On the eve of the 2002 NHL Entry draft, the Philadelphia Flyers pulled off a trade that caught the hockey world by surprise.
Without a first-round pick and desperately seeking to replenish its organizational depth chart with a franchise-type player, the team dealt forward Ruslan Fedotenko and two previously-acquired second round picks to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for the fourth overall selection.
With that pick, the Flyers tabbed Finnish defenseman Joni Pitkanen. It is on the former Karpat Oulu standout’s fortunes that the ultimate success of his entire draft class lies. The reason is simple: He is the only one of the seven players selected by Philadelphia in 2002 to have played in so much as one NHL game.
Joni Pitkanen, D
1st round, 4th overall out of Karpat Oulu (Finland)
NHL games played: 206
Status: NHL player
Five years after he strode up to the drafting stage and pulled on a orange and black sweater for the first time, the Flyers hold out hope that Pitkanen will develop into a cornerstone player for the franchise. It is evident, however, that the patience of the team’s brass is beginning to wear thin.
Pitkanen played one additional season for Oulu before signing with the Flyers prior to the 2003-04 season. He earned a reputation in his homeland as a potential future superstar, exhibiting outstanding two-way prowess and instincts, and an impressive mean streak. Despite tiring down the stretch, he showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, recording 27 points (8 goals, 19 assists) in 71 games.
Many felt that Pitkanen would return home to Finland during the NHL lockout of 2004-05, but he instead accepted an assignment to play for the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. With several offensive rearguards on the team, he found himself in more of defensive-oriented role. Pitkanen would play to mixed results at times, still managing to record 41 points (6 goals, 35 assists) in 76 games. He was a pivotal player in the Phantoms’ march to their second Calder Cup championship.
Fresh off of that experience, Pitkanen returned to the NHL with a bang in 2005-06. He led all Flyers defensemen in scoring with 46 points (13 goals, 33 assists) in 58 games, particularly emerging as a dangerous power-play performer. Injuries, however, severely limited his playing time and effectiveness over the second half of the season.
Despite again leading the Flyers in scoring from the blue line in 2006-07 (43 points in 77 games) and managing to stay healthy, Pitkanen seemed to take a step back in his development. While some of his troubles could be attributed to the sagging fortunes of the NHL’s worst team this past season, Pitkanen regressed to the point of making rookie-like mistakes on a repeated basis.
Pitkanen will enter his fifth pro season in North America in 2007-08, and it will likely be a defining one in his NHL career. He appears to be at the crossroads, a player on the verge of superstardom and disappointment at the same time.
Though visibly ecstatic with the ability to draft the highly-touted Pitkanen, general manager Bob Clarke and his staff would have to wait through 101 further selections before getting to make their next pick, thanks to previous trades that had left the Flyers devoid of second and third turns.
With the 105th overall choice, the team took another defenseman. In Rosario Ruggeri, the Flyers were hoping to develop a solid complimentary piece. The Montreal native was coming off of a very solid rookie season in the QMJHL for Chicoutimi, in which he tallied 17 points and 105 PIMs in 60 games.
Ruggeri became known for his aggressive play and leadership ability during his time in the Q, ultimately earning the right to serve as the Sagueneens’ captain in 2003-04. His rough and tumble style of play, however, never translated well to the pro level.
Over the next three seasons, Ruggeri would become a regular for the Trenton Titans in the ECHL, but, despite countless opportunities, could never crack the lineup of the Phantoms roster full time. The highlight of his career came in 2004-05, when he helped guide the Titans to their first Kelly Cup title.
Ruggeri appeared in 15 games with the Phantoms in 2006-07, but appears to be finished in the Flyers organization.
Flyers chief European Scout Inge Hammarstrom referred to the selection of Baranov as “a shot in the dark” on draft day. Not much has been said about the journeyman forward since.
Baranov, apparently, showed brief glimpses of potential at an early stage of his career in the Russian Super League, generating a brief, albeit tempered buzz, among the scouting community. The Flyers simply took a chance on a player thought to possess some potential, but it was never realized.
Now 25, Baranov has bounced all over the RSL, appearing for eight different teams. A decent role player at best, he has also seen time in Russia’s equivalent of the minor leagues for two organizations.
Dov Grumet-Morris, G
5th round, 161st overall out of Harvard University (ECAC)
NHL games played: 0
Status: NHL bust
The lone goaltender selected by the Flyers in 2002, Grumet-Morris went on to rewrite the record books at Harvard. He established school records for games (114), minutes played (6811), saves (3081) and shutouts (11), and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in his senior season.
Despite his accomplishments, the Flyers opted not to sign Grumet-Morris to a pro contract after his collegiate career ended. Concerns about his quickness and lateral movement brought into question his ability to succeed beyond the amateur ranks.
The Evanston, IL has bounced around the minor leagues in the three seasons since, appearing in the AHL (18 games), ECHL (23 games) and CHL (25 games). Europe remains a viable option for 2007-08, as the now-25-year-old netminder continues to look for a break.
Nikita Korovkin, D
6th round, 192nd overall out of the Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
NHL games played: 0
Status: NHL bust
The Flyers were hopeful that they had mined a diamond in the rough in Korovkin, a skilled Russian import coming off of a pair of strong seasons with the Kamloops Blazers. His stock had dropped some, it seemed, thanks to an undisclosed injury that kept him out of the WHL playoffs in 2001-02.
Korovkin would go on to establish himself as one of the top two-way rearguards in the WHL over the following two seasons, racking up 73 points in 128 games with the Blazers and Tri-City Americans.
His downfall, however, would be his inability to add weight and muscle to his thin frame. Tall and lean at 6‘1, 180 lbs, the Flyers did not feel that he could handle the rigors of the pro game, and declined to offer him a contract after the 2003-04 campaign.
He has bounced around since, playing for three different teams in the ECHL over the course of the past three seasons.
Joey Mormina, D
6th round, 193nd overall out of Colgate University (ECAC)
NHL games played: 0
Status: NHL prospect
With the very next pick in the draft, the Flyers selected another defenseman, this time tabbing massive Colgate rearguard Mormina. At 6’5, 226 lbs, the imposing Montreal native presented an intriguing blend of size and athleticism. He lacked in hockey sense, however, and was branded a “project player” from the start by a number of scouts and observers.
Mormina, to his credit, worked hard to learn his craft, and eventually developed into Colgate’s “go-to” defenseman, logging huge amounts of ice time in all game situations as an upperclassman. By the time he graduated, Mormina had made big strides in his play at both ends of the rink; he finished his collegiate career with 56 points (16 goals, 40 assists) in 143 total games.
Still, the Flyers considered him too raw, and could not find a place in the organization for him to play. Mormina did latch on to another NHL organization, however, when he was signed to a minor league deal by the Los Angeles Kings shortly after the Flyers declined to retain his rights.
He has appeared in 123 games with the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, over the past two seasons, tallying 24 points (2 goals, 22 assists) and 178 PIMs.
The Flyers’ seventh and final selection was the polar opposite of Mormina in just about every way. Brunelle, a diminutive forward fresh off of a 107-point breakout season with the Victoriaville Tigers in the QMJHL, offered a high-rise/low reward scenario for the organization.
At just 5’11, 175 lbs., the Warwick, Quebec native relied heavily on his impressive instincts and good hands to help him pile up points in the Q. He would go on to record 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) during the following season, in 70 combined games with the Tigers and Hull Olympiques.
Brunelle turned pro the following season, but his lack of size and speed were evident at the pro level. As a result, he was relegated to the ECHL. There, to his credit, he produced an outstanding freshman season for the Trenton Titans, recording 56 points (26 goals, 30 assists) in 65 games.
Disciplinary problems would be Brunelle’s main undoing from that point on. Frustrated by his inability to crack the Phantoms lineup, he would soon wear out his welcome with the Flyers organization. He was loaned out to various ECHL teams over the next two seasons, appearing in 74 games with the Titans and nine total contests with the Phantoms, in between.
In 2006-07, Brunelle played in 25 games with the Bloomington PraireThunder of the UHL, and 19 combined contests for the St. Jean Chiefs and Trois Rivieres Caron & Guay of the NAHL.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.