Flyers Top 20 prospects

By Al Alven

After reigning uncontested as the top prospects in the Philadelphia Flyers system for the better part of the past three years, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have finally graduated status by moving to the big club.

Thus, the Flyers Top 20 ranking takes on a new look, with R.J. Umberger ascending to the top spot, and everyone else moving up accordingly.

This includes a primary secondary crop of prospects, headed by AHL rookies Alexandre Picard and Stefan Ruzicka, Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Potulny, and OHL hell-raiser Steve Downie.

Making their debuts in the rankings are forwards Kevin Romy (16) and Gino Pisellini (20), along with defensemen Oskars Bartulis (17) and Chris Zarb (19).

Forward Matt Ellison (11) also makes his first appearance, after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for Patrick Sharp on Dec. 5. Ellison was ranked 12th on Chicago’s prospect list at the time of the deal.

Top 20 at a glance

1. R.J. Umberger, C
2. Alexandre Picard, D
3. Stefan Ruzicka, RW
4. Ryan Potulny, C
5. Steve Downie, C
6. Freddy Meyer, D
7. Ben Eager, LW
8. Rejean Beauchemin, G
9. Randy Jones, D
10. Martin Houle, G
11. Matt Ellison, RW
12. Ladislav Scurko, C
13. Rob Bellamy, RW
14. Freddy Cabana, LW
15. R.J. Anderson, D
16. Kevin Romy, C
17. Oskars Bartulis, D
18. Rosario Ruggeri, D
19. Chris Zarb, D
20. Gino Pisellini, RW

1. (3) R.J. Umberger, C
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 215 lbs., Age: 23
Acquired: Signed as free agent, June 2004

Umberger was originally penciled in to center the Phantoms’ top line and serve as a primary call-up candidate this season, but all of that changed when Keith Primeau suffered what turned out to be a season-ending concussion in late October. Umberger was recalled in the captain’s absence, and has not looked back.

The Plum, PA native quickly assimilated himself into the lineup, proving to head coach Ken Hitchcock that he was a player who could be relied upon in all game situations.
Umberger has displayed tremendous versatility, centering for a variety of different wingers and seamlessly shifting to both the left and right sides himself when called upon.

He has been a steady offensive contributor for the Flyers as well, currently ranking ninth on the team with 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 59 games. Like Carter and Richards,
Umberger has experienced his fair share of ups and downs during what has been a tumultuous season for the Flyers.

He has remained remarkably poised throughout, however, handling himself well and maintaining a positive, infectious attitude during some challenging times.

Umberger is not a standout in any one area of note, but he does possess excellent size, a solid skill set and a keen understanding of the game. At this point, he looks to be yet another talented young forward around whom the Flyers will continue to build, especially after general manager Bob Clarke’s refusal to part with him (despite some purportedly impressive offers) at the recently-passed NHL trade deadline.

2. (5) Alexandre Picard, D
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 222 lbs., Age: 20
Acquired: 2003 (3rd round, 85th overall)

A smooth, slick performer who established himself as one of the top rearguards in the QMJHL over the past two seasons, Picard is enjoying a very steady rookie campaign with the Phantoms. The Gatineau, PQ native has seen regular playing time in all game situations since the beginning of the season, averaging roughly 20 minutes per night while being paired with veteran John Slaney.

While not a blue chip defensive prospect, a la Joni Pitkanen, Picard is a well-rounded blueliner who does just about everything well, but nothing exceptionally. He is, nonetheless, the most promising and furthest developed young defenseman in the Flyers’ system by a long shot. Everyone behind him on the organizational depth chart, in fact, carries a question mark with regard to their respective pro potentials.

The former Halifax Moosehead currently ranks second among defenseman, behind Slaney, and sixth overall on the Phantoms in scoring with 22 points (5 goals, 17 assists) and 62 PIMs in 62 games. His -3 rating, while not impressive on paper, is notable for a player who has consistently seen action against some of the AHL’s top offensive players.

Additionally, Picard has seen action in six games this season as an injury fill-in with the Flyers. He has yet to record an NHL point, but did not look at all out of place during his time with the big club. As long as he continues to develop at his current pace and avoids injury, he will likely become a full-time member of the Flyers within the next two years.

3. (4) Stefan Ruzicka, RW
Ht: 5’11, Wt: 205 lbs., Age: 21
Acquired: 2003 (3rd round, 81st overall)

If there is a wildcard in the Flyers’ system, it’s Ruzicka. Undeniably talented, the Slovakian import has all of the physical tools he needs to become a successful offensive contributor at the pro level. In fact, when it comes to pure skill, he is on par with Carter and Richards, with whom he tangled in the OHL and in WJC tournaments over the past two years.

What separates Ruzicka from the aforementioned players at this point is his lack of a complete, polished game. He must also continue to answer questions about his desire and willingness to improve, having earned a reputation as a perennially inconsistent performer during his junior career with the Owen Sound Attack.

Ruzicka has played to mixed reviews during his rookie season with the Phantoms. He has shown glimpses of his potential explosiveness, but also has struggled to find his role with the team. To be completely fair, however, he has still been one of the better-producing forwards on a team that has struggled mightily to find the back of the net this season. With 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 60 games, Ruzicka ranks third on the Phantoms in scoring.

He also appeared in one game as an injury recall with the Flyers, failing to score, but impressing with several strong chances in the offensive end.

4. (7) Ryan Potulny, C
Ht: 6’0, Wt: 195 lbs., Age: 21
Acquired: 2003 (3rd round, 87th overall)

A pure offensive talent who was recently named as one of 10 finalists 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 Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The junior forward currently leads the nation in scoring with 63 points (38 goals, 25 assists) in 40 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 impressive 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 17 goals with the man advantage co-lead the nation along with Brett Sterling (ATL) of Colorado College, while Kessel is tied for 13th with 10.

While scouts still seem split on exactly how well Potulny’s game will translate at the pro level, his emergence as one of the premiere offensive weapons in the NCAA has undoubtedly increased his overall stock. He is all but a lock to earn a professional contract with the Flyers, perhaps as early as this summer.

5. (11) Steve Downie, C
Ht: 5’10, Wt: 195 lbs., Age: 18
Acquired: 2005 (1st round, 29th overall)

Downie made major headlines early this season, when he was suspended for five games by the Windsor Spitfires after a pair of altercations with teammate Akim Aliu during practice. Downie essentially refused to accept the penalty and sat on the sidelines for two months before eventually being traded to the Peterborough Petes.

To say he has been a major success with his new team would be a drastic understatement, as he has helped make the Petes one of the top contenders for the Memorial Cup, tallying 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists) and 109 PIMs in 34 games with the team.

His overall performance with the Petes aside, Downie’s main coming out party this year was at the WJC tournament, where he was a force en route to helping Canada capture its second
straight gold medal. The Scarborough, ON native notched six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in six games, and saw his stock continue to skyrocket as he was named to the All-Tournament

6. (13) Freddy Meyer, D
Ht: 5’10, Wt: 190 lbs., Age: 25
Acquired: Signed as free agent, May 2003

Perhaps the single most impressive surprise for the Flyers this season, Meyer stepped in and did a remarkable job for the team while many of its regular defensemen were out of the lineup with injury, ultimately earning a full-time position in the NHL.

The former Boston University standout was one of the top defensemen for the Philadelphia Phantoms in the AHL over the past two seasons, and was a linchpin in helping the team capture its second Calder Cup championship this last spring.

Meyer actually missed the first few weeks of the current campaign after suffering a broken leg during the preseason. His return was a boost for the struggling Phantoms, for whom he recorded six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in 11 games, and helped settle down things in the defensive end.

Recalled to the NHL in early December when the Flyers defensive unit was ravaged with injuries, Meyer wasted no time making an impact. He impressed the organization with his savvy play at both ends of the rink, ability to withstand (and dish out) punishment despite his diminutive size, and prowess with the puck in special teams situations.

Meyer has averaged close to 20 minutes of ice time per game as a rookie, receiving loads of time on the Flyers first power-play unit, where he has showcased a very accurate shot from the point. Of the 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) he has registered thus far in 46 games, over half have come with the man advantage (2 goals, 12 assists).

Given his emergence with the Flyers this year, it came as no surprise when the team inked Meyer to a two-year contract extension on Feb. 3.

7. (9) Ben Eager, LW
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 210 lbs., Age: 22
Acquired: Trade with Phoenix, Feb. 2004

Yet another member of the Phantoms’ Calder Cup championship team last season, Eager is a second-year pro who, like Umberger, was expected to evolve into a primary contributor for the AHL team in 2005-06.

He has played to mixed reviews in that regard, impressing his coaches on some nights and leaving them scratching their heads after inconsistent efforts after others. Though he is not expected to be a big point-producer in the pro ranks, Eager has been an outright offensive disappointment for the Phantoms this year, contributing only 10 points (4 goals, 10 assists), a -6 rating and 116 PIMs in 36 games thus far.

Oddly enough, Eager produced much better offensive results over the course of a handful of brief stints with the Flyers this season. Playing mainly on a line with fellow rookies Carter and Umberger, teammates from last season, the Ottawa native registered eight points (3 goals, 5 assists), an even plus/minus rating and 18 PIMs in 24 games with the big club.

These numbers were still not enough to impress the Flyers brass, which felt that Eager did a poor job of maintaining his level of consistency and began to take his role for granted while skating with the NHL team. He was returned to the Phantoms for the final time on Feb. 6, but has not made much of an impact overall since his return to the AHL.

8. (6) Rejean Beauchemin, G
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 187 lbs., Age: 20
Acquired: 2003 (6th round, 191st overall)

The Flyers organization remains very high on Beauchemin, despite what has been a season full of struggle and disappointment for the Winnipeg native.

Fresh off of a terrific three-year stint in the WHL, in which he almost single-handedly transformed the perennial doormat Price Albert Raiders into a playoff contender, Beauchemin easily made the Phantoms roster out of training camp as the backup to veteran starter Jamie Storr.

He got off to a strong start with his new team, but by mid-November, the team and Beauchemin had fallen into the dregs of a major slump. In an attempt to shake things up, the organization decided to have its minor league goaltenders swap positions, sending Beauchemin to play for the Trenton Titans of the ECHL, and having fellow 20-year-old rookie Martin Houle recalled in his place.

The move was not so much a punishment for Beauchemin as it was a reward for Houle, who had gotten off to a tremendous start for Trenton. In fact, the arrangement was thought to be a
temporary one at the time. Houle, however, continued his hot play with the Phantoms, while Beauchemin continued to struggle and lose confidence down in the ECHL.

Beauchemin was briefly recalled to the Phantoms while Storr was up with the Flyers (serving as backup to Antero Niittymaki while Robert Esche was out with an injury), but was returned to Trenton once the veteran was reassigned. He has continued to struggle for the Titans, currently owning a 5-15-1 record and 3.20 GAA, along with a respectable .905 save percentage.

In 14 games with the Phantoms, Beauchemin recorded a record of 3-7-1, with a 2.60 GAA and .915 SP. While he has lost his position on the AHL team to Houle this year, Beauchemin will return for his sophomore season in 2006-07 with a shot to reclaim the spot.

9. (9) Randy Jones, D
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 205 lbs., Age: 24
Acquired: Signed as free agent, July 2003

Like Freddy Meyer, Jones was signed to a two-year contract extension earlier in the season, after impressing the Flyers brass with his play while several of the team’s top defensive players were out of the lineup with injury.

Unlike his defensive counterpart, however, Jones was unable to maintain the steady level of play necessary for him to stick with the NHL team, especially as the team began to get healthy again. He was reassigned to the Phantoms on Mar. 23, and will likely finish the season in the AHL.

Jones’ season got off to a rough start, as he struggled with a nagging abdominal injury while with the Phantoms. He eventually needed surgery, which kept him out of the lineup for 21 games, from early November to late December. He wasted little time in reestablishing himself as one of the AHL team’s more effective defenders upon his return, and was recalled to the injury-ravaged Flyers shortly after the New Year.

In 27 games with the Orange and Black, Jones tallied eight assists, a -5 rating and 16 PIMs. He has also recorded a total of two assists, a -11 rating and 40 PIMs in 15 games thus far this season for the Phantoms.

While Jones was obviously disappointed with his recent demotion back to the AHL, the fact that the Flyers signed him to an extension is a clear indication of his good standing within the organization. He will remain a primary call-up candidate for the remainder of the season, and will be given every chance to make the big club out of training camp next year.

10. (10) Martin Houle, G
Ht: 5’11, Wt: 175 lbs., Age: 21
Acquired: 2004 (8th round, 232nd overall)

Houle is no stranger to being told that he can’t succeed due to his diminutive size. He has proven the critics wrong at every level thus far, however, and continues to make a name for himself as a dark horse goaltending prospect in the Flyers organization.

After establishing himself as one of the top goaltenders in the QMJHL over the past two years with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Houle signed his first pro contract with the Flyers over the summer. The original plan, as outlined above, was to have Houle begin his pro career with the Trenton Titans in the ECHL, splitting time with incumbent Scott Sterling.

Meanwhile, fellow 20-year-old rookie Beauchemin would serve as the backup to veteran Storr with the Phantoms, up in the AHL. Houle, however, wasted little time establishing himself as the Titans’ top goaltender, and, roughly a month and a half into the season, had overtaken Beauchemin for his position on the Phantoms roster as well.

The most impressive thing about Houle’s statement season, however, has been the remarkable level of consistency he has maintained, especially during a stretch when Storr was with the Flyers, and the young netminder was forced to carry a very heavy workload. Overall, Houle can boast of a 12-16-1 record as a rookie with the Phantoms, along with a 2.63 GAA and .909 save percentage.

Prior to his recall, the Montreal native went 4-3-0 with the Titans, recording a sparkling 2.10 and .935 save percentage.

11. (NR) Matt Ellison, RW
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 192 lbs., Age: 22
Acquired: Trade with Chicago, Dec. 2005

Ellison has found himself a victim of circumstance this season. He began the campaign as a lineup regular in the NHL for one organization, but ended up with another team’s AHL affiliate. But his demotion from the big league to the minors had very little, if anything, to do with his performance on the ice.

After appearing in 142 games with the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL over the past two seasons, Ellison finally made the Chicago Blackhawks roster this season, wasting little time in establishing himself as a regular. He got off to a decent start for the team, registering 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists) and 17 PIMs in 26 games, while showing steady signs of improvement over the first few months of the season.

Ellison was really settling in with the Blackhawks when he was suddenly traded for Patrick Sharp, who had fallen out of favor with Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock, in early December. Ellison appeared in five games for injury-riddled Philadelphia immediately after the trade, recording one assist and two PIMs in limited duty.

He was assigned to the Phantoms on Dec. 18, mainly for salary cap purposes. The Duncan, BC native was obviously disappointed with the situation, but has handled things well. He struggled a bit at first upon his return to the AHL, but soon became an integral part of the Phantoms lineup.

Ellison has been one of the team’s top two-way performers over the second half of the season, and has regularly seen time on the point on the first power-play unit. Despite having only appeared in 36 games thus far, he ranks seventh on the team in scoring with 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists).

12. (14) Ladislav Scurko, C
Ht: 6’0, Wt: 198 lbs., Age: 19
Acquired: 2004 (6th round, 170th overall)

Scurko has developed into perhaps the best all-around player on the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) roster in his second season in North America, centering the team’s top line and becoming a featured player in all game situations.

Like Stefan Ruzicka, Scurko opted to play major junior hockey in Canada, leaving his native Slovakia prior to last season. Unlike his countryman, however, he is a player unlikely to evolve into a notable point-producer in the professional ranks.

While Scurko has made noticeable improvements in nearly every facet of his game this season, particularly his skating, he has not taken the next step offensively that the Thunderbirds were hoping for. Still, he finished the regular season a very respectable third on the team in scoring, with 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 64 games.

He also led the team with an impressive nine power-play goals. Scurko turned in an underwhelming performance at the 2006 WJC tournament in Vancouver, notching a mere two goals, 16 PIMs and a -1 rating in six games for disappointing Slovakia, which finished eighth out of 10 teams.

Regardless, Scurko remains a well-regarded forward prospect, a player many observers feel can eventually evolve into a competent checking line center in the NHL. He appears to have the inside track at earning a contract with the Flyers this summer, but exactly where he will play next season is not certain at this point.

13. (15) Rob Bellamy, RW
Ht: 6’0, Wt: 195 lbs., Age: 20
Acquired: 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, he has put on muscle, improved his already strong skating, and displayed vast improvements at both ends of the ice this season.

Bellamy has yet to establish himself as a consistent point producer for the Black Bears, having tallied just 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) in 37 games for the team this season. 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. 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.

Overall, Bellamy is a fearless competitor who plays the game with a unique combination of skill and grit. He is still a bit raw, but has a lot of talent, and continues to show promise as a potential grinder with a touch of offensive ability in the professional ranks.

14. (17) Freddy Cabana, LW
Ht: 6’0, Wt: 182 lbs., Age: 19
Acquired: 2004 (6th round, 171st overall)

When it comes to the art of agitation, Cabana has few peers in the QMJHL. His reputation as a “super pest,” however, along with the lingering memory of a dangerous knee-on-knee hit he delivered on Sidney Crosby (then with Rimouski) last season, often overshadow the progressions he has made as an all-around player.

While not the top junior scorer that some predicted he would be at this stage of his CHL career, Cabana has developed into a solid two-way performer and an outstanding penalty killer for the Halifax Mooseheads. He ranks second on the team in shorthanded goals (4) and fifth in scoring overall, with 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists), 85 PIMs and a -9 rating in 67 games.

Cabana has matured into a smart player, one who picks his spots well and is very adept at getting under the skin of the opposition while managing to stay out of the penalty box. He is also an outstanding skater, a relentless forechecker who uses his speed and tenacity to win puck battles in all zones.

While Cabana would appear to have a ceiling as a checking line/energy-type player should he make it to the NHL, his emerging leadership skills and reputation as yet another “character guy” speak well for his chances in the Flyers organization.

Expect to see him signed to a contract this offseason, and given an opportunity to make the Phantoms roster next fall.

15. (16) R.J. Anderson, D
Ht: 5’11, Wt: 180 lbs., Age: 19
Acquired: 2004 (4th round, 101st overall)

A highly-regarded recruit out of Centennial High School in nearby Circle Pines, Anderson was expected to be used in a limited role as a freshman this season at the University of Minnesota. A rash of early-season injuries, however, essentially forced head coach Don Lucia to accelerate the young rearguard’s on-ice learning curve.

Anderson responded well to the challenge. He struggled some initially, but ultimately settled into a comfortable role with the team, noticeably gaining confidence as the season wore on. While the Gophers expect Anderson to eventually develop into an offensive force (he recorded 175 points over three seasons with Centennial), he was asked to focus primarily on developing his defensive presence for the team this season.

This effort was aided significantly by Anderson’s pairing with sophomore Alex Goligoski (PIT), the team’s leading scorer on the blue line (38 points in 40 games). Anderson has tallied four assists and 32 PIMs, while appearing in all but four of the team’s regular season and WCHA playoff games, heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Anderson is not only the sole freshman member of the Gophers’ defensive unit this season, 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.

16. (NR) Kevin Romy, C
Ht: 5’10, Wt: 182 lbs., Age: 21
Acquired: 2003 (4th round, 108th overall)

Widely regarded as one of the top young players in his native Switzerland, Romy continues to make gradual steps toward a potential pro career in North America.

He has enjoyed his best season to date in the Swiss Nationalliga, a campaign highlighted by one big break, but marred in the end by an unfortunate and ill-timed injury. Romy began the campaign as a member of a mediocre Geneva-Servette team, for whom he had registered a total of 40 points (18 goals, 22 assists) and 46 PIMs in 115 games over the past three seasons.

A trade just three games into the season changed Romy’s fortunes, landing him with perennial league powerhouse Lugano. The young forward initially struggled to find his niche on a much more talented squad, but soon settled into a solid, two-way role. He displayed a great deal of
improvement throughout the campaign, earning more ice time and responsibility as time went on.

So impressive was the maturation of his game in all situations with first place Lugano that Romy was selected to play for Team Switzerland at the Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy.

Unfortunately, a leg injury suffered in early February changed everything. Romy had to pull himself from the Olympic team and was eventually told that he would miss the remainder of the season for Lugano, for whom he had recorded a very respectable 17 points (9 goals, 8 assists), a +3 rating and 51 PIMs in 36 games. The injury, obviously, put a huge damper on what was otherwise a very promising season for Romy.

It is unknown when, or even if, he will make the jump to North America, but he has made big strides over the past few years in his homeland, and looks poised to break out as a star for Lugano.

17. (NR) Oskars Bartulis, D
Ht: 6’1, Wt: 185 lbs., Age: 19
Acquired: 2005 (3rd round, 91st overall)

The first Latvian-born player ever drafted by the Flyers, Bartulis has made tremendous strides over his first two seasons in North America with the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL). Originally a forward in Russia, the talented 19-year-old made a near-seamless transition to his new position on the blue line last season.

Bartulis has continued to display promising signs of development this season, emerging as a solid contributor at both ends of the rink and in special teams situations for the Wildcats. He currently ranks fourth among defensemen and 12th overall in scoring on a team loaded with talent, having recorded 31 points (6 goals, 25 assists) a +16 rating and 84 PIMs in 54 games.

The only notable damper on Bartulis’ season to this point came during his participation with Team Latvia at the World Junior Championships in January. There, he suffered a broken
finger in the third game of tournament, and was forced to pull out. He wound up missing five weeks of action for the Wildcats, in total.

Barring another injury, Bartulis will get the opportunity to play in the Memorial Cup tournament this season. Not only is Moncton currently the top-ranked team in the “Q,” but the Wildcats will also be hosting this year’s event (and, thus, are automatically a participant, regardless of whether or not they win their league’s title).

The tournament should provide the emerging young rearguard with an ideal stage to showcase his abilities, and the progress he has made as all-around player, in front of a nation-wide audience in Canada this spring.

18. (13) Rosario Ruggeri, D
Ht: 6’1, Wt: 215 lbs., Age: 21
Acquired: 2002 (4th round, 105th overall)

Just two years ago, Ruggeri was considered to be one of the more promising young defensemen in the Flyers system. His inability to crack the Phantoms’ lineup, let alone impress on a consistent basis with the Trenton Titans down in the ECHL, however, has put his future with the Flyers organization in jeopardy.

Ruggeri was considered by many to be a slam dunk to make the Phantoms roster out of training camp as a rookie in 2004-05. A numbers crunch brought on in part by the NHL lockout, however, and an underwhelming preseason performance resulted in the former Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL) standout being sent to begin his pro career in Trenton.

He went on to have a decent rookie season for the Titans, stepping up his game in the postseason and helping the team capture its first-ever Kelly Cup championship. The hope at
the time was that the Montreal native would use that experience as a stepping stone to establishing himself at the next level, but he has yet to make such a jump.

Ruggeri has battled injury and inconsistency all season long, appearing in only 32 games with the Titans to this point. He currently ranks fourth among defensemen and 12th overall on the team with 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists), along with 28 PIMs and a -1 rating. Ruggeri has also appeared in two games with the Phantoms.

19. (NR) Chris Zarb, D
Ht: 6’4, Wt: 185 lbs., Age: 21
Acquired: 2004 (5th round, 144th overall)

Zarb arrived at Ferris State in the fall after establishing himself as perhaps the best all-around defenseman in the USHL over the past two seasons with the Tri-City Storm. He 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 was been aided by his outstanding puck skills and strong sense for the game. He saw extensive time on special teams units, quarterbacking the power play and killing penalties regularly.

Zarb did not record a goal, tallying 10 assists in 26 games while nonetheless displaying a keen offensive prowess as a freshman. Interestingly, 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 is a tall, lanky rearguard who has a good frame, 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 uses his long reach to break up plays. Like Anderson, Zarb will be expected to step up his game and take on an even more demanding role with his team as a sophomore.

20. (NR) Gino Pisellini, LW
Ht: 6’1, Wt: 205 lbs., Age: 19
Acquired: 2004 (5th round, 149th overall)

The Flyers will likely face some tough decisions this summer when it comes to whether or not to sign players whose rights they will otherwise lose. Pisellini is one such player, along with fellow 2004 draftees Ladislav Scurko, Freddy Cabana and David Laliberte.

Each of these players must be signed prior to the 2006 Entry Draft in Vancouver. Otherwise, they will no longer be Flyers property and will be free to re-enter the draft. Scurko and Cabana look to be solid bets to earn contracts, although there are no guarantees.

Laliberte’s situation is up in the air, as he has battled injuries over the past two seasons and might be considered too much of a risk. Pisellini, on the other hand, is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of player, another “character guy” in the true Flyers mold. The Itasca, IL native has enjoyed a very solid, albeit unspectacular, third season of play for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL.

A bruising forward who is relied upon more for his leadership ability, toughness and competent two-way play that he is for offense, Pisellini has recorded 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists), a +2 rating and 194 PIMs in 63 games this season.

Whether or not Pisellini possesses the skill level and ability to play at the NHL remains to be seen, but he has shown gradual signs of progression as an all-around player as a junior and has proven to be a coachable commodity. He has turned out to be a solid role player for the Whalers, precisely the function he will look to embrace while trying to latch on with a team in the pro ranks.

Missing the cut

Jeremy Duchesne, G
Ht: 6’0, Wt: 200 lbs., Age: 19
Acquired: 2005 (4th round, 119th overall)

The Flyers’ only amateur goaltending prospect in North America, Duchesne has enjoyed a strong second season in the QMJHL for the Halifax Mooseheads.

Last season, Duchesne was one of the top surprises in the ‘Q,’ running off a 12-0-2 regular season record after arriving in a trade with the Victoriaville Tigers. He went on to lead the Mooseheads all the way to the league finals, where they ultimately fell to Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic in four straight games.

This year, Duchesne has struggled some while leading a much more inexperienced Halifax team. He enjoyed a strong first half of the season, going 17-14 with a 3.10 GAA and .900 save percentage. He went just 8-15 with a 4.03 GAA and .892 save percentage over the second half, however, his numbers rose as the team’s overall level of play dropped.

Halifax finished the regular season with a record of 35-33-1-1, good for fifth place in the QMJHL’s East Division. The team drew the fourth-place Lewiston MAINEiacs for the first round of the playoffs, which will be a good test for Duchesne. If they are to make any kind of noise in the postseason this year, the goaltender will have to be at the top of his game.

The Flyers showed their confidence in Duchesne’s ability to develop into a solid prospect at last year’s entry draft, selecting the Silver Springs, MD native while declining to sign (and consequently losing the rights to) fellow QMJHL standout David Tremblay and collegiate netminders Bernd Bruckler and Dov Grumet-Morris.

Duchesne has strong hockey bloodlines, as he is the son of former NHLer Gaetan Duchesne, a steady two-way forward who is best remembered for his time with the Washington Capitals.

Travis Gawryletz, D
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 200 lbs., Age: 20
Acquired: 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 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 five points (4 goals, 1 assist) and 26 PIMs, while appearing in 35 of the team’s 38 games.

For the season, the Trail, British Columbia native recorded seven assists and 12 PIMs in 32 games. He was 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.

No longer ranked

Alexander Drozdetsky, RW


Jeff Carter, C
Mike Richards, C

Gone from the organization

Patrick Sharp, C
Josh Gratton, LW

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.