The following is a review of the seven players the Flyers selected in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft in Toronto…
Joni Pitkanen, Defense
Selected: First round (4th overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6′ 3″, 202 lbs.
Born: September 19, 1983 in Oulo, Finland
Current Team: Karpat (Finnish Elite League)
The scenerio that ultimately resulted in Joni Pitkanen pulling a Flyers jersey over his head on Saturday afternoon was an unlikely one, to say the least. The general feeling throughout the hockey world on draft day was that Bob Clarke absolutely fleeced rookie Tampa Bay G.M. Jay Feaster the night before, acquiring the fourth overall pick in the draft for the modest package of Ruslan Fedotenko and two second round selections. Though it is no secret that the Flyers tried to move up even further (and would have picked Rick Nash, Kari Lehtonen or Jay Bouwmeester over Pitkanen), the team did not hesitate to chose the much-heralded Finnish defenseman when their turn came up. In Pitkanen, the Flyers have added a potential blueline star to their organizational depth chart. The 18-year-old prospect — ranked first among European skaters by the Central Scouting Bureau — is said to be well ahead of where NHL star Janne Niinimaa was in terms of development at the same age. Pitkanen is a tremendous skater with (like Niinimaa) excellent offensive instincts. He is viewed as a strong finesse player who possesses a nasty physical edge. In other words, he is a multi-dimensional talent who presents the opposition with a number of worries: he can beat you with offense, fundamental defense, or with punishing hits along the boards and behind the net. If all goes well in his development, he could turn out the be the total package. Given his style of play, it comes as no surprise that one of the players he idolizes and tries to emulate most is New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch. If Pitkanen turns out to be even half the player the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner is, Flyers fans will view the 2002 draft as a success for years to come.
Though many view Pitkanen as “NHL ready,” he will likely return to Finland for one more season. Inge Hammarstrom — the Flyers’ chief European scout — loves the maturity of the young defenseman’s game, and predicts that he will make a major impact in the near future. Pitkanen is widely viewed as a future top four defender who probably would be debuting in the NHL next season if he had been drafted by one of the league’s lesser teams (i.e. Atlanta, Columbus, Florida, etc.). Word is that he will attend Flyers’ training camp in September, so the idea that he could debut in 2002-03 is not completely inconceivable. Regardless, Pitkanen is an excellent prospect who figures to play a big part in the Flyers’ future plans.
Rosario Ruggeri, Defense
Selected: Fourth round (105th overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6′ 1″, 202 lbs.
Born: June 8, 1984 in Montreal, Quebec
Current Team: Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
A physical defenseman who plays with a remarkable level of confidence and intensity, Ruggeri enjoyed a fine season in 2001-02. The 18-year-old Montreal native made a name for himself with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL, and played well at the under-18 championship for Team Canada (notching a goal and adding 14 PIMs). The Flyers like the effort that Ruggeri puts forth on the ice, and would like to see his skill level improve with additional development in Chicoutimi. Ruggeri was thrilled to be selected by the Flyers, a team he admitted to being a fan of from an early age.
Konstantin Baranov, Right wing
Selected: Fourth round (126th overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6′ 2″, 185 lbs.
Born: January 11, 1982 in Togliatti, Russia
Current Team: Lada Togliatti (Russian Hockey League)
One of only two forwards taken by the Flyers this year, Baranov is a true wildcard. In fact, when asked about the 20-year-old forward on draft day, the team’s scouts referred to him as “a shot in the dark.” He played for three different Russian league teams last season, but still appeared in only 31 total games. Apparently, Flyers scouts see something they like in Baranov, but he is simply too obscure a player to thoroughly profile at this point.
Dov Grumet-Morris, Goaltender
Selected: Fifth round (161st overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6′ 2″, 190 lbs.
Born: February 28, 1982 in Evanston, Illinois
Current Team: Harvard University (ECAC)
With the departure of Maxime Ouellet in the Adam Oates trade with Washington, the Flyers are down to just one goaltending prospect — Antero Niittymaki — who is close to playing in the NHL. With this in mind, the organization made goaltending a priority at this year’s draft. There was some speculation that the team would select two netminders, but when all was said and done, Harvard’s Grumet-Morris turned out to be the only masked man the Flyers picked. He now joins Niittymaki (who will play for the Phantoms next season), Roman Malek and Bernd Bruckler on the organization’s depth chart. Grumet-Morris recently wrapped up his freshman season at Harvard and is generally viewed as an extreme longshot to make it to the NHL. Still, he displayed a strong work ethic in his first collegiate season and helped his team to the ECAC championship. He is also said to have an excellent glove hand. Grumet-Morris will likely remain the Bulldogs’ starter next season and, thus, will be given the chance to develop his skills.
Nikita Korovkin, Defense
Selected: Sixth round (192nd overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6′ 2″, 198 lbs.
Born: December 3, 1983 in Zlatoust, Russia
Current Team: Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
It just wouldn’t be right if the Flyers didn’t draft at least one player out of the Western Hockey League. The odd thing about this pick, however, is that Korovkin is about as Western Canadian as Bob Clarke is Russian. The young defenseman began his junior career in Russia with Traktor Chelyabinsk, then crossed the pond to play in the WHL. He recently wrapped up his second season with the Kamloops Blazers, a campaign which saw the 18-year-old emerge as one of the best rearguards in the league. Korovkin — who finished third in the WHL with a plus-33 rating this season — was ranked 44th among North American skaters in the Central Scouting Bureau’s last report. However, his stock fell due to an unspecified injury that kept him out of the playoffs. The Flyers were happy to see Korovkin fall through the cracks and, obviously, are hoping that they unearthed a gem with this selection.
Joey Mormina, Defense
Selected: Sixth round (193rd overall)
Ht./Wt.: 6’6″, 220 lbs.
Born: June 29, 1982 in Montreal, Quebec
Current Team: Colgate University (ECAC)
Every season, the Flyers seem to draft at least one player with tremendous size in the later rounds. These “project picks” may never make it to the NHL, but nonetheless are intriguing because of their physical dimensions alone. Last year, the team selected 6’4″ Quebec League enforcer Thierry Douville. This season, the team took an even more imposing physical specimen in Colgate freshman Joey Mormina. A solid defensive rearguard with decent offensive instincts and good passing ability, the 19-year-old Mormina will continue his development at Colgate for the foreseable future.
Mathieu Brunelle, Left wing
Selected: Seventh round (201st overall)
Ht./Wt.: 5′ 11″, 180 lbs.
Born: April 6, 1983 in Warwick, Quebec
Current Team: Victoriaville Tigers (QMJHL)
One round after selecting the towering Mormina, the organization tabbed the diminutive Brunelle with its final pick. The general consensus on the 19-year-old forward is that he was among the most improved players in Canada’s major junior ranks this past season. In 72 games with the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigers, Brunelle tallied 43 goals and 64 assists for 107 points. In 2000-01 — his first season in juniors — he notched only 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) in 65 games for the Tigers. An 89-point turnaround will be difficult for Brunelle to duplicate next season, but he will surely be a player to watch as he embarks on his third campaign with Victoriaville.