Flyers Top 20 Prospects
at a Glance
1. Jeff Carter, Center
2. Mike Richards, Center
3. R.J. Umberger, Center
4. Stefan Ruzicka, Right
5. Patrick Sharp, Center
6. Dennis Seidenberg, Defenseman
7. Rejean Beauchemin, Goaltender
8. Rosario Ruggeri, Defenseman
9. David Tremblay, Goaltender
10. Randy Jones, Defenseman
11. Alexandre Picard, Defenseman
12. Ryan Potulny, Center
13. Martin Houle, Goaltender
14. Ben Eager, Left Wing
15. Bernd Bruckler, Goaltender
16. Alexander Drozdetsky,
17. Dov Grumet-Morris, Goaltender
18. Ladislav Scurko, Center
19. Jussi Timonen, Defenseman
20. David Printz, Defenseman
Key: Rank, (Previous Rank),
Name, Position, Rating/Grade
1. (1) Jeff Carter,
Center, 9.0 B
Carter retains the top spot
by virtue of his immense talent and potential alone. His overall performance
this season – both with Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL and Team Canada at
the World Junior Championships – merely cements his status as one of the
top amateur hockey players in the world. The London, Ontario native has
not put up the kind of astronomical offensive numbers that many expected
of him in his fourth season at the major junior level. Still, his 74 points
ranks him 14th in the league, despite that fact that he’s played in only
54 of a possible 65 games for the Greyhounds (mostly due to time spent
away with his national team).
With Carter, Sault Ste. Marie leads the circuit’s West
Division with a record of 34-24-9-1, and is a playoff
contender for the first time in five seasons. Without him, the Greyhounds
likely would not be a .500 team. His presence is integral to the success
of the squad, as it was with Canada at the WJCs, where he finished with
a team-leading seven goals (to go along with three assists for 10 points)
and a remarkable +10 rating in just six games. Carter’s 12 goals over
two WJC appearances ties him with Eric Lindros for Team Canada’s all-time
lead in that category. Thus, it goes without saying that the promising
centerman now ranks amongst elite company.
Amazingly, Carter has only
appeared in eight OHL playoff games during his career with the Greyhounds.
Thus, his current focus is squarely fixed on leading the team into the
postseason and, hopefully, through at least a round or two. After that,
a return trip to Philadelphia via an ATO is likely. Carter appeared in 12 AHL playoff
games with the Phantoms last season.
2. (2) Mike Richards,
Center, 8.0 B
Ever since being selected
by the Flyers with the 24th overall pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, buzz
words and phrases like ‘born leader,’ ‘mature beyond his years,’ and ‘future
captain’ have dominated most discussions centered around Richards’ NHL
potential. Thus, it did not surprise anyone who has followed his junior
career with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers when the pugnacious pivot was tabbed
to wear the “C” for Team Canada at this year’s WJC tournament.
True to form, and the hype
that has surrounded his young career to this point, Richards led the squad
with passion, determination and, perhaps most importantly, an even keel.
In the end, he etched his name into Canadian lore forever by leading the
most talented group of young Canadians in years back to the pinnacle of
major junior success on the international stage. Richards’ five points
(one goal, four assists) in six tournament games were impressive, but practically
irrelevant to the offensively-dominant squad’s eventual success in the
His overall demeanor and
ability to lead by example, however, were paramount. Those same talents
have helped the Kenora, Ontario native lead his Kitchener team in a similar
way over the past two seasons. Like Carter, Richards has not put up overwhelming
numbers in his final OHL season. However, his leadership and phenomenal
all-around play has helped the Rangers, who are 32-19-9-4, to another
fine season. The team currently sits in third place in the Midwest Division,
and would hold the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs if the
regular season ended today.
3. (6) R.J. Umberger,
Center, 7.5 B
It took a little bit of time,
but Umberger eventually established himself as one of (if not the) top
all-around players on the Phantoms roster this season. Of course, the 6’2,
213 lb. former Ohio State standout sat out the entire 2003-04 season after
an ill-advised gamble to turn pro went nowhere. He ended up on the outs
with Vancouver Canucks, the team that drafted him 16th overall in 2001,
endured a trade deadline move to the New York Rangers organization that
was intended only to net the Blueshirts a future compensatory draft selection
and, ultimately, ended up on the practice squad of the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack.
Thus, it was assumed that
the talented Pittsburgh native would need time to adjust to both the pace
of the professional game and the complexity of the Ken Hitchcock-instituted
Flyers/Phantoms system after he signed his first pro contract with the
organization this past summer. What was not necessarily expected was the
effectiveness and versatility the 21-year-old forward would display once
he got comfortable with his new surroundings.
Umberger currently ranks
second on the Phantoms in scoring, has been a top special teams contributor,
often shifts to left wing with seamless adjustment and is establishing
himself as a leader on the bench and in the locker room. Thus, early returns
suggest that general manager Bob Clarke’s decision to throw substantial
money at this unproven commodity was a smart one. The Flyers have seemingly
added another quality forward prospect to their stable, albeit one not
on the lofty level of Carter or Richards, thus filling a need that otherwise
would need addressing once the NHL returns to normal operation.
4. (4) Stefan Ruzicka,
Right Wing, 7.5 B
Though Umberger has moved
ahead of him on this list, Ruzicka essentially retains the No. 4 ranking due to the
fact that goaltender Antero Niittymaki is no longer considered a prospect. The mega-talented
Slovakian forward is enjoying another statistically-successful season with
the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL, despite persistent concerns about the
development of his all-around game and his overall motivation and work
There is no denying Ruzicka’s
ability. He currently ranks fourth on a team loaded with offensive stars
and 21st in the league in scoring. In 121 total games over nearly two full
seasons at Owen Sound, the 20-year-old right winger has compiled 70 goals
and 71 assists for 141 points. He has shown improvement this season in
skating, his consensus physical weakness, and an ever-evolving sense of
anticipation and understanding of the game.
At the same time, however,
he has earned a reputation for being lazy, unmotivated and visibly disinterested
on the ice. When he is ‘on,’ he has few offensive peers in the OHL. In
many games this season, unfortunately, he has appeared to merely be going
through the motions. The hope, obviously, is that Ruzicka is merely going
through a phase, and that he can eventually overcome his perceived reputation.
The upcoming OHL playoffs will provide the 6’0, 205 lb. enigma the opportunity
to do just that.
5. (7) Patrick Sharp,
Center, 7.0 C
Sharp proved last season
that he could perform adequately in a checking line role at the NHL level.
He had already established, by virtue of his play with the Phantoms during
the previous two campaigns, that he could be an effective AHLer, capable
of putting up relatively big numbers, playing a sound two-way game and
thriving in a leadership role. Thus, when it was decided that the former
University of Vermont standout would be returning to th purple and black
due to the lockout, the team knew exactly what it was getting.
At this point, Sharp is a
what-you-see-is-what-you-get performer. No frills, no surprises, no worries
for Phantoms head coach John Stevens and his staff. The 23-year-old center
is a stabilizing force, a player who brings an honest effort, experience
and a solid understanding of the game and his role to the table every night.
Sharp has been a steady performer for the Phantoms all season long, working
on the first or second line and contributing consistently on both special
He was rewarded for his strong
play with a selection to Team Canada at the AHL All-Star game in Manchester,
a lofty honor considering the high quality of star players and prospects
dotting the league’s map this season. Sharp will unquestionably be a pivotal
player for the Phantoms as the team enters the stretch run to the postseason.
He also appears to have all but locked up a permanent checking line role
with the Flyers, effective once lockout situation is settled.
6. (5) Dennis Seidenberg,
Defenseman, 7.0 C
The primary concern for Seidenberg
entering this season was the healthy and function of his left leg, which
he broke in a freak accident during a Flyers practice in January, 2004.
The injury cost him the final 42 games of the regular season schedule.
He rehabbed ferociously and managed to make it back for 12 postseason games
(three with the Flyers, nine with the Phantoms), but the real test would
come this season.
Thus far, the leg has held
up just fine. There are no visible indications that any long-term damage
was done, the 6’0, 185 lb. rearguard’s smooth-skating stride back in tip-top
form. Tellingly, Seidenberg is one of just three Phantoms who has appeared
in all 64 of the team’s games to this point. With his health assured and
his place on the Phantoms roster re-established, Seidenberg has focused
his energies on once again trying to prove to the Flyers that he belongs in the
The German-born defender
is not lighting the AHL on fire, but he is playing the best all-around
hockey of his career this season. He currently ranks second among Phantoms
blueliners in scoring, has been rock solid in his own end, is logging a
ton of ice time in all game situations, and is excelling in his role as
a mentor of sorts to some of the team’s younger prospects. In short, he
is making a strong case for a permanent job with the Flyers once the team
gets back on the ice.
7. (8) Rejean Beauchemin,
Goaltender, 7.0 C
While NHL organizations love
to see their prospects reared in successful programs that help establish
a winning attitude, a modicum of adversity and difficult challenges are
desirable as well. For Beauchemin, tending goal for the WHL’s Prince Albert
Raiders has provided plenty of ups and downs over the course of the past
three seasons. Despite all of the obstacles thrown in his way, however,
the talented Winnipeg native has managed to shine. With Niittymaki no longer
eligible for listing, he becomes the de facto top goaltending prospect
in the Flyers system.
Beauchemin, playing at a
level not envisioned by most scouts when drafted by the Flyers in 2003 in the
sixth round, 191st overall, led adequate Raider teams to playoff appearances
in each of the past two seasons. This year, playing behind a shaky, mediocre-at-best
defensive unit, he and backup netminder Alex Archibald have been virtually
shell-shocked. Beauchemin’s 2.66 goals against and .901 save percentage are below average numbers
on paper. In reality, they are quite impressive, considering the relentless
offensive onslaught he has faced, and what little help he has received
The same can be said for
the Raiders’ 29-31-5-4 record, and the fact that the team has
already managed to lock up a playoff berth in the abnormally weak East
Division. Beauchemin, fortunately, earned a brief respite form his Prince
Albert team when he was named to Team Canada for the WJC tournament. He
appeared in only one game – a ridiculouss 9-0 win over Germany
in the preliminary round – but nonetheless gained a great deal of experience
merely by being present on the biggest stage in major junior hockey.
8. (9) Rosario Ruggeri,
Defenseman, 7.0 C
The former Chicoutimi Sagueneens
captain has had a rough go of it in his first professional season. Originally
considered a cinch to make the Phantoms roster out of training camp, Ruggeri
wound up with the ECHL’s Trenton Titans, thanks to a numbers crunch directly
resulting from the roster space problems caused by the NHL lockout.
Many observers figured he
would work his way to an AHL promotion by the season’s mid-point, but the
20-year-old Montreal native is still struggling to get his game on track.
It has not helped that he has been patrolling the blueline for a mind-bogglingly
inconsistent and motivationally-challenged Titans team this season.
Ultimately, the Flyers are
hoping that the feisty, ambitious rearguard will benefit from the challenges
he has faced this year. He is still young and has plenty of time to develop
and eventually adjust to the professional game. He has also maintained
a positive attitude, by all accounts, and still figures to rank among the
organization’s top few long-term defensive prospects.
9. (10) David Tremblay,
Goaltender, 6.5 B
Like Beauchemin, Tremblay
has been forced to deal with a lot of adversity, and pucks, this season.
The difference is that this is a relatively new experience for the Gatineau
native. Though QMJHL netminders are used to facing a high volume of shots
against, Tremblay had become accustomed to a relatively easy ride up to
this point in his major junior career. Having played on dominant teams
that virtually coasted to league championships in each of the past two
seasons, this is quite understandable. This season has been anything
put smooth sailing for the Olympiques, however.
With several high-profile
players having left for the professional ranks, the team no longer resembles
the juggernaught that rumbled over its opposition so easily in recent years.
As a result, the team has struggled in the standings, and Tremblay’s statistics
(while still quite respectable) have taken a noticeable dive. The 19-year-old
netminder’s accomplishments remain undeniably sound, at least on paper.
The question at this point is, was Tremblay the driving force behind his
team’s success in previous seasons, or was he a mere product and beneficiary
of a first class program?
The present feeling is that
the Flyers have soured on Tremblay a bit, and that Beauchemin and fellow
QMJHL prospect Martin Houle (Cape Breton) have the inside track to earning
pro contracts. All three goaltenders would be overagers at the major junior
level next season, so any and all questions on this matter should be answered
over the coming months.
10. (16) Randy Jones,
Defenseman, 6.5 B
Very quietly, Jones is establishing
himself as a quality NHL prospect in a Flyers system that is sorely limited
in defensive depth. The organization is very high on the former Clarkson
University standout, a free agent signing two offseasons ago who has provided
the Phantoms with rock solid defense and steady offensive production from
the blueline since turning pro.
Jones, who was named the
team’s Player of the Month for January, rarely earns rave reviews, primarily
because he is not a standout-type player. He is not flashy and, at times,
appears to play with little emotion or urgency. He does, however, play
a strong positional game, makes consistently wise decisions with and without
the puck, and provides the team with an offensive option, via his rushing
ability and accurate shot from the point.
Perhaps most impressively,
Jones not only limits his own mistakes, but has shown a remarkable propensity
for recovery and an ability to make up for his teammates’ miscues. He will
never be a top four defenseman in the NHL, but could ultimately thrive
in a 5-6 or 7-slot role. The Flyers will give the 23-year-old a serious look in that
regard at their next training camp.
11. (13) Alexandre
Picard, Defenseman, 6.5 B
By far the most ready of
the Flyers’ amateur defensive prospects, Picard is in the midst of wrapping
up his junior career with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. The Gatineau
native has been one of the top all-around defensemen in the circuit over
the past two seasons. He has played stellar defense for the Mooseheads
this season, and currently ranks eighth on the squad and 12th among league
rearguards in scoring.
The 6’2, 215 lb. rearguard
was one of Team Canada’s WJC roster cuts this season, a testament to his
standing in the major junior community. When he was selected by the Flyers
at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (third round, 85th overall), he was viewed
as a player who did just about everything well, but nothing spectacularly.
He has since improved in all areas, and now owns one of the QMJHL’s hardest
and most accurate slapshots from the point.
Speculation has Picard signing
with the Flyers this offseason and beginning his pro career with the Phantoms
in 2005-06, regardless of what happens with the lockout situation. That,
of course, was the same projected career path for Rosario Ruggeri, who
ultimately wound up debuting with the Trenton Titans of the ECHL instead.
Picard appears to be a more complete player than Ruggeri, but next season will
show how everything plays out.
12. (12) Ryan Potulny,
Center, 6.5 B
Potulny fully established
himself as one of the up-and-coming offensive players in the WCHA as a
sophomore, finishing sixth in goals and 17th in points in the conference
during the regular season. He has played in all game situations for the
Minnesota Golden Gophers this year, all the while showing no ill effects of the knee
ligament injury that robbed him of the majority of his freshman season
One of the most dynamic forwards
in college hockey, he had observers and fellow prospects alike in awe
of his phenomenal pucks skills and wide array of unorthodox shots at the
Flyers’ prospect mini-camp last July. Potulny still has work to do on
his overall game, particularly his coverage in the defensive end, and must develop more game-to-game consistency in order
to take his game to a higher level.
The Grand Forks, North Dakota
native’s standing within the Flyers organization is a bit difficult to
gauge at this point, mainly due to the fact that he is the team’s only
current NCAA forward prospect. All indications suggest that Potulny will
be staying at Minnesota for a full four years. Thus, we should learn quite
a bit about him, and his long-term potential, over the next two seasons.
13. (n/r) Martin
Houle, Goaltender, 6.5 B
Houle has finally escaped
the imposing shadow of Marc-Andre Fleury, his on again/off again teammate
at Cape Breton in each the past two seasons. He is putting together a phenomenal
campaign as a 20-year-old for the Screaming Eagles, fueling much retrospective
speculation as to why he was passed over by all 30 NHL teams at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Philadelphia selected Beauchemin,
Tremblay and obscure Finnish junior Ville Hostikka at that event. Houle
was ultimately drafted by the Flyers last June (8th round, 232nd overall),
at the adamant suggestion of Quebec-based scout Simon Nolet. Interestingly,
by virtue of his play over the past two seasons, the St-Hubert, PQ native
may now rank as high as No. 2 on the organization’s prospect goaltending
Houle, whose diminutive size
(5’11, 175 lbs.) is often mentioned as his main weakness, presently ranks
fourth in the QMJHL in games played, seventh in wins, fifth in GAA, tenth
in save percentage and second in shutouts. The standup-style netminder
(an extreme rarity in the “Q”) has seen his stock rise sharply of late.
He stands as a true darkhorse prospect candidate in the Flyers system.
14. (15) Ben Eager,
Left Wing, 6.5 B
Eager has made a relatively
smooth transition to the AHL, after spending the previous four seasons
with the Oshawa Generals in the OHL. He has played mostly on checking lines
for the Phantoms this season, but has performed well in spot duty on the
top two scoring lines. He currently ranks second on the team with 185 PIMs
in 50 games.
The 6’2, 205 lb. left winger
brings loads of grit and toughness to John Stevens’ lineup, and is always
willing to drop the gloves. On the flip side, Eager has been plagued by
inconsistency and poor decision-making at times this season. He has been
known to take penalties at inopportune times and occasionally finds himself
out of position while looking to make a big hit. These issues are signs
of inexperience, clearly, and can be worked out over time.
The Flyers envision Eager
as something of a poor man’s John LeClair, a power forward who can play
a solid two-way game and contribute a little offensively. Obviously, the
Ottawa native has a lot of maturing to do, but he certainly possesses the
ability and physical makeup to eventually live up to those expectations.
For now, the more experience he can garner, the better. With the Phantoms
set for what should be a healthy playoff run, Eager, and the team’s other
young players, should benefit greatly.
15. (14) Bernd Bruckler,
Goaltender, 6.5 C
One of the more intriguing
prospects in the Flyers’ system, Bruckler is winding down what has been
a stellar, four-year career at the University of Wisconsin. After leading
a struggling program back to respectability last season, the Graz, Austria
native took his game to another level in 2004-05. He finished the regular
season among the WCHA leaders in wins (first), GAA (fourth) and SP (third),
helping the Badgers (8) back to the realm of the NCAA elite.
For his efforts this season,
the 6’1, 195 lb. netminder earned three WCHA Player of the Week honors,
giving him a remarkable total of 10 for his collegiate career. An assistant
captain for the Badgers this season, Bruckler has consistently received
rave reviews from head coach Mike Eaves (and the local media) for his leadership
ability, consistently and resilience.
Bruckler has steadily improved
over the past four seasons while working with legendary goaltending coach
Bill Howard, the man also responsible for grooming Mike Richter, Curtis
Joseph and Jim Carey for the NHL. He has far exceeded the expectations
placed upon him when the Flyers selected him in the 5th round (150th overall)
of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Still, with the likes of Niittymaki, Beauchemin,
Tremblay and Houle ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, Bruckler
figures to be fighting an uphill battle for a future roster spot with the
16. (13) Alexander
Drozdetsky, Right Wing, 6.0 C
After finally establishing
himself as a solid all-around player in the RSL over the past two seasons,
the enigmatic Drozdetsky’s career has hit yet another development-stunting
roadblock. A victim of both the NHL lockout and his own perennial inconsistency,
the undeniably talented second generation forward has had a season to forget
for Ak Bars Kazan.
Drozdetsky has struggled
to find any level of consistency or effectiveness in his game this season.
With a number of locked out NHL stars – including Vincent Lacavalier, Ilya
Kovalchuk and Alexei Kovalev – joining the wealthy RSL team’s roster this
year, his ice time has dwindled significantly. In fact, Drozdetsky has appeared
in only 32 of a possible 57 games with the team thus far. He ranks 20th
on the squad in scoring, with no notable injuries to speak of.
As the seasons go by, Drozketsky’s
chances of playing for the Flyers, let alone ever even appearing in North
America, become more and more unlikely. A strong overall performance this
season would have re-ignited talk of the 6’2, 190 lb. right winger’s potential.
It was hoped that the presence of some of the aforementioned NHL stars
on Kazan’s roster would have a positive impact on his game, but, if anything,
the exact opposite effect seems to have occurred.
17. (19) Dov Grumet-Morris,
Goaltender, 5.5 B
Grumet-Morris is enjoying
a remarkable senior season at Harvard University. The Evanston, Illinois
native backstopped the Crimson to a 18-8-3 mark in the regular season,
good for the No. 11 ranking in the nation. His sparkling .948 save percentage
is tops in the country among Division I netminders, while his equally-impressive
1.58 goals against average ranks second.
The 6’2, 198 lb. netminder
has already set the school record for career shutouts (10) and has tied
the single-season mark of five. He also owns the school record for single-season
games started, games played and minutes played, all set last season as
a junior. Additionally, the 23-year-old netminder is currently challenging
the school mark in single-season GAA and save percentage and ranks second (and is
within reach of the record) in five career categories, including games
played, games started, minutes played, saves, and save percentage.
He could conceivably graduate
with up to 10 Harvard goaltending records. The aforementioned accomplishments
have Grumet-Morris in serious consideration for this season’s Hobey Baker
Award, the honor annually bestowed upon the top collegiate player in the
nation. Still, as is the case with Bruckler, many scouts continue to question
his ability to be successful at the pro level. How Grumet-Morris’ skills
will translate beyond the NCAA remains to be seen, as does the Flyers’
interest in offering him a contract to play somewhere within the organization’s
system next season.
18. (n/r) Ladislav
Scurko, Center, 5.5 C
By virtue of a fine rookie
season in North America, Scurko becomes the second of two 2004 Flyers draft
selections, along with Martin Houle, to crack the Top 20. The 18-year-old
Slovakian forward is essentially following in the footsteps of his countryman,
Stefan Ruzicka, by opting to continue his junior career in the Canadian
Hockey League, rather than pursue similar options in Europe.
A gritty, blue collar performer
with excellent instincts and a deft touch with the puck, Scurko currently
ranks fourth on his team and fifth amongst league rookies in scoring. Despite
struggling with the English language at this stage of his young career,
Scurko has managed to communicate well with his teammates on the ice. He
has played a solid, two-way games this season, while also contributing
on both special teams units.
The 6’0, 198 lb. forward
remains an average-at-best skater, but continues to work hard to improve
in that area. He is a resourceful player who brings a lot of intangibles
to the table, and only figures to get better as he gains more experience
and becomes more familiar with the North American game and his new surroundings.
19. (17) Jussi Timonen,
Defenseman, 5.0 C
Timonen has re-established
himself as an SM-liiga regular with SaiPa this season, after having spent
the second half of 2003-04 dwelling in the Mestis, Finland’s tier II circuit.
The 21-year-old rearguard has been far from an impact player, however,
and still has quite a way to go before he can once again be considered
a legitimate NHL prospect.
The younger brother of Nashville
Predators defenseman Kimmo Timonen, Jussi was selected by the Flyers in
the fifth round (146th overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He is undeniably
talented and, as alluded to, was once considered to be one of the top blueline
prospects in the Flyers system. The 6’0, 200 lb. rearguard has yet to establish
any level of consistency at Finland’s highest level, however, and often
struggles with his confidence.
Timonen is still young, but
time is beginning to become his enemy. Because the Flyers hold his rights for
many more years, they will continue to monitor his progression from a far
for the time being. But Timonen has to start showing tangible proof of
his desire to soon if he hopes to have any kind of realistic future with
the organization. He has shown flashes of potential in the past, but only
in very limited doses.
20. (n/r) David
Printz, Defenseman, 5.0 D
Long believed to be an organizational
afterthought, tucked away deep on the rosters of Swedish and Finnish elite
league teams that most NHL fans have and will never hear of, Printz has
actually managed to make an impact as a 24-year-old AHL rookie with the
Surprising, the towering
6’5, 220 lb. rearguard made a quick and relatively seamless transition
to the North American game. While he is not known for his physical play
per se, the Solna, Sweden native likes to bump and grind, using his leverage
and strength to push opposing players off the puck. He has noted that the
smaller rinks on this side of the Atlantic actually better suit his game
than the wide open sheets in Europe.
When all is said and done,
however, Printz remains a very raw talent, a project player who is a long shot
to ever play a game in the NHL. Still, the organization’s decision to bring
him across the pond does bring that goal one step closer to reality. Given
Clarke’s affinity for big, strong players (particularly defensemen), one
would have to assume that anything is possible in this regard.
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