Maxime Ouellet has continued to shine after his early season demotion from the Flyers to Rouyn-Noranda. Apart from a rough outing against Finland
in the WJC semi-finals, he also had another strong WJC tournament. Max’s most notable accomplishment at the WJC was outplaying Rick DiPietro head-to-head when Canada met up with the USA in the medal round
quarterfinals. Given Ouellet’s excellent play this season and the struggles of Brian Boucher, Ouellet may figure into the Flyers NHL goaltending picture
as soon as next year; although a season in the AHL would probably be the optimal plan for the young keeper.
Jason Beckett has had a rock solid rookie season for the Philadelphia Phantoms. He shows a lot of maturity and poise for a first year pro. Beckett
is an aggressive defender, yet he is rarely caught out of position. To date, he is the Plus/Minus leader on the Phantoms, sporting a +11 for a .500
Antero Niittymäki had his work cut out for him before this season. He had to try to top his sensational rookie campaign for TPS Turku. Unfortunately, he has not been able to do so. Niittymaki has split time in goal with Fredrik
Norrena and Norrena has, on the whole, been the more consistent performer. That’s not to say that Niittymäki has had a bad season, however. While
Niittymäki has let in a few bad goals and been beaten at some inopportune moments, it’s unfair to classify any goalie with a 2.02 GAA and .924 save percentage in 17 games as a failure. If Niittymäki has had a “sophomore slump,” it is only in relation to his magical rookie campaign. The 20 year
old goaltender remains a good prospect.
Vaclav Pletka got off to a very slow start this season; his first in North America. But he’s come on strong over the last 1 1/2 months. Pletka is steadily moving up the Phantoms scoring charts and his 16.5% shooting percentage shows that he knows what to do with the puck when he gets it on his stick. Pletka has played grittier hockey than expected but his career
will still rise and fall with his goal totals.
Alexander Drozdetsky is a good young player on an SKA St. Petersburg team that is beyond awful. He has very good all-around skills but still does not seem to have the finishing ability of a big-time goal scorer. Drozdetsky probably would have played with the Russian WJC team this year but the entire SKA club was sent on an exhibition game tour of the USA (against WCHA college clubs) for much of the month of December.
Jeff Feniak, recently traded from Tri-City to Regina, has proven himself to be a solid, physical WHL defensive D. He is not at the level of Beckett, at least not yet.
Petr Hubacek opened eyes at the Flyers rookie camp and during the preseason. Hopes were raised that, on the heels of his strong finish to the 1999-2000 Czech season, the smooth-skating center had turned a corner and was ready to establish himself as a young player to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, it’s been all downhill for Hubacek since scoring a goal for
the Flyers on opening night of this season. Hubacek has allowed himself to become a total non-factor. He overhandles the puck and does not make nearly
enough of his linemates. He has lacked intensity on some nights and is deficient both defensively and in the faceoff circle. After being considered a real
up-and-comer just a few months ago, Hubacek is almost an afterthought with the Phantoms. What is scary is that he doesn’t seem especially inclined to
do the things that will get him more ice time. To date, Hubacek has just 1 goal and 3 points in 25 games for the Phantoms and 1 goal in 6 Flyers games.
A player with Hubacek’s skills– speed, puckhandling, and soft hands– ought to be doing much better that, even with limited ice time.
Mikhail Chernov needed to make a bold move this season for the Phantoms. He had to translate his considerable physical potential into more
consistent play. If anything, Chernov has been even more inconsistent this year than in his first two AHL seasons. Chernov has made better use of his heavy shot (6 goals) but, despite getting increased ice time this year, his defensive game has still not progressed to where it needs to be. Chernov is currently out indefinitely with a shoulder injury suffered in late December.
Marko Kauppinen did very little for Jokerit in the Finnish league this year and found himself transferred to AIK in Sweden. In 4 games for
AIK, he has 0 points and a -4 rating. Kauppinen is an offensive defensemen who has generated little offense and played mediocre defense. That’s not often a winning
Pavel Kasparik has been one of the biggest disappointments in the Czech Extraleague this year.
Tomas Divisek has finally returned to the Phantoms lineup after missing the first three months of the season due to shoulder surgery. He is
off to a somewhat slow start as he recovers his game conditioning (3 goals, 4 points in 10 games). Over the long haul, Divisek should be fine. However, the chances of him seeing his first NHL action this season are fairly slim at this point. His goal for the rest of the season should be to ensure that it is not a lost season and to regain the forward momentum he had last year as a rookie.
Bruno St. Jacques also missed most of the first half of the season after shoulder surgery. The promising defenseman struggled for a few games
after rejoining the Phantoms lineup but has looked much better in his last few games.
Francis Lessard missed the first 9 games of the regular season with a broken jaw he suffered in a preseason fight. Lessard has been inconsistent
since his return. He still has the tendency to play out of control and is on pace to come close to 300 PIM. At some point, he’s going to have to decide
whether he wants to be a tough defenseman or a guy who spends all his time in the penalty box (or back in the locker room). Lessard always gives an
honest effort but he doesn’t always channel his energies the right way. He’ll go for the big hit when it isn’t there. He’ll retaliate on behalf of a
teammate when the game is up for grabs in the third period. Lessard is a throwback player– he reminds me a lot of Moose Dupont in the way he conducts himself on the ice. You can’t help but admire him because he’s a warrior but you shake your head sometimes at the way he goes overboard and can be easily goaded.
Mikhail Chernov (see “Disappointments” section above) is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
Joe DiPenta has had his rookie ups-and-downs for the Phantoms. He seems worth hanging onto for awhile, however.
Dan Peters has not yet given the Phantoms the offensive spark that was hoped for. The rookie’s all-around play, has been pretty good. He has dressed in every game for the Phantoms.
David Nyström got off to a torrid start for Troja/Ljunby in Sweden. Since suffering a hand injury on a slash, however, he has cooled off considerably. Nystrom had an excellent second half last season so it is worth watching to see if that trend continues.
Konstantin Rudenko is still fighting to establish himself in the Russian Super League. He was, however, one of the final cuts for the Russian
Guillaume Lefebvre is a good junior player in the Q and has emerged as a minor pro hockey candidate. Certainly not impact player material, though.
Milan Kopecky has shown that he is a good Czech junior league player, but has yet to establish himself at the senior level.
Ian Forbes has looked like the raw player he is. He probably has another full ECHL season ahead of him after this year.
Sergei Skrobot is still teetering on the AHL/ECHL margins but seems closer to being able to help out the Phantoms than he was at this time last
Jesse Boulerice can just about be considered a non-prospect at this point.
John Eichelberger is struggling for ice time at University of Wisconsin.
Colin Shields has been a spectator at University of Maine.