Flyers Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Al Alven

Power forward James vanRiemsdyk, the second overall pick of the NHL Entry Draft in June, immediately ascends to the No. 1 spot. With the diminutive by highly-talented Claude Giroux behind him, the organization possesses two very different yet promising offensive cornerstones on which to build.
 
Rearguards occupy five of the first 10 spots, with a pair of former first-round picks acquired from other teams at last March’s trade deadline – Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent – leading the way.
 
Overall, the list is comprised of eight forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.
 
In addition to vanRiemsdyk, defenseman Kevin Marshall is the only other member of Flyers’ 2007 draft class to make the list.
 
Also making their debuts are defenseman Nathan Guenin and goaltender Jakub Kovar.

Top 20 at a glance
 
1. James vanRiemsdyk, LW
2. Steve Downie, RW
3. Braydon Coburn, D
4. Claude Giroux, RW
5. Ryan Parent, D
6. Andreas Nodl, RW
7. Alexandre Picard, D
8. Ryan Potulny, C
9. Michael Ratchuk, D
10. Oskars Bartulis, D
11. Freddy Cabana, LW
12. Stefan Ruzicka, RW
13. Kevin Marshall, D
14. Scott Munroe, G
15. Denis Bodrov, D
16. Nathan Guenin, D
17. Jeremy Duchesne, G
18. Jonathan Matsumoto, C
19. Joonas Lehtivuori, D
20. Jakub Kovar, G
 
Key: Rank (Previous Rank), Name, Position, Grade

1. (nr) James vanRiemsdyk, LW, 8.5 B

Acquired: 2007 NHL Draft (1st round, 2nd overall)
 
The second highest-drafted player in Flyers history (the team took Mel Bridgman first overall in 1975), vanRiemsdyk is a product of the U.S. National Development Team, having played for the Under-18 squad each of the past two seasons.

He saw his stock skyrocket as he proved himself to be an elite prospect in 2006-07, powering his way to a 63-point season (33 goals, 30 assists) and 81 PIM in just 42 games. He led the NTDP in goals, points, PPG (11), and GWG (6), and finished second overall in assists and PIM. He also skated for Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Sweden.
vanRiemsdyk boasts an outstanding combination of size, skating ability, hockey sense and soft hands. He has displayed great presence and a deft touch in and around the goalmouth area, drawing local comparisons in Philly to former Flyers great John LeClair, in addition to national parallels to Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash.

vanRiemsdyk begins his collegiate career this season at the University of New Hampshire. His skating will be put to the test on the Wildcats’ Olympic-sized ice rink. A number of scouts project that he will be able to turn pro within the next two seasons.
 

2. (1) Steve Downie, RW, 7.0 B

Acquired: 2005 NHL Draft (1st round, 29th overall)
 
Ask 10 NHL scouts for their honest assessment of Downie’s upside and career potential, and you’re likely to receive 10 very different answers.
 
While questions about his mental makeup and ability to control his temper will persist until he proves himself at the next level, there can be no denying the on-ice dominance Downie displayed over the past three seasons in the OHL, and with Team Canada at the WJCs.
 
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 performance in 2006-07, finishing the regular season ranked 14th in the league in the OHL in scoring with 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists), despite appearing in only 42 games for the Peterborough Petes and Kitchener Rangers (thanks to various suspensions and time away with the Canadian national team).
 
Above all other comparisons, the name that tends to come up most with regard to Downie’s potential career path is that of Toronto Maple Leaf super-pest Darcy Tucker. Interestingly enough, Tucker is both the player Downie admired most while growing up and one of the most reviled Flyers villains of recent memory.
 

3. (2) Braydon Coburn, D, 8.0 C

Acquired: Trade with ATL, 2/24/07
 
Coburn, then the top-ranked prospect in the Atlanta Thrashers‘ system, was acquired by the basement-dwelling Flyers at last year’s trade deadline for veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik. The Southeast Division-leading Thrashers paid a steep price, parting with a player who, though not ready for prime time on a playoff-bound team, maintains tremendous upside.
 
The 6’5, 220-pounder was unable to crack the Thrashers’ top six defensive rotation early last 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 also displayed flashes of brilliance.
 
Coburn notched seven points (three goals, four assists) and 16 PIMs in 20 games with the Flyers, while playing significant minutes in all game situations. He is and will remain a focal point of the organization’s rebuilding efforts moving forward.

4. (3) Claude Giroux, RW, 7.5 B

Acquired: 2006 NHL Draft (1st round, 22nd overall)
 
The Flyers’ top draft pick last summer, Giroux followed up an outstanding rookie season in the QMJHL with an even better sophomore showing. In fact, he led the circuit 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 league 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 WJCs. Giroux will be a favorite to make the team next season; if he doesn’t join and stick with the Flyers, that is.
 
Giroux, who signed an entry-level contract with the organization on July 23, will be given a long, hard look in training camp. He is viewed by general manager Paul Holmgren as a perfect fit for the style and pace of today’s NHL game, and is projected to be one of the offensive cornerstones of the Flyers’ future.
 .

5. (4) Ryan Parent, D, 7.0 B

Acquired: Trade with NSH, 2/15/07
 
Acquired in the blockbuster deal that sent Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators prior to the trade deadline, Parent has widely been 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 wrapped up his fourth full season with the Guelph Storm last spring, then joined the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL for the remainder of the season. He also saw action in one game for the injury-riddled Flyers, making his NHL debut at home against the rival New Jersey Devils on April 5.
 
Parent, who, along with Downie, was a pivotal component in helping Team Canada win its third straight WJC gold medal last year, appeared in 10 playoff games with the AHL‘s Milwaukee Admirals in 2005-06, after signing an ATO. He notched 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 43 games with Guelph last year, totaling 59 points (10 goals, 49 assists) and 262 PIMs in 227 games with the Storm since 2003-04.
 
According to Holmgren, Parent has a very strong chance of making the Flyers out of training camp as rookie this season, due to his maturity and superior skating ability.
 

6. (10) Andreas Nodl, RW, 7.5 C

Acquired: 2006 NHL Draft (2nd round, 39th overall)
 
Arriving at St. Cloud State last season 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.
 

7. (5) Alexandre Picard, D, 7.0 B

Acquired: 2003 NHL Draft (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 most steady, reliable rearguards last year. He appeared in 59 games, averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game, while playing in all situations. The Gatineau, PQ native finished second on the team among rearguards in scoring to the since-departed Joni Pitkanen, with an impressive 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 59 games.
 
Though competition for spots on the Flyers’ blue line is expected to be hotly-contested this season, Picard has a solid shot at returning as a full-time regular. A job will be his to win or lose in training camp.
 

8. (6) Ryan Potulny, C, 7.0 C

Acquired: 2003 NHL Draft (3rd round, 87th overall)
 
Injuries plagued Potulny throughout his first full season at the professional level, but the former University of Minnesota standout looked sharp and displayed plenty of promise, whenever (and wherever) he played in 2006-07.
 
The 22-year-old Grand Forks, ND native settled into a steady role with the Flyers down the stretch last season. He started the year 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 was equally impressive in 35 games with the Flyers, recording 12 points (seven goals, five assists) and 22 PIMs. Perhaps most importantly, he displayed diligence at both ends of the rink, backchecking with effectiveness and taking care of the puck in his own end. His plus-1 rating was actually the fifth-best total on the team.
 
With his strong performance down the stretch, Potulny seemingly gave himself the inside track at earning a full-time spot with the Flyers in 2007-08. He will need a strong training camp performance and sustained success to make the team, considering all of the changes made and quality forwards added to the mix over the summer.
 

9. (11) Michael Ratchuk, D, 7.0 C

Acquired: 2006 NHL Draft (2nd round, 42nd overall)
 
A teammate of vanRiemsdyk’s on the U.S. National Development Team two seasons ago, Ratchuk made an immediate impact as a freshman on the blue line for Michigan State University in 2006-07. The Flyers are very high on the 19-year-old Buffalo native, who helped the Spartans capture their first national championship since 1986.
 
In impressive fashion, Ratchuk finished third among regular Spartan rearguards in scoring and 11th overall on the team with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) and 28 PIMs in 40 games, while doing a solid job of taking care of his own end. He proved to be a key weapon on the power play, where he 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.
 
Naturally, he will be counted upon to take on more responsibility in helping Michigan State defend its NCAA crown this season.
 

10. (8) Oskars Bartulis, D, 7.0 C

Acquired: 2005 NHL Draft (3rd round, 91st overall)
 
Yet another promising defensive prospect who will be turning pro this season, Bartulis signed with the Flyers last offseason, following a strong campaign with the Memorial Cup runners-up, the Moncton Wildcats.
 
Prior to the start of the 2006-07 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 this fall.

11. (9) Freddy Cabana, LW, 6.5 C

Acquired: 2004 NHL Draft (6th round, 141st overall)
 
Cabana 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 recorded 19 points (four goals, 15 assists), had a minus-six rating and ranked seventh on the team with 78 PIMs in 61 games overall.
 
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 three 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 this 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.

12. (7) Stefan Ruzicka, RW, 7.0 D

Acquired: 2003 NHL Draft (3rd round, 81st overall)
 
Like Ryan Potulny, Ruzicka is a young forward who began last season with the Phantoms, and went on to receive valuable experience and a strong look from the Flyers during the stretch run. The Slovak is entering his third pro season in North America, having endured a pair of up-and-down campaigns with the Phantoms to this point.
 
The former Owen Sound Attack (OHL) standout 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 picked up his play with the big club, registering 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 37 total 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 23-year-old winger, however, is his perceived lack of desire. There are times when he seems disinterested and disappears for long stretches.
 

13. (nr) Kevin Marshall, D, 7.0 C

Acquired: 2007 NHL Draft (2nd round, 41st overall)

The Flyers think so highly of Marshall’s ability that the team traded a mid-third-round pick this year and a second-round pick in 2008 to the Washington Capitals during the draft in order to ensure the acquisition of the rough-and-tumble defender, a key force in helping Lewiston capture the QMJHL title in 2006-07. The Boucherville, PQ native is regarded as a hard-working, stay-at-home rearguard who plays with a physical edge. He skates very well, has excellent balance and moves the puck efficiently. Some scouts have called his size into question, expressing concern that his 6’0, 180 lb. frame might not hold up over time, given the physical style of play he adheres to. That, of course, remains to be seen.

Marshall is not expected to develop into an offensive rearguard in the pros, though he did post a very respectable 32 points in 70 games (5 goals, 27 assists) last year for the MAINEiacs, to go along with a team-leading 141 PIMs. He will return to Lewiston for at least one, but most likely two, more seasons in the QMJHL. He will be counted upon heavily to help lead the team in its defense of the league title.
 

14. (12) Scott Munroe, G, 7.0 C

Acquired: Signed as free agent, 4/06
 
Munroe has emerged from relative obscurity to take over the reins as the Flyers’ top goaltending prospect, in very unlikely fashion. The Regina, SK native signed an ATO and appeared in two games with the Phantoms at the end of the 2005-06 campaign, after wrapping up a stellar collegiate career at Alabama-Huntsville.
 
He was officially signed as a free agent by the Flyers two weeks just before the start of last season, to compete with then-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 competition, essentially taking over the starting role for the AHL team.
 
Though Munroe’s 15-19-2 record is not impressive on the surface, as it was more a reflection of the team’s shortcomings. His rock-solid 3.05 GAA and .908 save percentage are better indications of his effectiveness last season, numbers that earned him a brief recall to the Flyers (in an emergency backup appearance).
 
Munroe is a strong positional goaltender with good reflexes who aggressively challenges shooters and takes away the bottom portion of the net when play is in close. He still has work to do when it comes to puckhandling, but made strides in that regard last year.
 
It will be interesting to see how Munroe responds to added pressure and more competition for playing time between the pipes for the Phantoms, especially with veteran free-agent signee Brian Boucher and rookie Jeremy Duchesne set to join the mix this year.

15. (16) Denis Bodrov, D, 7.0 C

Acquired: 2006 NHL Draft (2nd round, 55th overall)
 
As a sophomore in the Russian Super League last season, Bodrov settled nicely into a regular role with Lada Togliatti, taking on increased responsibilities in all game situations, establishing himself as a physical presence in the league 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.
 
The Moscow native made the most of every opportunity he was presented with in 2005-06, turning in a solid rookie stint in the Russian Super League with Lada, and showcasing his skills to the world as a member of Team Russia at the WJC.
 
Bodrov is set to return to Lada, but this season could be his last in the RSL. Speculation persists that Bodrov will play one more season in Russia, then cross the pond to play in North America in 2008-09. Another solid season with Lada will only increase the likelihood that the Flyers will offer him a pro contract, be it some time in the next year or beyond.
 

16. (nr) Nathan Guenin, D, 6.5 C

Acquired: Signed as free agent, 8/16/06
 
A former standout at Ohio State University, Guenin was originally drafted by the New York Rangers in 2002 (4th round, 127th overall). Despite his steady, four-year collegiate career on the blueline for the Buckeyes, however, he was not offered a pro contract after the 2005-06 season and, thus, became a free agent.
 
Guenin was signed by the Flyers, and began his pro career last season with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL, for whom he tallied 12 points (three goals, nine assists) and a minus-11 rating and 92 PIMs in 68 games. He also saw action in nine games with the Flyers, registering two assists and four PIMs.
 
The Aliquippa, PA native struggled some in the early going of his rookie season with the Phantoms, but ultimately emerged as one of the team’s most consistent, reliable backliners. Holmgren praised the 6’2, 210 lb. defenseman after the season, calling him one of the most improved players in the organization.
 
Guenin is projected to return to the Phantoms for more seasoning in 2007-08. He will be expected to continue to improve at both ends of the rink and in the leadership department, just as he did during his days at Ohio State. He will also likely see at least some action with the Flyers as a top call-up option as the season progresses.

17. (15) Jeremy Duchesne, G, 7.0 C

Acquired: 2005 NHL Draft (4th round, 119th overall)
 
Duchesne was the last of the Flyers’ prospects to be eliminated from postseason play last season, when his Val-D’or Foreurs were swept in the QMJHL finals by the Lewiston MAINEiacs. The Silver Springs, MD native enjoyed a spectacular postseason run, but all of that was trivialized due to personal tragedy. His father, former NHL forward Gaetan Duchesne, passed away suddenly at the age of 44 on April 16, prior to the Foreurs’ semifinal series against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
 
The 6’1, 210 lb. netminder began the 2006-07 campaign, his fourth in the QMJHL (third as a starter) with the Halifax Mooseheads. He was traded to Val-d’Or during the Christmas trade period, and finished the regular season ranked 10th in the circuit with a 3.33 GAA and eighth in save percentage with a .897 mark.
 
Duchesne will move on to the pro ranks this season, after signing an entry-level deal with the Flyers in early June. Exactly where he will play this season remains unclear, with veteran Brian Boucher and returning goalies Munroe, Houle and Beauchemin all in the mix.
 
The goaltending situation will be one to watch very closely as the 2007-08 season unfolds.
 

18. (19) Jonathan Matsumoto, C, 6.5 B

Acquired: 2006 NHL Draft (3rd round, 79th overall)
 
Matsumoto inked a professional contract with the Flyers after the completion of his junior season at Bowling Green, last 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.
 
The 6’0, 185 lb. forward 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 Falcons squad last year, registering a team-leading 38 points (11 goals, 22 assists) in 33 contests.
 
In 16 games with the Phantoms at the end of the 2006-07 campaign, Matsumoto tallied two goals and two assists; he has also registered two minor penalties and a -3 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.

19. (17) Joonas Lehtivuori, D, 6.5 C

Acquired: 2006 NHL Draft (4th round, 101st overall)
 
Though Finland finished a very disappointing sixth at last year’s WJC, 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 also competed in his first full season in SM-liiga in 2006-07, 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 this year.
Listed at just 5’11, 160 lbs., Lehtivuori is emerging as one of the more intriguing blue line prospects in the Flyers system. He received a good deal of praise from former forward and present-day European scout Ilkka Sinisalo last season for his puck-moving ability and poise in pressure-filled situations.
 

20. (nr) Jakub Kovar, G, 7.0 C

Acquired: 2006 NHL Draft (4th round, 109th overall)
 
Kovar established himself as one of the top amateur goaltenders in the Czech Republic over the past two seasons, while playing in the Ceské Budejovice system. Last year, he registered a 2.07 GAA and .929 save percentage in 38 games, improving on his impressive numbers from the previous campaign (2.23 goals-against average, .926 save percentage in 19 games).

The 6’0, 176 lb. netminder’s standing as a highly-regarded prospect in his homeland was confirmed when he was chosen to play for the national team at last year’s WJCs. There, he appeared in two games while serving as the backup to Atlanta Thrashers draftee Ondrei Pavelec.
A new challenge awaits Kovar this season, as he has elected to continue his junior career in North America. The 19-year-old goaltender, who was blocked in the Budejovice pipeline by former NHLer Roman Turek and Jan Chabera, was selected by the Oshawa Generals of the OHL with the 29th overall selection of the 2007 CHL Import Draft.

A rangy specimen with a thin frame, Kovar still has a good deal of filling out to do. He has the ability to cover a lot of ground with his size and quickness, but is often guilty at this point of playing too far back in his net. Whether he learns to better challenge shooters or develops a more unorthodox style, as we have seen with several Czech goaltenders in recent years, remains to be seen.
 
Missing the cut

21. (14) R.J. Anderson, D, 6.0 D
22. (13) Martin Houle, G, 6.0 D
23. (nr) Michael Dupont, G, 6.5 C
24. (nr) Mario Kempe, RW, 6.5 C
25. (18) Rob Bellamy, RW, 6.0 D
 
 
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