Flyers prospects help Trenton capture first Kelly Cup

By Al Alven

The Trenton Titans, a secondary affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, captured the ECHL Kelly Cup championship with a 4-1 victory over the Florida Everglades in Game 6 of the finals.

The title win was the first for the Titans, one of the league’s most successful franchises in terms of overall record and attendance over its first six years of existence.

The Titans’ championship roster included seven prospects with ties to the Flyers organization. The following is a brief look at the performances of these players, along with an outlook on their future.

B.J. Abel, Center

Height: 6’1 Weight: 200
Pro Experience: 2nd season
Birth Date: 09/14/1979
Hometown: Rochester, Minnesota

Acquired: Signed as free agent, 10/6/03

Season: Abel actually appeared in one more game with the Phantoms during the regular season (29) than he did with the Titans (28). He was used in a defensive role with the AHL club and did an admirable job. His demotion to the ECHL came due to the overload of talented forwards on the Phantoms roster (including the postseason additions of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards). Abel notched 24 points in the 28 regular season games he played with the Titans. In the playoffs, he tallied 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists) in 20 contests for the Kelly Cup champs.

Outlook: Abel is not abundantly talented, but he is smart and extremely adaptable. He has the ability to be a solid AHL role player and/or a consistent ECHL point producer as he continues to develop.

Nick Deschenes, Left Wing

Height: 6’3 Weight: 220
Pro Experience: 2nd season
Birth Date: 12/06/1978
Hometown: Morinville, Alberta

Acquired: Signed as free agent, 5/21/03

Season: When the Flyers signed Deschenes as a free agent out of Yale two summers ago, they envisioned him as a late-blooming power forward. After a relatively ineffective rookie season split between the Phantoms and Titans in 2003-04, he emerged as an impact player in the ECHL this year. Deschenes finished the regular season with 44 points (20 goals, 24 assists) in 59 games, including a team-leading +21 rating. He really stepped up in the playoffs, however, finishing third on the team with 16 points (9goals, 7 assists) in 20 games.

Outlook: The Flyers organization was looking for improvement in Deschenes overall game this season, and that’s exactly what it got. The big left winger still has a lot to prove – especially in terms of consistency – but will get a shot at a Phantoms roster spot in training camp this fall.

Chris Houle, Goaltender

Height: 6’3 Weight: 197
Pro Experience: 2nd season
Birth Date: 09/09/1982
Hometown: Caslan, Alberta

Acquired: Signed as free agent, 1/13/04

Season: For the second straight season, Houle served as backup to Andrew Allen, one of the top goaltenders in the ECHL. The former London Knights (OHL) starter appeared in 31 games, compiling a solid 12-10-6 record, 2.84 GAA and .910 save percentage. In two playoff outings (both in relief of Allen), he allowed three goals in 62 minutes played. Houle also appeared in one regular season game with the Phantoms, allowing two goals in 15 minutes played.

Outlook: Houle’s future with the Flyers organization is in serious doubt, as the team has several junior and collegiate netminders set to turn pro, and precious few places to put them. He has proven to be a sound minor league backup, but he lacks the mobility and reflexes to be considered a legit NHL prospect. He has likely played his last game with the Titans.

Brent Robinson, Left Wing

Shoots: Left
Height: 6’1 Weight: 195
Pro Experience: Rookie
Birth Date: 04/10/1982
Hometown: Pointe Claire, Quebec

Acquired: Signed as free agent, 6/17/04

Season: The former Brown University standout made a seamless transition to the professional ranks this season. Not only did he quickly establish himself as a steady two-way performer for the Titans, he proved to be one of the team’s best and most consistent forwards all season long. Robinson finished second on the team in the regular season with 58 points (29 goals, 38 assists) in 64 games. In the playoffs, he added 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 12 contests. He also appeared in 5 games with the Phantoms, tallying one assist in limited duty.

Outlook: Robinson, who scored two goals for the National Conference in a 6-2 win at the ECHL All-Star Game, appears to have a solid minor league career ahead of him. He will likely be an AHL regular once the NHL lockout ends and the North American pro hockey scene returns to some level of normalcy.

Rosario Ruggeri, Defenseman

Height: 6’2 Weight: 215
Pro Experience: Rookie
Birth Date: 06/08/1984
Hometown: Montreal, Quebec

Acquired: 2002 NHL Entry Draft (4th round, 105th overall)

Season: Originally considered a cinch to make the Phantoms roster out of training camp, Ruggeri wound up in Trenton, thanks to a numbers crunch directly resulting from the roster space problems caused by the NHL lockout. The season proved to be one of struggle, but also of growth and development for the feisty young rearguard. He persevered through several rough stretches, showing marked signs of improvement by season’s end. Ruggeri, the only Flyer draftee among the Titans prospects, tallied 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists) in 49 games during the regular season, along with 2 assists in 20 playoff games. He was scoreless in 5 appearances with the Phantoms.

Outlook: Ruggeri will likely be with the Phantoms full-time next season, regardless of whether the NHL operates or not. The organization believes that he has the ability to be an NHL defenseman, but his game still needs plenty of experience and seasoning. The AHL represents the next logical step for the young blueliner in that regard.

Jeff Smith, Left Wing

Height: 6’6 Weight: 212
Pro Experience: 3rd season
Birth Date: 01/02/1981
Hometown: Regina, Saskatchewan

Acquired: Signed as free agent, 6/14/02

Season: Smith played most of his hockey for the Phantoms in the AHL this season, recording 5 points and 116 PIMs in 41 games. After a decent start, he was largely inconsistent in checking line roles, and was reassigned to Trenton in February. Smith’s lackluster play continued with the Titans. The former Red Deer Rebel (WHL) bruiser tallied just 4 goals in 17 ECHL regular season games. He appeared in only two postseason contests and did not register a point.

Outlook: Smith has never been able to establish himself as a regular in the AHL, let alone the ECHL. Because of his immense size and fighting ability, Smith should always be able to find a job in pro hockey. However, after three lackluster years split between the Phantoms and Titans, his time in the Flyers organization may finally be up.

Stephen Wood, Defenseman

Height: 6’3 Weight: 215
Pro Experience: Rookie
Birth Date: 08/18/1981
Hometown: Sudbury, Massachusetts

Acquired: Signed as free agent, 3/21/04

Season: If not for the numbers crunch brought on by the NHL lockout, Wood most certainly would have spent more time – if not the entire season – with the Phantoms in 2004-05. He did appear in 24 games with the AHL club (tallying 2 assists), but really made his mark with the Titans in his first full pro season. He was a pivotal member of the team’s defensive unit, recording 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists) in 42 regular season games en route to a selection to the National Conference team at the ECHL All-Star Game. Wood turned his game up a notch in the playoffs, registering 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in 20 games.

Outlook: Wood has joined the Phantoms for their Calder Cup Finals series versus the Chicago Wolves, but is unlikely to see any game action. The former Providence College standout is probably the most naturally talented of the Flyers’ ECHL prospects, but he still has several issues to iron out with regard to his all-around game. He will get a shot at a full-time Phantoms roster spot in training camp.

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