By: Mark Lester (@futureofphilly)
Following a rocky season, it remains a question where Philadelphia Flyers’ 2016 first round pick German Rubtsov will play during the 2017-18 campaign. Rubtsov began last season in Russia, but was able to terminate his KHL contract and come over to North America after the World Junior Championships. The young Russian forward appeared in 16 games for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the Québec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), amassing 22 points.
Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall has a decision to make with one of his top forward prospects. Rubtsov’s chances to make the Flyers’ roster out of camp are slim to none, even if he were to shine in preseason. That leaves Hextall with two options. He could elect to put Rubtsov back in the QMJHL to play for Chicoutimi, or he could send him to Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League (AHL) to hone his skills with the Phantoms.
The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) prevents its players under 20 years old from playing in the AHL. However, since being drafted out of Russia and joining the CHL mid-season, the age-rule does not apply to the 19-year-old Rubtsov.
If the talented two-way forward were to be sent to Allentown to play for the Phantoms, Rubtsov might have a difficult time cementing a top-9 role. Lehigh Valley is expected have Phil Varone, Mike Vecchione, and Mikhail Vorobyev down the middle. They are set on the wing, as well. With youngsters Taylor Leier, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, Cole Bardreau, Radel Fazleev, and Danick Martel along with veterans Colin McDonald, Greg Carey, Corban Knight, and Chris Conner all filling up roster spots, there’s not much room left for Rubtsov.
There are some positives to playing in the AHL, however. Rubtsov would get more experience playing against men, which may speed up his development. His strong two-way game and speed would make playing at a higher level less of an issue as opposed to a one-dimensional player. Finally, a year in the AHL would not burn a year off Rubtsov’s entry-level contract, according to Bob Rotruck, which is a common misconception.
The Chekhov, Russia native could potentially return to the QMJHL to play against players of his age. Rubtsov would see a plethora of ice time with Chicoutimi, as he would almost certainly be its first-line center, and receive time on both the powerplay and penalty kill. He would likely attend the annual CHL Canada-Russia Super Series in November, and participate in the 2018 World Junior Championship for Russia in late December, as well.
The Saguenéens will be losing a lot of talent from last year, however. The likes of Nicolas Roy and fellow Russian Dmitry Zhukenov are no longer junior eligible. As a result, if Chicoutimi is a poor team during the regular season, it would not come as a shock if Rubtsov were traded to a contending team at some point.
The key this season for Rubtsov, wherever he plays, is to stay healthy. The skilled 6′-0″ forward was injured multiple times over the course of last season, suffering a broken foot, nose, and hand.
Where Rubtsov plays this season likely comes down to how well he plays in training camp and preseason in September. Hextall must decide how to best develop his first round selection back in 2016.