Flyers Prospect Season-in-Review: Defensemen

By Bill Meltzer





New Page 1

Defensive prospects

Ian
Forbes
(D)

Birthdate: August 2, 1980

Height: 6-5

Weight:
210 lbs

Drafted:
1998 (2nd round, #51 overall)

2002-2003
club(s): Trenton Titans (ECHL), Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL)

2002-2003
statistics:

Regular
Season

GP G A PTS PIM +/- PP SH GW GT

Trenton 32 0 2
2 122 -10 0
0 0 0

Phantoms 20 1 1 2
38 +4 0 0 1 0

Playoffs

GP G A PTS PIM +/- PP SH GW GT

Trenton 3 0
0 0 2 -4 0
0 0 0

Three
years into his pro career, Ian Forbes is going nowhere fast. Even in a
down year for the Philadelphia Phantoms, marked by large-scale personnel
turnover, Forbes is still unable to earn a full-time starting spot with the AHL
team. He works hard and his once rail-thin frame has filled out nicely. He’s
made some progress as a player since his debut, but not quite enough. He’s not
nearly as gawky and awkward as he once was.

 

Defensively, he throws the body willingly but
still gets caught out of position too often, even at the ECHL level. Forbes,
who never reached double digits in points as a junior, will never be an
offensive defenseman. That was a given coming into his pro career. However, he
seemed to have the potential to develop secondary offensive skills and that has
not happened. He still lacks puck rushing skills and he gets in trouble making
breakout passes, because too many of them miss their mark and end up going for
icings, bouncing off skates, or getting picked off. His main job is to challenge at the blueline, tie up opposing
forwards, clear the crease and defend his teammates. To his credit,
Forbes understands his role and takes his responsibilities seriously. He’s
adequate at those tasks but that’s not enough for the former second round pick
to advance as a pro.

 

Marko
Kauppinen
(D)

Birthdate: March 23, 1979

Height: 5-11

Weight:
180 lbs

Drafted:
1997 (8th round, #214 overall)

2002-2003
club(s): TPS Turku (SM-Liiga)

2002-2003
statistics:

Regular
Season

GP G A PTS PIM +/-

TPS 53 3
10 13 52 -11

Playoffs

GP G A PTS PIM +/-

TPS 7 0
0 0 27 -1

At
the age of 24, Marko Kauppinen’s career is stuck in neutral. After getting off
to a good start in 2002, Kauppinen did little the rest of the season. There is little
demand for undersized offensive defensemen who don’t score. Kauppinen
possesses both primary and secondary offensive skills but they rarely translate
into much on the scoreboard. He’s still too indecisive and does not show the
poise needed to run the powerplay at a high level of play. Defensively,
Kauppinen is no more than average. He plays a chippy game and possesses the speed
to recover when he gets caught but he still gets tossed aside easily and
over-relies on stick checking.

A
team accustomed to winning, TPS Turku was very ordinary during the regular
season and capped it off by going out in the first round of the playoffs to
HPK. While it’s unfair to say that
Kauppinen’s play was a big part
of the problem, it certainly wasn’t part of the solution, either. Therein lies
the problem with Kauppinen. He’s not a take-charge player, as he was at the
junior level. When the entire club goes well, he’s fine. When they struggle, he
looks as bad as anyone. The end result is a very ordinary SM-Liiga defenseman.

 

Nikita
Korovkin
(D)

Birthdate: December 4, 1983

Height: 6-2

Weight:
198 lbs

Drafted:
2002 (6th round, #192 overall)

2002-2003
club(s): Kamloops Blazers (WHL)

2002-2003
statistics:

Regular
Season

GP G A PTS PIM +/- PP SH GW GT

Kamloops 63 12
17 29 64 +25 7 0
0 0

Playoffs

GP G A PTS PIM +/- PP SH GW GT

Kamloops 2 0
0 0 0 +1 0
0 0 0

Nikita Korovkin emerged in
2002-2003 as the most pleasant surprise in the Flyers’ draft class of last
year. One of the more underrated defensemen in the Western Hockey League this
year, the Russian played good hockey at both ends of the ice, although he
cooled down offensively after a surprise first half (10 goals,
20 points in his first 37 games)
. Due to injury, Korovkin was only able
to play into two post-season tilts this year. He’ll be fine for next season.

In March,
Paul Holmgren told Hockey’s Future, “Korovkin has had a good year. We will
continue to follow his progress for the rest of this season and next. We feel
it is a little early to call him a legitimate professional prospect, but our
hope is that he commits himself to a strong overall fitness routine that will
get him in top condition. By doing this and adding to his overall game, he has
a chance.”

Korovkin is mobile, makes a good first pass
out of the zone, is not afraid to take a hit and has played a very sound
two-way positional game ever since coming to the WHL. Few suspected he’d ever
be a key powerplay defenseman but he was terrific on the powerplay early in the
2002-2003 season. Once opposing teams finally caught on that they had to apply
pressure on Korovkin at the point or he’d burn them, he was contained. In
addition to displaying an accurate point shot, he showed an aptitude for
jumping in on the back door play when the penalty killing box over-rotated to
the opposite side.

The team has until 2004 to sign Korovkin
before he could re-opt into the draft. The plan right now is have him play
another WHL season and then make a contract offer determination sometime during
next season. He will turn 20 before the end of the season but is not a true
“over-ager.” With another season of
steady progress, Korovkin will have a professional future.

 

Joey
Mormina
(D)

Birthdate: June 29, 1982

Height: 6-5

Weight:
223 lbs

Drafted:
2002 (6th round, #193 overall)

2002-2003
club(s): Colgate Raiders (ECAC)

2002-2003
statistics:

Regular
Season

GP G A PTS PIM +/- PP SH GW GT

Colgate 39 5
11 16 42 N/A 0 0
2 0

Playoffs

GP G A PTS PIM +/- PP SH GW GT

Colgate 6 0
1 1 4 E 0
0 0 0

Joey
Mormina quietly had a nice season for Colgate in 2002-2003. The hulking
backliner is still a raw prospect who will almost certainly need both of his
two remaining seasons of NCAA eligibility. Although he is still growing into
his body and learning the position, Mormina is well-coached and has a good head
on his shoulders. He is already adept at using his size and reach to break up
plays in the neutral zone and angle forwards away from the slot. Mormina is not
an especially mean player, but he does seem to have a good idea of when to go
for a hit and when to hold back.
Offensively, Mormina does not have a high upside.

The Raiders dispatched St. Lawrence in the
first round of the ECAC playoffs, before falling to Dartmouth in the second
round. Mormina was terrific against St.
Lawrence, logging massive icetime and
putting up a +3 rating in the best-of-three series. Although he only had
one point (an assist), Mormina showed more offensive self-confidence than at
any point of his college career to date. He displayed his surprising athletic
ability by carrying the puck up ice with regularity. Mormina and the Raiders
did not fare as well against a more talented Dartmouth club.

 

Joni
Pitkänen
(D)

Birthdate: September 19, 1983

Height: 6-3

Weight:
195 lbs

Drafted:
2002 (1st round, #4 overall)

2002-2003
club(s): Kärpät Oulu (SM-Liiga)

2002-2003
statistics:

Regular
Season

GP G A PTS PIM +/-

Kärpät 35 5
15 20 38 +1

The
Flyers’ top prospect and one of the most highly regarded young players in the
world, Joni Pitkänen has all the tools to become a star defenseman in the NHL.
The Finnish player dominated at the World Junior Championships and, at the age
of 19, is already well-established as an SM-Liiga regular.

 

That
does not mean, however, that he’s a finished product. While he’s physically
ready for the NHL, Pitkänen still has a lot of growing to do at both ends of
the ice. That’s only to be expected for a player his age. He struggled
defensively much of the season for a good Kärpät team and is still learning how
to harness his offensive gifts.

After
the WJC, Pitkänen played some of his best hockey of the Finnish season until he
was forced out of the lineup by a torn meniscus in his left knee. In early
February, Pitkänen underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the problem. Last
summer, Pitkänen had arthroscopic surgery to repair a similar tear in the other
knee, which set him back a bit at the start of this season. After the February
procedure, he did not return the remainder of the season, although he
participated in full-contact practices during the latter stages of the Finnish
playoffs. Kärpät reached the finals before getting swept by Tappara for the
championship.

The Flyers and Pitkänen’s
agent Larry Kelly are currently far apart on contract terms, but negotiations
continue
. An extra year in Finland
would not be the worst thing that could happen to the player’s
development.
If he does debut in the NHL in 2003-2004, under the
weight of a lucrative contract, Pitkänen would be at risk of turning from hyped
super-prospect into a target for the chronically impatient Philadelphia
boobirds. Flyers’ coach Ken Hitchcock,
however, is a firm believer in making players earn their keep and Pitkänen will
not be allowed to bite off more than he can chew. Pitkänen’s potential is
limitless but he’s very much a work in progress.

 

David
Printz
(D)

Birthdate: July 24, 1980

Height: 6-4

Weight:
220 lbs

Drafted:
2001 (7th round, #225 overall)

2002-2003
club(s): Ilves Tampere (SM-Liiga), HPK Hammelina (SM-Liiga)

2002-2003
statistics:

Regular
Season

GP G A PTS PIM +/-

Totals               42   2    2   4   20 -12

Ilves 33 1
1 2 12 -11

HPK
9 1
1 2 8 -1

Big
Swedish defenseman David Printz is a project who has not been working out. A
spare part for a good HPK club (after being a spare part for AIK in Sweden and
Finland’s Jokerit), Printz finally got regular playing time for a terrible
Ilves team without distinguishing himself.
In his short career, the soon-to-be 23-year-old has changed paths
several times. He’s played both forward and defense. Trained at home in Sweden,
he’s also played in the America West Hockey League for Great Falls and
considered playing collegiate hockey for Northern Michigan before returning to
Stockholm for an unsuccessful stint with AIK. His former Great Falls coach
Rickard Gronborg has preached patience with the player, saying that he’s a late
bloomer. The Flyers also liked what they saw of him at their 2001 prospect
camp. However, Printz is getting late into his developmental year without
having done much of anything that would indicate he’ll ever be a player.

 

Rosario Ruggeri (D)

Birthdate: June 8, 1984

Height: 6-1

Weight: 205 lbs

Drafted: 2002 (4th round,
#105 overall)

2002-2003 club(s): Chicoutimi
Sagueneens (QMJHL)

2002-2003 statistics:

Regular Season

GP G A
PTS PIM +/- PP SH GW GT

Chicoutimi              70  10 37   47    64  -8    4   0  1  0
  

Playoffs

GP G
A PTS
PIM +/- PP SH GW GT

Chicoutimi               3   0  0    0    21  -2    0   0  0  0

Rosario Ruggeri played surprisingly well for
the first three-quarters of the 2002-2003 season but he hit the skids late in the season,
along with the entire Chicoutimi team, who were quickly ousted in the QMJHL
playoffs. Known more for his aggressive hitting game than his offensive ability, the defenseman was a
steady, if unspectacular offensive performer for the Sagueneens through much of
the season. Ruggeri has good make up for such a young player and underrated
natural athleticism. He makes his fair share of mistakes but comes out that
much harder the next shift.

 

When Ruggeri was drafted a year ago, Paul
Holmgren likened him to (now former Flyer prospect) Bruno St. Jacques, saying
that the player’s skill development needed to catch up to his work ethic but
the organization suspects that it will. In February of this year, Holmgren
indicated to Hockey’s Future that the organization was pleased overall with the
progress Ruggeri had shown, but they felt he still had a long way to go. That
assessment rang true. Ruggeri was –13 (despite a respectable 2 goals and 9
points) in his final 20 regular season games and an undistinguished
post-season. While Chicoutimi as a whole was not a very good team most of the
season, Ruggeri’s individual play was commendable. That is, until late in the
season, when he struggled as badly as anyone on the team.

 

Keep in mind, however, that inconsistency is
the hallmark of almost every young defenseman and Ruggeri won’t even turn 19
until this summer. He certainly remains a player worth keeping an eye on.

 

 

Jussi
Timonen (D)

Birthdate: June 29, 1983

Height: 6-0

Weight:
200 lbs

Drafted:
2001 (5th round, #146 overall)

2002-2003
club(s): TPS Turku (SM-Liiga)

2002-2003
statistics:

Regular
Season

GP G A PTS PIM +/-

TPS                  39   1    0   1   10  -8

Playoffs

GP G A PTS PIM +/-

TPS                   7   0    2   2   4  -1

It’s
a bit unfair to deem Jussi Timonen’s 2002-2003 season a disappointment. While
Timonen’s actual performance in both the Finnish Elite League and the World
Junior Championships was not particularly good, you have to look at the big
picture. After a good pre-season, the
SM-Liiga rookie defenseman eventually gained a regular starting job for TPS
Turku. He gained increased ice time as the season went along, although his
inexperience was often obvious. Similarly, Timonen opened eyes during the World
Junior Championship pre-tournament but, despite a few highlights, struggled
overall once the tournament games began to count. All in all, the season wasn’t
a giant leap forward for the player but he did take small steps. At 19, it’s
good enough for him just to play in the WJC and the top league at home. The bar
of expectations will be raised next season. He’ll need to accelerate his
progress rate next season to meet the challenge. Timonen, whose older brother Kimmo plays for Nashville, remains a
well-regarded young defenseman for his fluid skating and his secondary
offensive skills.

 

 

Jeff
Woywitka

Birthdate: September 1, 1983

Height: 6-2 ½

Weight: 205 lbs

Drafted: 2001 (1st Round,
#27 overall)

2002-2003 clubs: Red Deer Rebels
(WHL)

Regular Season

GP G A
PTS PIM +/- PP SH

Red Deer                57  16 36   52    65  +22   7  0  
 

Playoffs

GP G
A PTS
PIM +/- PP SH

Red Deer 23 1 9 10
25 +7 0 0


Jeff Woywitka, the Flyers’ 2001
first round pick, plays such a mature game for a junior player that it’s easy
to forget that he’s one of the youngest members of his draft class. Woywitka,
in fact, is only a few weeks older than 2002 first round pick, Joni Pitkänen.
The reason? Woywitka doesn’t play like a 19-year-old defenseman. A mainstay on
the silver medalist Canadian World Junior Championship team’s blueline,
Woywitka was one of the Western Hockey League’s best defensemen all season
long.

While
he is not projected as a major point producer at the pro level, Woywitka has
not only been very solid in his own of the ice, he become a dangerous offensive weapon for Red Deer, especially on the
powerplay. In the playoffs, as in the WJC, Woywitka sacrificed offense for
defense but continued to be a rock of strength in the defensive zone. He played
a key role in leading the Rebels to the WHL Finals before the team succumbed to
Kelowna.

 

Woywitka is signed to the Flyers and will
make his pro debut in the 2003-2004 season. He has all the tools to be a good
NHL defenseman. He’s got both size and skating ability and is a quick learner.
It is not out of the question that he could eventually contribute a bit of
offense too. Woywitka may not be NHL-ready right out of training camp this fall
but his NHL arrival does not seem far away and while his overall upside is lower
than Pitkänen’s, Woywitka could also be a legitimate top three defenseman once he
cultivates his professional game and his confidence blossoms in a few seasons.

 

Wade
Skolney (D)
Birthdate: June 24, 1981
Height: 6-1
Weight: 185
lbs
Acquired:
Signed as rookie free agent

2002-2003
club(s): Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL)

2002-2003
statistics:

Regular
Season

GP G
A PTS
PIM +/- PP SH GW GT

Phantoms 68 2
7 9 102 +4 1
0 0 0

In
a year of team-wide underachievement, unheralded Wade Skolney was one of the
few bright spots for the Philadelphia Phantoms. Signed as a free agent after a
five-year WHK junior career for Brandon, the rookie brought a steady, if
unspectacular defensive and physical presence to the Phantoms for most of the
2002-2003 season. He was rewarded by being named to the Flyers’ postseason
roster after the Phantoms finished out of the playoffs. Skolney has worked his
way onto the radar screen as a possible sixth or seventh defenseman.

 

 

No
longer a prospect:

 

Thierry Douville (D)

Birthdate: April 18,
1983

Height: 6-5

Weight: 228 lbs

Drafted: 2001 (7th round, #208 overall)

2002-2003 club(s): Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

2002-2003 statistics:

Regular Season

GP G A PTS PIM +/- PP SH GW
GT

Baie-Comeau
54 1
9 10 316 +26 0 0
0 0

Playoffs

GP G A PTS PIM +/- PP SH GW
GT

Baie-Comeau          10   1   1  2    3  +18   0   0  0  0
 

The
lone enforcer in the Flyers’ system this season, the hulking Thierry Douville
is an intimidating presence on the ice. His all-around skating and passing
skills are modest. Although he worked hard to improve and showed improvement as
a player this season, his plus-minus this season was more a reflection of
playing for a powerhouse Baie-Comeau team than a testament to his defensive
prowess. The June 1 deadline to sign
2001 draftees came and went without
Douville being signed by the Flyers, so he does not seem to fit in the
organization’s plans. It’s unlikely he’ll be re-selected in the 2003 draft.
Douville was dealt from Baie-Comeau to Moncton, so he’ll have a new Q team as a
20 year old next season. His size and fighting prowess (Douville has boxed as
well as playing hockey) could help him latch on as a free agent PTO with a minor
league team. Douville could eventually interest any number of ECHL teams, but
he is more of a natural fourth line minor league forward than a
defenseman.