2006 Draft produced two NHL regulars for Philadelphia Flyers

By Chris Shafer
Photo: 2006 second round pick Andreas Nodl, along with first-rounder Claude Giroux, give the Flyers one of the most dynamic groups of forwards in the NHL. (Photo courtesy of www.sfstampede.com)

For the Philadelphia Flyers, the 2006 NHL Draft will forever be tied to Philadelphia legend and current Senior Vice President Bobby Clarke, who accidentally fumbled over Claude Giroux’s name. Following the draft, the Flyers would enter their worst season in team history, leading to the retirement of Clarke as the Flyers’ General Manager. However, the floodgates had already opened for the young Giroux, who finished the 2006-07 season with a career high 112 points off of 48 goals. A dazzling puck-wizard from Hearst, Ontario, Giroux finally found his way onto a team through a draft after being passed over by the OHL.

Only four drafted forwards remain on the NHL roster from the Bobby Clarke era as General Manager including Mike Richards and Jeff Carter from the 2003 Draft as well as Claude Giroux and Andreas Nodl from the 2006 Draft. Their roles and play styles are all very different, but together the four make a very large impact on a top nine that was pieced together by Clarke’s successor, Paul Holmgren.

While success in any given draft is normally a relative term, it is safe to say that finding two impact players for a forward core that is one of the best in the NHL can be counted as a success.

Claude Giroux, RW/C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL) – 1st round, 22nd overall
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 179

Claude Giroux had been overlooked for a long time before the Flyers landed him with the 22nd overall pick. Being taken the same year as a top five that included Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, and Phil Kessel certainly did not help matters, but at this point in his career, Giroux seems poised to throw his name into the hat with the best players taken in his draft year.

With a spark to his game that makes his presence much larger than his 5’11 stature, the now 23-year-old Giroux makes sure that he is the center of attention on the ice whether it is by way of a crafty deke, an unexpected maneuver along the boards, a big hit that he throws in just to change things up, or even an occasional behind the back, no-look pass.

Claude Giroux is, after all, a magician with the puck, and maybe the most dynamic forward to take the ice as a Flyer in a long time.

It may not feel all that long ago, but Giroux’s 2007 postseason with the Gatineau Olympiques where he won playoff MVP by dropping an incredible 51 points in 19 games is already a distant memory. In 2010 during the Flyers trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, he was already one of the most important forwards on the team and displayed that by putting together 21 points in 23 games.

Since then, he has not looked back. With 50 points in 53 games played this season, he is currently at the head of the pack of a four-way race that also features Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Danny Briere. Even though that could come down to the very last game, Giroux is only a goal away from hitting his first NHL 20-goal marker.

Now that he is locked into another contract, it is a safe bet to believe that Giroux will be staying with the Flyers for a long time.

Andreas Nodl, RW, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2nd round, 39th overall
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 92

A lot can be said about perseverance when Andreas Nodl is brought up. The 23-year-old is one of three Austrian-born players currently in the NHL, and like his fellow countrymen, Nodl’s first step to the NHL came in the form of a trip to North America to play in a junior league. Much like the more famous Thomas Vanek, a high profile forward for the Buffalo Sabres, Nodl’s path began as a scorer for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL where the Flyers were impressed by his play enough to take him 39th overall in the 2006 draft.

He attended two years at St. Cloud State in the NCAA where he led the team in scoring as a 19-year-old and finished third as a 20-year-old. The Flyers then decided to bring him into the organization for the 2008-09 season.

The biggest shock for Nodl came at the end of his first professional preseason when he found his name on the list of players who made the NHL roster. He had a seat on the Flyers’ bench even before Claude Giroux.

Nodl was strong out of the gate, but the lengthy schedule seemingly took its toll on the then 20-year-old. After 38 games which included a goal and three assists, Nodl was replaced by Giroux, who had begun to quietly rip apart the AHL.

Though there were some call-up stints involved including one during the 2010 playoffs, Nodl was a regular for the Phantoms until his second opportunity presented itself in the 2010-11 preseason. He had to battle NHL veteran Bill Guerin for a roster spot, but once again, Nodl beat the odds. Even though he had yet to rediscover the offensive spark that had earned him a call from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006, he had become a different player. He had developed his physical game, his boardwork, his defensive play, and had become the well-rounded, hard-working forward that the Flyers needed.

With 18 points off of nine goals in 44 games this year, the offense is starting to come around even if it is a stumbling a bit off the line. Nodl’s offense may never turn him into a prolific NHL scorer, but he has found a niche as a very versatile third liner that will work hard to help his team find a way to win.

Mike Ratchuk, D, US National U-18 Team – 2nd round, 42nd overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Flyers have taken a player in the second round a grand total of four times since the 1999 NHL Draft. Three of those players came in 2006, where the Flyers used their third selection on a gifted offensive defenseman, Mike Ratchuk. With the team in need of some puck movement at the NHL level due to the change in play style after the NHL lockout, there were big hopes that Ratchuk could eventually fill that role. Things for the young defensemen did not come easy though.

The Buffalo, NY native spent two years at Michigan State University before going pro with the Phantoms, but the success from his days in the US National Development team never manifested in the AHL. When the Flyers had felt they had stocked up on enough defensemen to feel comfortable with that aspect of their prospect pool, Ratchuk was the odd man out. The team now needed scoring, and five games into what was supposed to be Ratchuk’s second full season with the Phantoms, he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for tr
oubled forward prospect Stefan Legein.

In 35 games with the Syracuse Crunch last year, Ratchuk accounted for an unimpressive three goals and seven assists. He played 15 more games this season with the Springfield Falcons, but only registered a goal. After dropping on the depth chart, he found himself the odd man out once again and was sent to the Fort Wayne Komets of the CHL.

Denis Bodrov, D, Tolyatti Lada (RSL) – 2nd round, 55th overall
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

It was not too long ago that Paul Holmgren was praising Denis Bodrov as someone who could possibly jump in at the NHL level almost immediately. Bodrov though decided to take his time in Russia instead of making the jump to the North American game despite pressure from the Flyers.

He had become a highly regarded young defenseman in Russia, but things changed upon the formation of the KHL in 2008-09. Bodrov was in the middle of his fourth season with Tolyatti Lada when rumors began to creep up about some locker room trouble surrounding the organization. The 22-year-old Denis Bodrov was then playing with his 20-year-old brother, Evgeny, but the organization felt it was time to move Denis due to a lack of performance as well as locker room issues.

Bodrov moved onto Mytishchi Atlant for the next year and a half where he struggled on the ice and ran into problems with the organization. After 12 games for the team in 2009-10, he was dropped from the team and spent a while fighting to get his paycheck. The Flyers saw this as an opportunity to get the now struggling Bodrov into the system in Adirondack where they hoped he could get his career back on track. In 17 games played with the Phantoms on a tryout, Bodrov scored one goal and added three assists. The time in Adirondack was a struggle for the young defenseman who battled injuries and time away from Russia.

Bodrov returned to the KHL for the 2010-11 season where he now plays for Moscow Spartak. In 42 games, he looks to be rebounding well with three goals and six assists on the year so far.

Jonathan Matsumoto, C, Bowling Green State University (NCAA) – 3rd round, 79th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 13

It was fairly clear that Jonathan Matsumoto would never get a chance in Philadelphia. As a center that needed to play on one of the top three lines to be effective, Matsumoto was already sitting behind Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Danny Briere when Claude Giroux also demonstrated that he could play a strong game from the middle. When his entry-level contract came to its conclusion, very few people were surprised to see Matsumoto moved on Draft Day 2010. In return, the Flyers received a seventh round selection that went to Ricard Blidstrand, a defenseman currently playing for the Regina Pats of the WHL.

In three full seasons with the Phantoms, Matsumoto finished fifth, second, and first in scoring on the team respectively. When included with the numbers from his amateur tryout in 2006-07, he scored 81 goals and assisted on 92 others for a total of 173 points in 251 games. His one-dimensional play style kept him in the AHL though while numerous other forwards were called up before him over the years as the Flyers fought through injuries.

Matsumoto earned his first stint in the NHL with the Hurricanes this year when he was called up for the November 1st match-up against the organization that drafted him, the Philadelphia Flyers. He failed to earn any recognition on the scorecard for that game, but in his second ever NHL game against the New York Islanders, he netted two goals. They would be the only points during his 13-game stint with the Hurricanes this season. Meanwhile through 36 games with the Hurricanes AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, he has scored 14 goals to go along with his 20 assists.

Joonas Lehtivuori, D, Ilves Tampere (SM-Liiga U-20) – 4th round, 101st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The year after being drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 4th round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Lehtivuori began his career in the SM-Liiga with Ilves Tampere. He failed to register any points, but in the following season of 2007-08, the smooth-skating puck-mover finished off 48 games with 21 points. One more solid season in the SM-Liiga in 2008-09 demonstrated to the Flyers that the young Lehtivuori could be ready for the AHL.

In 2009-10, Lehtivuori took the Phantoms by storm. The entire team struggled, but Lehtivuori in particular was one of a handful of bright spots on the team. His calming presence and well-rounded game earned him comparisons to another smaller Finnish defenseman named Kimmo Timonen, who remains one of the anchors for the Flyers’ blue line.

Things changed drastically during the 2010-11 season when the Phantoms got out of the gate to their worst start in team history. The fallout from the disastrous opening ended with a coach being fired, a couple of players being traded, and a few others getting warned. Within this atmosphere, Lehtivuori clearly began to show signs of regression. Even when the Phantoms began to noticeably pull out of their slump, Lehtivuori started to earn press-box duty as a healthy scratch. The player that had shown the most potential the previous season was now beginning to show signs of a problem.

Because of all of this, the Flyers organization came to the decision to loan Lehtivuori, who was not happy in Adirondack based on comments made to the media after his movement, back to the SM-Liiga. He has since played nine games for KalPa Kupio, a team jointly owned by defenseman Kimmo Timonen, forward Scott Hartnell, and former Flyer Sami Kapanen. Outside of a trial game where Lehtivuori played a relatively limited amount of minutes, he has since begun chewing up the clock from the blue line for his new team. It is expected that Lehtivuori will once again return to the Phantoms for the 2011-12 season.

Jakub Kovar, G, HC Ceske Budejovice (Czech U-20) – 4th round, 109th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

There was a recent resurgence in interest over Kovar from the Flyers organization, which had been quietly keeping tabs on his play overseas in the Czech Extraliga. With the retirement of long-time goaltender and former NHLer Roman Turek, HC Ceske Budejovice finally turned to the 22-year-old Jakub Kovar for a starting job.

Kovar had begun his career with HC Ceske Budejovice’s junior team and had appeared in 57 games with the club over two seasons. After a stellar season as the started in 2006-07 that included a 2.07 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage, he tried his luck with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. His average numbers in Canadian Juniors continued even after being traded to the Windsor Spitfires, and when the 2007-08 season ended, Kovar returned to his club in the Czech Extraliga.

Kovar put up much more impressive numbers after returning home but could not escape from his backup role behind Roman Turek until this season. In 44 games played, he has accounted for a 2.54 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. With his numbers improved to go along with his demonstration of the ability to play in consistent starts, there has not
been this much discussion about the future of Kovar since his draft day in 2006.

Jon Rheault, RW, Providence College (NCAA) – 5th round, 145th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Though Jon Rheault improved through four seasons at Providence College in the NCAA, the Flyers still passed on signing him to a contract. His entire college career spanned 142 games in which he managed 56 goals and 49 assists for 105 points.

The Kings then brought him into the organization as a player for the Manchester Monarchs, but he spent 51 games with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL and only 24 with the Monarchs in 2008-09. In 21 less ECHL games the next season, he had already matched his 19 goal total from his ECHL stint before and even spent 35 games with the Monarchs scoring three goals and three assists. He also managed to play four games for the Providence Bruins that same year.

It was soon after that Rheault found himself with the Abbotsford Heat, a team associated with the Calgary Flames. The well-traveled forward played with four different teams associated with three different NHL organizations in the span of one season.

In 2010-11, Rheault seems to have found a home base from which to attempt to spring his AHL career. He has played 52 games for the Abbotsford Heat this season accounting for nine goals and fifteen assists.

Michael Dupont, G, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL) – 6th round, 175th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Before being drafted, Michael Dupont had already spent two seasons as the starting goaltender for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL, but despite two more seasons as a starter, his numbers continued to fall after being taken by the Flyers in the 6th round of the 2006 draft. In his final QMJHL season, he split the year between the Rimouski Oceanic and the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

After his QMJHL career was over and with no NHL organization ready to offer him a contract, Dupont turned his sights on CIS hockey where he suited up for the University of Quebec Trois Riveres for a season.

In 2009-10 Dupont turned to Switzerland, the country where he was born. He played 14 games for Ajoie in the Swiss B League, but for 2010-11, he has found himself with Villars of Switzerland’s third league.

Andrei Popov, RW, Chelyabinsk Traktor (RSL) – 7th round, 205th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Popov made an unexpected appearance on the Flyers’ radar during the 2009-10 season when he began to take the KHL by storm. He had already been playing in Russia’s highest league since being drafted, but his fourth lengthy season with Traktor Chelyabinsk saw Popov put together an early surge up the scoring charts before an injury stifled his production. His 15 goals and 11 assists for 26 points in 50 games still managed to more than double his production efforts in all previous seasons both in goal scoring and assists.

With prospect Denis Bodrov’s journey to North America as well as the Flyers’ involvement with current goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, there seemed to be a peak of interest in bringing more Russian involvement to the organization. Andrei Popov had knowledgeable fans holding their breath as he entered the KHL’s developmental league playoffs after Traktor Chelyabinsk was sent home early from the KHL postseason. Against lower competition, Popov tore up the scoring with five goals and nine assists in only nine games.

Popov eventually decided that Russia held better opportunities for moving his career forward. He remained with Traktor Chelyabinsk for the 2010-11 season where he has put up 10 goals and 11 assists for 20 points in 51 games, a mark slightly short of his pace in 2009-10.