubtsov suffered a season-ending shoulder injury early in his 14th game of the season for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last year. He was off to a strong start, adapting to the pro game at a rapid pace and showing some offensive upside as well as the two-way awareness that is the foundation of his game.
There are two different scenarios by which Rubtsov, if he excels in camp, could work his way into the NHL picture. Option one would be as a third line winger, with Scott Laughton as the fourth line center. Option two is the opposite: Laughton on wing on the third line and Rubtsov centering the fourth line.
Rubtsov played both center and right wing in the QMJHL before playing in the middle during his early-season games with the Phantoms last season. He is more of a natural center than wing; however, he's comfortable anywhere. The same can be said of playmaking forward Frost, who moved pretty seamlessly from the middle in the OHL to right wing for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship and continued to rack up the points.
Now-former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds standout Frost will likely have to play a wing when he makes the NHL due to the presence of Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and Nolan Patrick in the depth chart. As a player whose primary allure is his ice vision and playmaking prowess, a fourth-line center role is probably not ideal for Frost. At some point, Frost could work his way up into an NHL top six. Conversely, Rubtsov might be able to find a home as a versatile forward who can move around a lineup and play different roles.
I also found it interesting that, while both Chuck Fletcher and Brent Flahr have downplayed the possibility of either Farabee (who is slide-rule eligible in the AHL this season) or Frost making an immediate jump to the NHL, they have both brought Rubtsov's name into the conversation as another name to watch in camp despite his own scant pro experience. Fletcher has said on several occasions that he'd ideally like all of the youngsters to put in AHL time before being called up but he doesn't want to rule them out before camp even starts.
My gut feeling right now -- and that's all it is -- is that winger/center Tyler Pitlick (who played some third line right wing in Dallas and, when healthy, was effective in that capacity) is the pre-camp front runner for the open third line wing spot. Although this undoubtedly will not make many Flyers fans happy, I could also see new acquisition Andy Andreoff opening the season as the Flyers' 12th forward -- people on the hockey side of the organization like his size and physical presence -- or possibly rookie hopeful Nicolas Aube-Kubel rotating in and out on the fourth line. That might not be the case all season, but it may start out that way.
I still believe the most likely end-of-camp scenario is that all three among Farabee, Frost and Rubtsov open the season with the Phantoms. Their rate of progress over the first quarter to one-half season will determine if an NHL arrival this season is imminent. The same goes for left winger Isaac Ratcliffe. In his case, I believe that he will spend at least one full season in the AHL before he is considered a candidate for the parent club.
Although there has been a regime change in the GM and assistant GM since last year, there is a fairly high degree of continuity in how they view player development. Flahr in particular has a lot of similarities in his philosophies to Chris Pryor. Fletcher has said that he doesn't want to just hope that prospects are ready for the NHL, he wants them to show it and instill confidence that they're prepared for the demands of an 82-game grind and the caliber of competition they will face night after night in the world's top league.
In many cases, young players' first real opportunity in the NHL does not come out of training camp but rather in-season due to a veteran's injury, a team slump, etc. It wouldn't be the end damnation of a career if Farabee, Frost, Ratcliffe and Rubtsov spend a couple months, half a season or even a full year with the Phantoms. Lastly, as Carter Hart spoke about at length last season, the off-ice adjustments from junior (or, in Farabee's case, collegiate) hockey life to the pros takes some time in its own right. Junior players have billet families with whom they live during the season. Once you turn pro, day-to-day life changes.
2) I was saddened late last night to learn of the passing of former Evening Bulletin sportswriter Jack Chevalier, who was the defunct newspaper's Flyers beat writer during the early years of the team and the Stanley Cup winning era. His 1974 book, "The Broad Street Bullies", is a must-read chronicle of the first championship season, the team's seven-year history up to that point and profiles of the colorful cast of characters and personalities that comprised the playing and coaching staff. It was, in fact, Chevalier himself who first started regularly calling the rough-and-tumble team "The Broad Street Bullies," although it was a headline writer who coined the nickname first.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Chevalier twice when he visited the Skate Zone in Voorhees. He was a very nice gentleman. Sadly, another outstanding writer and person from that era of Flyers history, Bill Fleischman, passed away earlier this year.
The likes of Jack Chevalier, Bill Fleishman, Hockey Hall of Fame writer Jay Greenberg, Wayne Fish (who had played college hockey and started on the Flyers beat in Fred Shero's final year of coaching the team) and, later, Al Morganti set the coverage bar extremely high for those who have attempted to follow in their footsteps.
3) Day 3 of the Flyers Alumni Fantasy Camp in Atlantic City will feature two games apiece for the four participating teams. At 9 a.m., Mark Howe and Joe Watson's Team River Rock Academy will play Team Tito's, coached by Bill Barber, Bill Clement and Brad Marsh. At 10:45 a.m., Ian Laperriere and Keith Jones' Team CDW will take on Danny Briere and Martin Biron's Team Toyota. At 2:30 p.m., Team CDW is back on the ice to play Team River Rock. The final game of the day, at 4:15, pits Team Tito's against Team Toyota.
The day will conclude with some undoubtedly very tired hockey players from every team getting together at the Tropicana Ballroom for a celebration dinner. On Monday morning, the Flyers Alumni Cup championship game and consolation games will be played.
4) After Saturday's games and practices, the Fantasy Camp participants and Flyers Alumni coaches, who were joined by Steve Coates, assembled at Duck Town in Atlantic City for an outdoor pig roast and barbecue. Apart from an appearance by Gritty, the most popular event of the evening was an ax-throwing cage. Ian Laperriere and former Phantoms equipment manager/ backup goaltender Joe Rivera were the standouts in the ax-throw. There was also a mind reader/mentalist who provided entertainment after dinner.
5) August 18 Flyers Alumni birthdays: Bruce Cowick (1951), Brian Dobbin (1966), Forbes Kennedy (1935), Ossi Väänänen (1980).