Led by Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Potulny, the Flyers currently have six prospects playing at the collegiate level — three forwards and three defensemen. Overall, the stable is a relatively inexperienced one, consisting of three freshmen, two sophomores and one junior.
The following is a look at the performances of these players to this point in the season.
R.J. Anderson, D
Freshman, University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Drafted: 2004 (4th round, 101st overall)
A highly-regarded recruit out of Centennial High School in nearby Circle Pines, Minnesota, Anderson was expected to be used in a limited role as a freshman this season for the Golden Gophers. Injuries, however, have essentially forced head coach Don Lucia to accelerate the 6’0, 182 lb. rearguard’s on-ice learning curve.
Anderson, 19, has appeared in 24 of the team’s 29 games thus far, registering 1 assist, 18 PIMs and a +5 rating in a high-pressure environment. While the Gophers expect him to eventually develop into an offensive force (he recorded 58 goals and 117 assists for 175 points over three seasons for Centennial), Lucia and his staff are unconcerned with Anderson’s statistics at this point.
The current focus for the young rearguard is on defense, an effort that has been aided significantly by his pairing with sophomore Alex Goligoski (PIT), the team’s leading scorer on the blue line (26 points in 28 games). Anderson has played tentatively at times, but appears to be getting more comfortable as the season progresses.
He has used his size effectively, particularly over the past month or so, protecting the puck and battling opposing forwards with success along the boards and behind the net. His decision-making with the puck has been questioned at times, but this is to be expected of a player with his level of experience.
Anderson is not only the sole freshman member of the Gophers’ defensive unit, but also the only player on the team to jump to the NCAA ranks directly from high school. Each of the other five first-year players performed at an intermediary level last season — two in the USHL and three for the U.S. National Development Team.
Rob Bellamy, RW
Sophomore, University of Maine (Hockey East)
Drafted: 2004 (3rd round, 92nd overall)
After an up-and-down freshman campaign that saw him battle injury and inconsistency, Bellamy has become a valuable component of Maine’s hockey program as a sophomore. A relentless agitator who maintains a high tempo of play on every shift, the 6’0, 200 lb. forward has put on muscle, improved his already strong skating and displayed vast improvements at both ends of the ice this season.
The overall strides Bellamy has made, however, have been largely overshadowed by his involvement in an off-ice incident in November. Bellamy and five other members of the team were involved in a fight at an apartment complex near the Maine campus. The 20-year-old was suspended for one game and was one of four players charged with criminal trespassing for his part in the disturbance.
The sting from the incident is just now beginning to subside, but the negative impact it had on the program is undeniable.
Back on the ice, Bellamy has yet to establish himself as a consistent point producer for the Black Bears, as he has registered just 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) in 25 games thus far. However, he remains a player with plenty of untapped offensive potential. The Westfield, MA native’s hustle and willingness to drive to the net have resulted in an increased number of scoring opportunities this season, but he has struggled to finish.
At this stage, Bellamy has work to do on his positioning and timing in the offensive end. While he possesses excellent vision and a strong hockey sense, he often finds himself a step or two out of place to make a play. He has also been guilty of rushing his shooting opportunities from time to time, acting impulsively in situations where patience is essential.
Bellamy has displayed improved passing skills that, if cultivated, could become one of his more effective attributes. While he won’t wow anyone with this skill, his passes tend to be crisp, tape-to-tape exchanges that put his teammates in good position to carry the puck up the ice or make a play in the offensive zone. Rarely will he make a mistake that leads to a turnover or a scoring opportunity anywhere on the ice.
Overall, Bellamy is a fearless competitor who plays the game with a unique combination of abandon and smarts. He is still a bit raw, but has a lot of talent, and continues to show signs of improvement in virtually all aspects of his game.
Matt Clackson, LW
Freshman, University of Western Michigan (CCHA)
Drafted: 2005 (7th round, 215th overall)
The son of former NHL tough guy Kim Clackson, Matt is a gritty, competitive winger in the midst of his freshman campaign at Western Michigan (CCHA). The Flyers’ final selection in last July’s entry draft, Clackson is coming off of a two-year stint with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, where he racked up 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists) and 378 PIMs in 98 total games.
Clackson has not been much of a factor for the struggling Broncos (5-16-4) thus far this season. The Pittsburgh native has appeared in 20 of the team’s 25 games to date, registering 1 assist and 26 PIMs in relatively limited duty.
While he is perceived as an NHL longshot, Clackson has a solid skill set, an outstanding attitude and work ethic and, perhaps most importantly, plenty of time to develop. He is an excellent skater with above average speed, and is also an accurate passer.
At 6’0, 195 lbs., Clackson is an intimidating presence who, like Rob Bellamy, is always more than willing to pay the price to make a play. He drives to the net and battles along the boards with reckless abandon. He does not back down from physical confrontations, but, like most young players of his ilk, still must learn when to pick his spots.
Travis Gawryletz, D
Sophomore, University of Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA)
Drafted: 2004 (8th round, 253rd overall)
On a team loaded with freshmen (including four first-year defensemen), Gawryletz has taken on and excelled in a leadership role as a sophomore. An offensive-minded rearguard who plays a solid positional game in his own end, he has logged a ton of minutes and played in all game situations for the Bulldogs this season.
Gawryletz is a multi-dimensional talent who has thus far impressed the Bulldogs coaching staff with his adaptability and versatility. He stepped right into the lineup as a freshman last season, registering 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist) and 26 PIMs, while appearing in 35 of the team’s 38 games.
Thus far this season, the Trail, British Columbia native has recorded 7 assists and 8 PIMs in 25 games. He has been paired mainly with freshman Jason Garrison, but has also played alongside highly touted Matt Niskanen (selected 28th overall by the Dallas Stars in July).
Gawryletz boasts excellent size at 6’0, 200 lbs., but still has a lot of filling out to do. One noticeable improvement this season is his willingness to play more of a physical game. While he is not a big hitter, Gawryletz does not hesitate to take the body, and has shown an ability to finish his checks. He has also become a proficient shot blocker.
The 20-year-old rearguard is a good skater who covers a lot of ice quickly with his big, long strides. He moves the puck very well and makes accurate, safe passes. Gawryletz is considered a very good player at both ends of the rink, one who will be counted upon to continue to help lead a very inexperienced blue line unit for the Bulldogs.
Ryan Potulny, C
Junior, University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Drafted: 2003 (3rd round, 87th overall)
A pure offensive talent who is currently one of the top candidates for this year’s Hobey Baker Award (the honor annually bestowed upon the nation’s top collegiate performer), Potulny has simply been piling up the points since the puck was dropped to start the season for the fourth-ranked Golden Gophers.
The junior forward currently leads the team and ranks sixth in the nation with 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 28 games. His line, with fellow junior Danny Irmen (MIN) and freshman Ryan Stoa (COL), has been the most consistent and dominant combination on a Gophers lineup that boasts an amazing 14 NHL-drafted prospects.
Potulny has done most of his damage on UM’s top-ranked power play, where he has teamed with Phil Kessel, the projected top pick in this summer’s entry draft, to form a lethal one-two punch. Potulny’s 11 goals with the man advantage co-lead the nation, while Kessel is tied for 15th with 7.
To date, Potulny has recorded ten multi-point games this season, as well as four multi-goal games. In his 28 games, there have been only seven games where he didn’t tally a point. All but one of those games ended in either ties or losses for Minnesota.
The brother of former Minnesota captain Grant Potulny, Ryan possesses tremendous puck skills, creativity and a gifted offensive flair. He boasts an array of deadly accurate shots, particularly his wrister from anywhere near the right circle. While not blazingly fast, Potulny is an above average skater who tends to find the quickest route from point to point.
He has great anticipation and uses his teammates well. Potulny is not noted for his defensive play, but is no worse than adequate in that regard. He has done a solid job of getting back to help out in his own zone this season, and has improved his coverage in the neutral zone. He does not kill penalties for the Gophers.
One of Potulny’s most memorable performances came back on November 25th versus Michigan in the College Hockey Showcase. In the contest, he netted his second career hat trick to help lead Minnesota to a 6-3 win. Potulny has been named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week twice this season and was named MVP at the Dodge Holiday Classic tournament in late December.
There was plenty of speculation in Philadelphia this past summer about Potulny potentially signing with the Flyers and suiting up for the Phantoms of the AHL. The talented forward opted to return to the Twin Cities this season, but it may be just a matter of time before he arrives on Broad Street.
Chris Zarb, D
Freshman, Ferris State University (CCHA)
Drafted: 2004 (5th round, 144th overall)
Zarb came to FSU after establishing himself as perhaps the best all-around defenseman in the USHL over the past two seasons with the Tri-City Storm. He has made an immediate impact on the Bulldogs’ roster, stepping right in as one of the team’s top rearguards and logging loads of ice time.
The San Diego native’s transition to the collegiate game has been aided by his outstanding puck skills and strong sense for the game. Zarb currently ranks second among defensemen on the Bulldogs in scoring, with 9 assists in 20 games. He sees extensive time on the team’s special teams units, quarterbacking the power play and killing penalties regularly.
Like Travis Gawryletz, Zarb is a tall, lanky rearguard who has a good frame (6’4, 197 lbs.), but a lot of filling out to do. He will only benefit from adding muscle as his NCAA career advances, but he is already very strong on the puck and plays a very poised game in all areas of the ice.
Zarb skates remarkably well for a player his size. He possesses a good, heavy shot, makes crisp, accurate passes, and keenly uses his long reach to break up plays.
Amazingly, the San Diego native is still relatively new to the defensive position. Zarb started off as a forward in Tri-City before a shortage of healthy defensemen led to his relocation on the blue line during the 2003-04 season. He posted 47 points (13 goals, 34 assists) in 91 total games with the Storm.
Zarb’s athletic prowess (he excelled in multiple sports as a youth) and ability to learn on the fly make him a versatile and valuable commodity for the Bulldogs. If he can continue to fill out and develop at his current pace, he may very well earn himself a place on the blue line in Philadelphia one day as well.
D.J. Powers contributed to this report. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.