It’s 2016 and Ron Hextall and company are sitting up in Buffalo, debating what to do with the 18th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Hextall weighs his options, eyeing a few potential prospects to scoop up with the pick. Then he does something that not many Flyers fans, including myself, ever saw coming: Hextall phones Winnipeg and trades his 18th pick, and a third rounder that same year, for the 22nd overall pick and a 2nd rounder that Winnipeg acquired from Chicago.
Needless to say, people were shocked. Hell, I was because I had my short list of players that I was looking forward to seeing taken with the pick that Hexy had just traded away. Hextall must have seen something that the rest of us didn’t, and that was exactly it.
Hextall saw a young, immensely talented forward from Russia, that even amidst the infamous meldonium doping scandal that plagued the Russian U18 team the year past, he decided was going to be on the board at 22 and could risk picking up another high 2nd round pick. Well it worked, and it worked very well. Not only did Hextall manage to snag Pascal Laberge with that same second round pick, he nabbed German “The Russian” Rubtsov. Yes, a guy named German from Russia (the G is soft, people).
Rubtsov is a jack of all trades. He can play up front at center, but can shift to the wing as well. Amongst all the teams he played for during the 2014-15 season, he nearly kept a point per game pace, scoring 10 points in 9 games for Vityaz Podolsk U17, 5 points in 6 games for the Russian U17 team as part of the World Junior Hockey Classic, and 7 points in 10 games for the same team, but this time at the junior international level. He really came into his own when he moved into the MHL, the Russian version of Juniors here in the states, and put up 26 points in 28 games.
After that season is when the Flyers decided to draft him, knowing full well that he came with a contract that bound him to his KHL team, Vityaz Podolsk. Podolsk is where he spent the first part of the 2016-17 season, and managed to amass a grand total of zero points in 15 games. Now, being 19, it’s tough to adjust to the size and speed of a game that most players have been used to for many years. With that being the case, Ruby was moved back down to the MHL where he played for Russkie Vityazi Chekhov, where in 15 more games, put up 15 points.
Earlier this year in March, Rubtsov signed his entry level contract after being able to escape his contractual obligations back in the motherland. He was brought on to play for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL, where he registered 22 points in 16 games. Rubtsov will take part in Philadelphia’s training camp, but what are his options after that?
For starters, the kind of contract Rubtsov signed allows him to play for the Phantoms even though he is 19. The AHL will be an option for him going forward. The other option is to send him back down to the QMJHL to play another season for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, where he dominated for a short period in time last season. Knowing Hextall and the mentality he has when it comes to prospects, it’s likely that Rubtsov will return to the QMJHL for his last eligible year in juniors. Does it make sense to send him back down though, or is Ruby ready for the big time?
Looking at it from strictly a statistical standpoint, when German played his 15 games in the KHL, he registered the same amount of points in that season that I have registered in my entire ice hockey career (Zero for those of you that don’t know me). No goals, no assists, nothing to show for his short stint with Vityaz Podolsk. When they loaned him back down to the MHL and Russkie Vityazi Chekhov, he played at exactly a point per game pace. This seems like a no-brainer, right?
Rubtsov is destined for juniors this year. Being in one league for an entire season, something he hasn’t done yet, will not only benefit him, but will give the front office a chance to see what he can really do during the length of the year. Hextall has said on record that Rubtsov is an absolute long shot to make the big club this year, especially with the potential debut of Oskar Lindblom and the more than certain debut of 2nd overall pick this year Nolan Patrick. There just isn’t room for Ruby on the roster this year. The AHL is pretty stacked too when you look at it. German does not fit into their plans this year. So now, this begs the question, when will he make his debut at either the AHL or NHL level?
Looking at potential departures after this coming up season, you have Matt Read, Valtteri Filppula, Taylor Leier, Danick Martel, Tyrell Goulbourne, and Colin McDonald coming off the books, barring any mid-season extensions. That opens up a few spots for some forwards at the beginning of the 18-19 season, but is Rubtsov the guy they will look to plug into a roster spot with the Flyers? Probably not. Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier, if he resigns, even Mikhail Vorobyov, just to name a few, are currently waiting in the wings to potentially move up to the Flyers, and Laughton is the likely candidate because he has been there before and produced at the pro level.
The year after that, you have a lot of potential key departures. You have Jori Lehtera, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Jordan Weal, Mike Vecchione, Travis Konecny, and Scott Laughton, along with another handful of players currently on the Phantoms. If there were ever a year for Ruby to make the jump to the NHL, it would be after the 2018-19 season. There is the potential for a few roster spots to open up, and Rubtsov will have a whole year of, more than likely, QMJHL experience under his belt. Unless Lehtera blows the roof off of the Wells Fargo Center, he will probably be on his way out. Vecchione may be in the same boat as well as Michael Raffl and maybe even Scott Laughton. The 2019-20 season could look similar to the upcoming one, because there will be a few rookie debuts to plug vacant roster holes.
Here’s the kicker though. At the same time as Rubtsov, you have the second first round pick from this years draft Morgan Frost waiting in the wings, you also have second round giant Isaac Ratcliffe, and the second round pick the year prior Pascal Laberge who could be looking to crack the lineup. Both Frost and Ratcliffe signed entry level deals this offseason, and Laberge signed one last offseason, so chances are that within the next few years, you could see them donning the orange and black.
Rubtsov could have a very long way to go until he breaks through to the Flyers. There are a good amount of prospects ahead of him in the pecking order, but that’s not to say that his performance this coming up year couldn’t turn a few heads his direction. Ruby has the skill set to make that happen. He can pass, he can shoot, he can grind, he is a versatile player. Given the right opportunity, he can break into that lineup and succeed.
With that being said, however, don’t expect to see Rubtsov until after the 2018-2019 season, maybe even the after the 19-20 season. Lineup spots may become few and far between, and there are more prospects fighting for those spots than ever. Rubtsov will excel in Juniors, there is no doubt in my mind. However, that’s Juniors. What will really matter is what he does when he joins the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. If he can make the jump to the AHL and keep registering points at the pace he is capable of, expect to see German Rubtsov make his awaited debut in the orange and black at the start of the 2019-2020 season.
Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports