Flyers Top 20 prospects

By Al Alven

Hockey’s Future’s Top 20 ranking is based on long-term impact on the hockey club and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned an individual rating per HF criteria. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, current league and team quality, draft position, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity.
 

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (3) Steve Downie, C, 19
2. (1, ATL) Braydon Coburn, D, 22
3. (5) Claude Giroux, RW, 19
4. (5, NSH) Ryan Parent, D, 20
5. (1) Alexandre Picard, D, 21
6. (4) Ryan Potulny, C, 22
7. (2) Stefan Ruzicka, RW, 22
8. (7) Oskars Bartulis, D, 20
9. (11) Freddy Cabana, LW, 20
10. (12) Andreas Nodl, RW, 20
11. (16) Michael Ratchuk, D, 19
12. (NR) Scott Munroe, G, 25
13. (8) Martin Houle, G, 22
14. (13) R.J. Anderson, D, 20
15. (NR) Jeremy Duchesne, G, 20
16. (18) Denis Bodrov, D, 20
17. (20) Joonas Lehtivuori, D, 18
18. (10) Rob Bellamy, RW, 21
19. (NR) Jonathan Matsumoto, D, 20
20. (17) Chris Zarb, D, 22
 

1. (3) Steve Downie, C, 19
Drafted: 2005 (1st round, 29th overall)
 
While questions about his mental makeup and ability to control his temper will continue to persist until he proves himself at the next level, there can be no denying the on-ice dominance Downie has displayed in the OHL, and with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
 
Downie, who signed his first pro contract with the Flyers last summer, appears primed to make the jump to the pros. He turned in another stellar overall performance in 2006-07, finishing the regular season ranked 14th in the league in scoring with 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists), despite appearing in only 42 games thanks to various suspensions and time away with the Canadian national team.
 
After starting the season with the Peterborough Petes, Downie was centerpiece of a midseason deal that landed him with the perennially-contending Kitchener Rangers. He responded to the move by averaging nearly two points per game down the stretch, notching 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 17 contests with his new team.
 
There has been some talk of Downie coming to Philadelphia to finish the season with the Flyers once his junior season is over, but it appears that Kitchener’s run will outlast the NHL team’s schedule. It will only serve to prolong the inevitable NHL debut of Downie.
 
2. (1, ATL) Braydon Coburn, D, 22
Drafted: 2003 (1st round, 8th overall)
 
Previously the top-ranked player in the Atlanta Thrashers‘ system, Coburn was acquired by the Flyers at the trade deadline for veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik. The Southeast Division-leading Thrashers paid a steep price, parting with a player who, though not necessarily ready for prime time on a playoff-bound team, maintains tremendous upside.
 
Coburn was unable to crack the Thrashers’ top six defensive rotation earlier this season. He split time between leagues, appearing in 29 games for the NHL team due to injuries (in which he registered four assists) and in 15 games with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL (one goal, 10 assists).
 
Opportunity, however, came in the form of the salary-shedding Flyers. Coburn became an instant contributor to the Orange and Black upon his arrival in Philadelphia. While he has made his share of mistakes playing for one of the NHL’s youngest teams down the stretch run, he has also displayed flashes of brilliance.
 
Coburn has notched six points (three goals, three assists) and 16 PIMs with the Flyers thus far, while playing significant minutes in all game situations. He is and will remain a focal point of the organization’s rebuilding efforts moving forward.
 
3. (5) Claude Giroux, RW, 19
Drafted: 2006 (1st round, 22nd overall)
 
The Flyers raised more than a few eyebrows at the draft last summer, departing from the usual organizational protocol by selecting a smaller, speedy player with their first pick. General manager Paul Holmgren, at that time the assistant to Bob Clarke, explained the rationale behind the pick, stating that team’s scouting staff believed Giroux was perfectly suited to play in the new NHL.
 
The Hurst, ON native wasted little time in justifying the Flyers’ faith in his abilities, exploding out of the gate offensively in his second season with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL. In fact, he led the Q in scoring for much of the first quarter of the season, before falling back into the pack.
 
Giroux finished the regular season ranked fourth in the Q in scoring, with 112 points (48 goals, 64 assists) in only 63 games. These totals included an impressive 20 power-play goals, two shorthanded tallies and a league-best shooting percentage of 26.1.
 
About the only disappointment for Giroux came prior to the holiday season, when he was passed over for inclusion on the Canadian national team’s stacked roster for the World Junior Championships. Giroux will be a favorite to make the team next season; if he doesn’t sign, join and stick with the Flyers that is.
 
4. (5, NSH) Ryan Parent, D, 20
Drafted: 2005 (1st round, 18th overall)
 
Acquired in the blockbuster deal that sent Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators prior to the trade deadline, Parent has been widely viewed as one of the top stay-at-home defensemen in the OHL over the past two seasons.
 
The 20-year-old Prince Albert, SK native recently wrapped up his fourth full season with the Guelph Storm, and has already arrived in Philadelphia. He accompanied the injury-riddled Flyers to Toronto last night, but did not play; it was learned today that he will report to the Phantoms for the remainder of the season.
 
Parent, who, along with Downie, was a pivotal component in helping Team Canada win its third straight WJC gold medal this year, appeared in 10 playoff games with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals last season, after signing an ATO. He 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 43 games with Guelph this year, totaling 59 points (10 goals, 49 assists) and 262 PIMs in 227 games with the Storm since 2003-04.
 
According to general manger Paul Holmgren, Parent has a very strong chance of making the Flyers out of training camp as rookie next season, due to his maturity and superior skating ability.
 
5. (1) Alexandre Picard, D, 21
Drafted: 2003 (3rd round, 85th overall)
 
After enjoying a very strong rookie season with the Phantoms in 2005-06, Picard was expected to return in a more pivotal role, with increased ice time, responsibility and acceptance as a team leader. Indeed, this all happened, but not with team or in the league he originally bargained for.
 
Just six games into the regular season, Picard was recalled to the struggling and injury-depleted Flyers. Most, including the former QMJHL standout himself, assumed the move would be temporary. But, he would remain in the NHL for good, distinguishing himself with his steady, all-around play.
 
Surprisingly, Picard turned out to be one of the team’s top rearguards this year. He has appeared in 59 games, averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game, while playing in all situations. The Gatineau, PQ native will finish no worse than second on the team among rearguards in scoring to Joni Pitkanen, with an impressive 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 59 games.
 
6. (4) Ryan Potulny, C, 22
Drafted: 2003 (3rd round, 87th overall)
 
Injuries have plagued Potulny throughout his first full season at the professional level, but the former University of Minnesota standout has looked sharp and has showed plenty of promise, whenever (and wherever) he has played.
 
The 22-year-old Grand Forks, ND native now appears to have settled into a steady role with the Flyers, as the conclusion of the season looms. He started the season with the Phantoms, for whom he was an impact player from the start of the campaign, notching 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) and 34 PIMs in 27 games for the AHL team.
 
Potulny has been equally as impressive in 32 games with the Flyers, recording 12 points (seven goals, five assists) and 22 PIMs. Perhaps most importantly, he has displayed his diligence at both ends of the rink, backchecking with effectiveness and taking care of the puck in his own end. His plus-1 rating, as odd as it may seem, is second best on the team to Scottie Upshall.
 
With his strong performance down the stretch, Potulny has given himself the inside track at earning a full-time spot with the Flyers in 2007-08, regardless of what changes might occur in the offseason.
 
7. (2) Stefan Ruzicka, RW, 22
Drafted: 2003 (3rd round, 81st overall)
 
Like Potulny, Ruzicka is a young forward who began the season with the Phantoms, and is now getting both valuable experience and a strong look from the Flyers during the stretch run. The Slovak is in his second pro season in North America, having endured an up-and-down campaign with the Phantoms last season.
 
This year has been a little more of the same. He just appeared to be getting settled in with the Phantoms (for whom he tallied 23 points in 29 games) when he was recalled to finish the season with the Flyers in late February. After a slow start, he has played well with the big club, registering 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 37 games.
 
Ruzicka has outstanding natural ability and puck skills, sees the ice well, and is a solid passer. He isn’t an elite-level skater, but can certainly crank it up to another gear, and skates well once he gets moving. The biggest knock on the 22-year-old winger, however, is his perceived lack of desire. There are times when he seems disinterested and disappears for long stretches.
 
Flyers head coach John Stevens, a true "players’ coach" who goes out of his way not to criticize his team in public, disciplined Ruzicka earlier this season by making him sit on the bench alone during a practice session. Ruzicka, to his credit, did respond, and has put forth a solid effort since.
 
8. (7) Oskars Bartulis, D, 20
Drafted: 2005 (3rd round, 91st overall)
 
Yet another promising defensive prospect who will be turning pro next season, Bartulis signed with the Flyers this past offseason, following a strong season with the Memorial Cup runners-up, the Moncton Wildcats.
 
Prior to the start of this season, Bartulis’ final at the major junior level, the 20-year-old Latvian was dealt to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, as the Wildcats transitioned into a rebuilding phase. The move benefited Bartulis, as it gave him the opportunity to continue to play big minutes in key situations for a contending team.
 
He got out of the gate very strong, but was soon hampered by a variety of injuries, including the lingering effects of a concussion. He did recover, however, and went on to enjoy another strong campaign, finishing second among Cape Breton rearguards with 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) in 55 games, while continuing to show improvement at both ends of the rink.
 
Bartulis has been compared favorably to former Flyer Petr Svoboda, a smooth-skating, defensive-minded defenseman who had the skill and ability to contribute offensively, and play in all game situations. Though he will get a good look from the Flyers in training camp, Bartulis will likely begin his pro career with the Phantoms in the fall.
 
9. (11) Freddy Cabana, LW, 20
Drafted: 2004 (6th round, 171st overall)
 
Cabana has acquitted himself nicely as a 20-year-old rookie with the Phantoms this season. As the team’s youngest player, he has appeared mainly in a checking line/penalty-killing role for first-year head coach Kjell Samuelson, but has also received spot duty on scoring lines over the course of the second half of the schedule.
 
He has recorded 18 points (four goals, 14 assists), had a minus-5 rating and ranks fifth on the team with 76 PIMs in 57 games to this point this season.
 
Perhaps best known as the player who leveled Sidney Crosby with a dangerous knee-on-knee hit while both were still competing in the QMJHL two seasons ago, Cabana has also already proven to be proficient at getting under the skin of his opponents and drawing penalties, a quality the Flyers were hoping would translate well from his junior days.
 
Because of his strong skating ability and surprising skill level, Cabana is projected as a potential third line player in the NHL. He will be expected to continue in his current role, with more responsibilities next season, and will be asked to contribute more offensively. He never did develop into the high-scoring player at the junior level that some predicted, but the Flyers’ expectations are much less lofty in that regard.
 
10. (12) Andreas Nodl, RW, 20
Drafted: 2006 (2nd round, 39th overall)
 
Arriving at St. Cloud State after a promising two-year stint with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, Nodl wasted no time in establishing himself as a force at the NCAA level. While he was described by Huskies head coach Bob Motzko from the beginning as a "prized recruit," the 20-year-old Austrian certainly exceeded expectations as a freshman.
 
He would go on to co-lead the nation in scoring among first-year players, tying Western Michigan center Mark Letestu with 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 40 games. Nodl’s performance would ultimately earn him WCHA Rookie of the Year honors, making him the first ever St. Cloud player to capture the award.
 
Nodl broke the Huskies record for scoring by a rookie, and tied the school mark for game-winning goals in a season with five. He was also named to the All-WCHA Third Team following the conclusion of the regular season.
 
Much to the relief of the St. Cloud faithful, Nodl recently stated that he plans to return to play for the Huskies next season. There had been some speculation that he was set to turn pro, but it looks like he will be spending at least one more year of NCAA hockey before, presumably, arriving in Philly.
 
Typically, talented offensive players come into their own during their sophomore seasons at the collegiate level. Thus, very big things will be expected of Nodl in 2007-08.
 
11. (16) Michael Ratchuk, D, 19
Drafted: 2006 (2nd round, 42nd overall)
 
A product of the U.S. National Development Team program, Ratchuk made an immediate impact as a freshman on the blueline for Michigan State University. The Flyers are very high on the 19-year-old Buffalo native, whose Spartans have made it to the Frozen Four in St. Louis, where they will play Maine in the NCAA Tournament semifinals tonight.
 
Ratchuk presently ranks third among Spartan rearguards in scoring and tenth overall on the team with 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 29 games, and has done a solid job of taking care of his own end. He has been a key weapon on the power play, where he has notched three goals from the point.
 
Ratchuk possesses great skating ability, tremendous top-end speed and a good head for the game. He’s known for his ability to handle the puck while starting or leading a rush. It is these qualities that have the Flyers excited about the young rearguard’s NHL potential.
 
"We really like what Mike brings to the table," explained Holmgren. "Because of the way the rules have changed, basically to the benefit of smaller skill guys like Mike, who have speed and move the puck quickly, we definitely feel that he is the type of player we need in our system right now."
 
12. (NR) Scott Munroe, G, 25
Drafted: N/A (Signed as a free agent on 9/15/06)
 
Munroe has emerged from relative obscurity to take over the reins as the Flyers’ top goaltending prospect, in short order. The Regina, SK native signed an ATO and appeared in two games with the Phantoms at the end of last season, after wrapping up a stellar collegiate career at Alabama-Huntsville.
 
He was officially signed as a free agent by the Flyers two weeks before the current season began, to compete with 22-year-old incumbents Martin Houle and Rejean Beauchemin for playing time with the Phantoms. To the surprise of many, the undrafted netminder outplayed his constituents, essentially taking over the starting role for the AHL team.
 
Though Munroe’s 14-17-0-2 record is not impressive on the surface, it is more a reflection of the team’s shortcomings. His rock-solid 2.95 GAA and .912 save percentage are better indications of his effectiveness this season, numbers that earned him a brief recall to the Flyers (in an emergency backup appearance).
 
Munroe is a strong positional goaltender who also possesses excellent puckhandling skills, evidenced by his effectiveness in corralling dump-ins (particularly in shorthanded situations) and his three assists this season.
 
13. (8) Martin Houle, G, 22
Drafted: 2004 (8th round, 232nd overall)
 
One of the more pleasant surprises in the Flyers’ system last season, Houle emerged as the Phantoms starting netminder, ultimately beating out the favored-but-inconsistent Beauchemin after starting the campaign with the ECHL‘s Trenton Titans.
 
Houle entered this season as the incumbent, but a series of nagging injuries, coupled with the emergence of Munroe, derailed hopes of building upon his previous success. The Montreal native has appeared in only five games fewer than Munroe, but, for one reason or another, has not been able to match his teammates’ consistently steady level of performance.
 
With just a handful of games remaining in the Phantoms’ season, Houle currently owns a 3.43 GAA and .891 save percentage, numbers way off his totals of 2.54 and .914 in 2005-06.
 
14. (13) R.J. Anderson, D, 20
Drafted: 2004 (4th round, 101st overall)
 
A plethora of injuries to members of the University of Minnesota defensive corps last season necessitated the acceleration of Anderson’s learning curve. He endured a trying first few months to his sophomore season, but went on to establish his place on the powerful Golden Gophers blueline.
 
The 6’0/182 rearguard appeared in his team’s first three games, but missed the next three with a shoulder injury. He then played in five games before having to sit out the next eight after undergoing an appendectomy. Anderson returned to the Minnesota lineup on Dec. 29 against Alabama-Huntsville, and has not missed a game since.
 
It took some time, understandably, but the Lino Lakes, MN native regained his legs and eventually hit his stride. Anderson recorded six assists and 20 PIMs in 32 games this season. But, he made very strong strides in his own end, and the Golden Gophers coaching staff continues to believe that he will eventually develop a more effective offensive game.
 
15. (NR) Jeremy Duchesne, G, 20
Drafted: 2005 (4th round, 119th overall)
 
The Flyers’ perceived lack of quality goaltending depth has left the door wide open for their netminding prospects to step forward and make a statement. Munroe has taken advantage of the situation, while his stablemates at the pro level, Houle and Beauchemin have stumbled.
 
At the junior level, Duchesne and fellow QMJHL goalie Michael Dupont have turned in strong seasons, giving the organization hope that a dark horse candidate may yet be out there. Duchesne began the season, his third at the major junior level, with the Halifax Mooseheads, before being shipped to the Val d’Or Foreurs in December.
 
The son of former NHL forward Gaeton Duchesne, Jeremy turned in a fine overall performance, finishing tenth in the Q in GAA (3.33) and eighth in save percentage (.897). He has improved his standing as a steady positional netminder, particularly cutting back on the frequent, juicy rebounds that plagued him earlier in his career.
 
It is difficult at this time to gauge the Flyers’ level of interest in Duchesne. He must be signed to a pro contract prior to the upcoming draft, or the team will lose his rights. Should that happen, another season in the Q as an overager is not out of the question.
 
16. (18) Denis Bodrov, D, 20
Drafted: 2006 (2nd round, 55th overall)
 
Bodrov made the most of every opportunity he was presented with last season, turning in a solid rookie stint in the Russian Super League with Lada Togliatti, and showcasing his skills to the world as a member of Team Russia at the WJC.
 
This season, the Moscow native settled nicely into a regular role with Lada, taking on increased responsibilities in all game situations, establishing himself as a physical presence in the RSL and showing flashes of offensive potential from the blueline.
 
Bodrov tallied six points (one goal, five assists) and a plus-1 rating in 49 games. Perhaps most impressive were his 70 PIMs, a number indicative not of undisciplined play, but of his increased level of involvement. Bodrov is expected to return to Lada for at least one more season. There has been talk of him possibly making the jump to North America in 2008-09.
 
17. (20) Joonas Lehtivuori, D, 18
Drafted: 2006 (4th round, 101st overall)
 
Though Finland finished a very disappointing sixth at this year’s World Junior Championships, Lehtivuori was a true bright spot for the team. He did not register a point and finished with a minus-4 rating and four PIMs in six games, but continued to display the smooth-skating, puck-handling abilities that have some predicting an NHL career in his future.
 
Lehtivuori competed in his first full season in SM-liiga this year, appearing in 40 games for Ilves Tampere. He did not record a point in what was, at times, largely spot duty, but did a fine job taking care of his own end, registering a plus-3 rating. He is expected to take on a larger role with the team next season.
 
"Lehtivuori is a good young defenseman," said Flyers scout Ilkka Sinisalo shortly before the World Juniors. "He’s not real big, but with the way the game is played now, that doesn’t matter as much. We like the way he moves the puck. For a young defenseman, he handles pressure with poise."
 
18. (10) Rob Bellamy, RW, 21
Drafted: 2004 (3rd round, 92nd overall)
 
Bellamy has endured a difficult season for Maine, unable to get his game on track from the start. The Westfield, MA native continues to be praised by the Black Bears’ coaching staff for the tireless effort and hustle he displays game in and game out, but his strong work ethic has not carried over to success on the ice.
 
Offensively, Bellamy has failed to produce. He has registered only one goal, to go along with seven assists in 36 total games. This is a step back from his promising 2005-06 performance, which saw him register 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 40 games, while emerging as leader and integral two-way component to Maine’s lineup.
 
Bellamy remains an outspoken voice in the Black Bears’ locker room, and has retained his reputation as a competent defensive forward. Developmentally, however, his inability to add an offensive dimension to his game could hurt his chances of ultimately landing a pro contract with the Flyers.
 
Maine has advanced to the Frozen Four, and will play Ratchuk and the Michigan State Spartans for the right to play in the national title game.
 
19. (NR) Jonathan Matsumoto, D, 20
Drafted: 2006 (3rd round, 79th overall)
 
Matsumoto inked his first professional contract with the Flyers after the completion of his junior season at Bowling Green in mid-March. In doing so, he became the first member of the organization’s 2006 draft class to turn pro, joining the Phantoms of the AHL for the remainder of the season.
 
Matsumoto put up terrific numbers during his three collegiate seasons, totaling 113 points (49 goals, 64 assists) in 110 total games. He was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal squad this year, registering a team-leading 38 points (11 goals, 22 assists) in 33 contests.
 
Through 10 games with the Phantoms thus far, Matsumoto has one goal and one assist; he has also registered one minor penalty and a minus-4 rating. The Flyers are intrigued by the Ottawa native’s package of speed, smarts and aggression, and project him as a potential checking line forward in the mold of former draftee (and current Chicago Blackhawk) Patrick Sharp.
 
20. (17) Chris Zarb, D, 22
Drafted: 2004 (5th round, 144th overall)
 
Zarb emerged as the leader of the Ferris State blueline corps in his sophomore season with the team. The rangy 6’4/200 defenseman displayed improvement in virtually every facet of his game this season, particularly as a physical force to be reckoned with in his own end.
 
A native of Waterford, MI, Zarb lead the team, in fact, with 75 PIMs in 29 games. He also began to make his mark at the other end of the rink, ranking first among Bulldogs rearguards with 14 points (one goal, 13 assists).
 
Ferris State struggled to compete in the CCHA this season. With six seniors graduating this spring, including defensemen Joe Van Culin and Jeremy Scherlinck, expectations on Zarb’s play will continue to increase for next season and beyond.
 
Zarb is the only skater on the Ferris State roster to be drafted. Junior goaltender Derek MacIntyre was selected by the San Jose Sharks in 2004 (8th round, 234th overall).

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