Flyers 2001 draft evaluation

By Al Alven

With the Philadelphia Flyers’ organizational depth chart as deep and as strong now as it has been at any point in recent memory, it is easy to forget that the cupboard was all but completely bare just five short years ago.

With glaring needs at every position beyond the NHL level, general manager Bob Clarke and his staff opted to focus on rebuilding the farm system with a decisive emphasis on defense.

True to this formula, the team selected five defensemen, two goaltenders and two forwards in total at the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. The nine picks have appeared in a combined 269 NHL games thus far, for an average of 30 games per player.

Six of the nine players selected by the Flyers were Europeans, though two of them had appeared in Junior A leagues in the United States during the previous season. Still, this represented a rare departure from the norm for an organization that has always been known to prefer North American talent.

Jeff Woywitka, D — Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

1st round (27th overall)
NHL games: 26
Status: NHL prospect

What we said then:

With any prospect, the evaluation of their development changes from year to year. As an experienced 17-year-old, who played impressively on the Memorial Cup-winning Red Deer squad, Woywitka has a very good foundation from which to build. There is even some room to develop into an above-average offensive producer. Given a normal rate of progression (his frame filling out and his offensive and defensive skills gaining refinement) he projects to be a good, solid NHL defenseman. Anything beyond that will be a pleasant surprise but it’s not entirely unfeasible, either. — Bill Meltzer

Five-year evaluation

Woywitka turned out to the exact type of player the Flyers were looking to land with their late-first round selection — a big, physical defenseman who could skate, with some potential offensive upside.

General manager Bob Clarke was an admitted fan of Brent Sutter, Woywitka’s coach at Red Deer (WHL), for his ability to rein in and develop young players. Back in the summer of 2001, the Rebels were coming off of a WHL championship, in which Woywitka played a major role. The rugged Vermillion, AB native had already earned a reputation as a physical force to be reckoned with along the boards and behind the net, in addition to his relentless efforts to protect his goaltender in front of the cage.

As he continued to mature and grow into his large frame over the next two seasons at Red Deer, he would become meaner and even more aggressive, yet, at the same time, smarter and more savvy. He also began to emerge as an offensive weapon in the WHL, most notably learning how to use his heavy, accurate point shot to his advantage.

Woywitka enjoyed a strong final junior season in 2002-03. As Red Deer captain, he was a dominant two-way force on the blue line throughout the campaign. He would finish the season with a junior career-best 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 57 games, en route to earning the Bill Hunter Trophy as the WHL’s top defenseman.

Woywitka appeared to be right on track, if not a bit ahead of earlier expectations, as he prepared to embark on his professional career. He signed with the Flyers during the offseason, enjoyed a decent training camp/preseason, and was assigned to the Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL) to start the 2003-04 season.

Woywitka seemed to struggle at first to adjust to the style and pace of the AHL game. After a few weeks, he appeared to be gaining confidence and showed signs of improvement, but he soon reverted back to his inconsistent ways, making poor decisions and plays on a regular basis.

While the Flyers surely must have expected that a period of adjustment would be necessary for Woywitka, the front office did not appear to be too happy with the effort he was putting out, and showed concern for the development of his overall game to that point.

Still, it came as a surprise when the Flyers announced in mid-December that they had traded Woywitka, along with two draft picks, to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for disgruntled forward Mike Comrie.

Suddenly, after two and a half seasons in the system and only 29 games with the Phantoms, Woywitka’s tenure with the Flyers organization was over.

Since that time, Woywitka has continued to struggle to establish himself in the AHL. In August of last year, he was once again involved in a major trade, heading to St. Louis, along with Eric Brewer and Doug Lynch, for Chris Pronger.

Woywitka finally made his NHL debut this season, appearing in 26 games and tallying two assists, a -12 rating and 25 PIMs for the Blues. He figures to have an excellent shot of earning more playing time and establishing himself as a league regular with an organization that is currently in the process of a major rebuilding phase.

Patrick Sharp, C — University of Vermont (ECAC)

3rd round (95th overall)
NHL games: 116
Status: NHL player

What we said then:

Sharp is a heady player and an above-average skater who, at age 19, has what so far projects as average to slightly below average offensive skills (as compared to other draft prospects ranked in the top 100). One of the benefits of drafting college players is that the rules allow NHL teams to get a longer look at the player before they make a decision about signing them. By the time the Flyers have to make up their minds one way or the other, Sharp will be a mature player.— Bill Meltzer

Five-year evaluation

The Flyers didn’t wait long on Sharp, signing the University of Vermont product to a pro contract following his sophomore year, in which he led the Catamounts in scoring and emerged as one of the top two-way players in the ECAC.

The Thunder Bay, ON native actually made the Flyers roster right out of training camp in 2002-03, appearing in three games on the team’s season-opening West Coast trip as an injury fill-in.

He was reassigned to the Phantoms once the team returned home, and quickly established himself as steady force at both ends of the ice for a team that struggled constantly with injuries and general inconsistency.

Sharp got his first real taste of NHL action in 2003-04, and made the most of it. Once again serving as an injury replacement, he appeared in 41 games for the big club, notching seven points (5 goals, 2 assists) while playing center and both wing positions on a variety of lines.

In displaying his versatility and smarts with the puck, he earned the trust of head coach Ken Hitchcock. If not for the NHL lockout, Sharp would have been a prime candidate to finally earn a permanent role with the Flyers in 2004-05.

As it was, he returned to the Phantoms once again, and was a major factor in helping the team to its second Calder Cup championship. Sharp was the team’s top defensive forward, and finished third on the squad with 52 points (23 goals, 29 assists) in 75 regular season games.

During the playoffs, Sharp developed tremendous, instant chemistry with heralded prospect Jeff Carter. The duo combined to form a dangerous combination, at even strength and in special teams situations. Sharp finished the Phantoms’ postseason run second only to Carter with a very impressive 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists) in 21 games.

Sharp was all but guaranteed a full-time job with the Flyers in 2005-06, but did not enjoy a particularly strong training camp/preseason. Still, he made the team with little problem, but his level of play early in the campaign was inconsistent at best.

Before long, Sharp began butting heads with Hitchcock over his diminishing role and reduced playing time. In early December, general manager Bob Clarke dealt Sharp to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for left winger Matt Ellison.

Sharp had recorded eight points (5 goals, 3 assists) in 22 games at the time of the trade. He was clearly unhappy with his role with the team, expecting a much more prominent role.

He would get just that in Chicago, but would endure his fair share of struggles with the hapless Blackhawks. Sharp ended the season with a respectable 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) in 50 games with his new team.

Although Sharp’s tenure with the Flyers ended in disappointment, he enjoyed a solid run with the Phantoms and, at the very least, laid the foundation for what could be a career as a steady third line player in the NHL.

Jussi Timonen, D — KalPa Kuopio Jrs. (SM-Liiga track)
5th round (146th overall)
NHL games: 0
Status: NHL prospect

What we said then:

Timonen is a smooth skater who has some offensive upside. He is bigger and stronger than his older brother but he is not quite as polished all-around as his brother was at the same age. Like Kimmo, finesse and speed will be Jussi Timonen’s calling cards. The Flyers chief European scout has compared his skating and puckhandling to what Flyers scouts saw in ex-Flyer Janne Niinimaa when he was the same age.
— Bill Meltzer

Five-year evaluation

The Flyers continued their defensive-oriented drafting game plan by using the first of three fifth round selections on Finnish rearguard Jussi Timonen, the younger brother of well-regarded Nashville Predators defenseman Kimmo Timonen.

The team’s chief European scout, Inge Hammarstrom, seemed very pleased that Timonen was still available at this stage of the event, noting that the player had a good deal of all-around upside and could very well be a sleeper pick.

Timonen would spend one more season in the Finnish junior ranks before moving on to the country’s top pro circuit, SM-liiga, with TPS Turku in 2002-03. In Turku, he would be teammates with current Flyers netminder Antero Niittymaki.

But, while success between the pipes came relatively easily for Niittymaki, Timonen struggled for some time to find his game at the major pro level. He appeared in 59 games over two seasons with TPS, notching a grand total of one goal.

While his coaches were not overly concerned with his numbers, the lack of offensive production was essentially a byproduct of his overall struggles, and inability to earn the amount of ice time he would need to further allow his game to develop.

Languishing in the press box or at the end of the bench — and struggling at both ends when he did get on the ice — Timonen was assigned by TPS to the Mestis, the Finnish equivalent to the AHL, late in the 2003-04 season.

The move, while unpopular with the player at the time, may have been the best move ever made for his career.

In the Mestis, Timonen was given plenty of ice time and responsibility. He was also given a lot of freedom, to play the game in such a manner that would allow him to use his strengths to the best of his advantage.

He would go on to establish himself as a steady force on the blue line for Jukurit Mikkeli, tallying 16 points in 25 games en route to helping the team capture the circuit’s championship.

With his confidence restored, Timonen signed on with SaiPa Lappeenranta and returned to SM-liiga for the 2004-05 campaign. While he has not set the world on fire over the past two seasons with the team (13 points in 106 games), he finally established himself as a quality two-way rearguard at Finland’s highest level.

Timonen inked a two-year deal with the Flyers recently, and will finally cross the Atlantic and join the organization for the 2006-07 season. While he is expected to suit up and play for the Phantoms, the Flyers expect him to compete hard for a potential role with the big club.

The organization believes that Timonen has progressed nicely after overcoming some early obstacles in his career, and envisions him as a potentially effective fit in the more wide open style of the new NHL.

Bernd Bruckler, G — Tri City Storm (USHL)

5th round (150th overall)
NHL games: 0
Status: NHL bust

What we said then:

[Bruckler] was one of the top goalies in the USHL last season and will look to play against a higher level of competition in 2001-02. He will be coached at Wisconsin by Jeff Sauer, who has had a good history of producing NHL goalies, including Curtis Joseph, Mike Richter, and the enigmatic Jim Carey. Bruckler should see a lot of action in net and figures to see a lot of shots behind the Badgers’ inexperienced defensive corps.
— Bill Meltzer

Five-year evaluation

With Maxime Ouellet still in the fold at the time and promising Antero Niittymaki getting closer to crossing the pond from Finland, the Flyers were not overly concerned with finding a top-notch goaltending prospect at the 2001 draft.

In this case, the team did what it generally tends to do — look for intriguing, potential darkhorse netminders in the middle and late rounds, hoping for a steal. This time around, fifth rounders Bruckler and Roman Malek fit the bill perfectly.

In Bruckler, the Flyers had their first ever Austrian draftee, an obviously-talented, albeit relatively obscure young goalie who had raised eyebrows with a very successful 2000-01 season for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL (U.S. Junior A). Making Bruckler all the more intriguing was the fact that he was bound for the University of Wisconsin, a highly-touted program that had produced several star NHL goaltenders in recent years.

Bruckler took over the starting reins for the Badgers during his sophomore season, and never looked back. While the Wisconsin program struggled uncharacteristically during his tenure, the Graz, Austria native was a consistent bright spot, carving out an excellent collegiate career.

He finished his NCAA career as one of the most decorated UW goaltenders in history — a first-team All-American, Badgers career record holder for lowest GAA (2.33), second all-time in save percentage (.917) and shutouts (8).

Unfortunately for Bruckler, the Flyers did not feel that his success at the NCAA level would translate well to the professional ranks, and did not offer him a pro contract. Also playing a role in this was the emergence of other talented young netminders in the system at the time, most notably CHLers Rejean Beauchemin and Martin Houle.

In fact, in addition to Bruckler, the Flyers opted not to sign, and thus lost the rights to, fellow NCAA netminder Dov Grumet-Morris and former Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL) standout David Tremblay prior to the draft last August.

Bruckler signed with the New York Rangers’ ECHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, prior to the 2005-06 season. He appeared in eight total games for the Checkers and the Toledo Storm, as well as six games in the AHL with the Hartford Wolfpack after being recalled.

In an interesting twist of fate, Bruckler wound up signing with the Espoo Blues of Finland’s SM-liiga late in the season, essentially to replace former Flyer and Phantom Neil Little, who had fallen out of favor with the team. Bruckler played in nine games for the Blues, but it is uncertain at this time whether he will opt to continue his career in North America or Europe.

Roman Malek, G — Slavia Prague (Czech Extraliga)

5th round (158th overall)
NHL games: 0
Status: NHL bust

What we said then:

Malek has emerged as one of the top goalies in the Czech Extraleague. He is not yet close to the status that Roman Cechmanek enjoyed before he finally left for the NHL, but some have said that Malek is better than Cechmanek was in his early 20s. — Bill Meltzer

Five-year evaluation

Eight selections after nabbing Bruckler, the Flyers opted to pick another goaltender with their third and final pick of the fifth round.

Immediately upon his selection, Malek’s name was linked to that of countryman Roman Cechmanek, a veteran of the Czech Extraliga who was coming off of a stellar debut season with the Flyers in which he took the team’s starting goaltender role away from popular incumbent Brian Boucher.

Then 23 years of age, Malek had not yet attained the near legendary status that Cechmanek had back in the Czech Republic; but he was well on his way to establishing himself as a top goaltender with contending Slavia Prague. Few could have predicted at the time, however, just how dominant he would go on to be.

In 2002-03, Malek staged his big coming out party. He set a single season Extraliga record with an amazing 11 shutouts and also led the circuit in GAA (1.62) and save percentage (.948) for Slavia during the regular season. In the playoffs, he added another five shutouts, leading his team to an almost easy championship run.

Coming off of one of the most successful seasons by a goaltender ever in Europe, Malek had significantly raised his stock. This created a circumstantial problem for the Flyers, however, as the team wanted to bring the Czech sensation over, but preferred he suit up, at least initially, with the Phantoms in the AHL.

Malek, on the other hand, has balked at the idea of such an arrangement, asserting that he has nothing to prove in a minor league environment. Over the next few years, the Flyers and Malek traded several offers and counteroffers, but never did negotiations reach a serious level.

In the meantime, Malek continued to establish and maintain himself as one of the best goaltenders in Europe. He has never quite been able to recapture the magic and statistical dominance of his 2002-03 performance, but to be fair, no one else has either.

At this stage, the chances of Malek ever coming over to play for the Flyers are very slim.

The talented netminder appears to remain content to be a star in Europe, though, curiously, he has bounced around quite a bit since achieving “superstar” status three seasons ago

Dennis Seidenberg, D — Adler Manheim (DEL)

6th round (172nd overall)
NHL games: 126
Status: NHL player

What we said then:

[Seidenberg] is already a regular starter in the DEL, a league primarily filled with veteran players, including many former NHLers. He is described as a very smooth skating defenseman who can move the puck up ice quickly, but is primarily concerned with taking care of his own end of the ice. He is rarely caught out of position. He is described as being similar stylistically to Kevin Haller, although not possessing quite the chippy streak of the ex-Flyer. — Bill Meltzer

Five-year evaluation

Looking back on the Flyers career of Seidenberg, the first German draftee in team history, the general consensus is that the talented defenseman with the booming slapshot never did quite live up to expectations.

It is easy to forget, however, that he was a relative unknown to start with, whose perceived potential was dramatically (and, perhaps, hastily) upgraded in the eyes of fans and observers alike upon his arrival in North America back in 2002.

Seidenberg played for one more season in his homeland for Adler Mannheim before signing with the Flyers. He was originally expected to compete for a spot on the Phantoms blue line during his first training camp, but wound up surprising just about everyone with a stellar preseason.

In the end, he beat out the heavily-favored Bruno St. Jacques for a job with the Flyers to start the 2002-03 campaign.

In many ways, the first half of his debut season in the NHL would be the highlight of his career with the Orange and Black. Seidenberg immediately benefited from the defensive-oriented system that new head coach Ken Hitchcock was attempting to install, as it was very similar to the style of game he was trained in back in Germany.

He quickly proved to be a serviceable force for the Flyers, playing regularly and earning time on the team’s first power-play unit. But, as the season wore on, fatigue appeared to become a factor. Seidenberg’s successful forays into the offensive end became less and less frequent, and mistakes began to mount.

After appearing in 58 games (during which he registered 13 points) with the big club, he was reassigned to end the season the Phantoms. A less than satisfactory training camp in 2003-04 would land Seidenberg back with the Phantoms, but the biggest disappointment lie ahead.

While on recall to the Flyers in January, he suffered a broken leg during a practice session. The injury would cost Seidenberg the majority of the remainder of the season. He returned in time for the postseason, but was not much of a factor in three playoff games with the Flyers, and nine with the Phantoms.

Seidenberg once again returned to the Phantoms in 2004-05, during the NHL lockout. He would enjoy a very solid season for the eventual Calder Cup champions, tallying 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 79 games, once again fueling hope that he could successfully challenge for a full-time roster spot with the Flyers the following season.

Hitchcock made clear that such a role was Seidenberg’s job to lose; however, the then 24-year-old rearguard once again largely struggled on the NHL stage. He tallied a respectable seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in 29 games, but continued to make the kind of mistakes with the puck that had thus far stagnated his career.

With the Flyers struggling with multiple injuries at the forward positions, Clarke traded Seidenberg to the Phoenix Coyotes for veteran Petr Nedved on Jan. 20. Seidenberg went on to post 11 points (1 goal, 10 assists) in 34 games with his new team.

In Phoenix, he will have the chance to make a fresh start, and a new opportunity to prove that he can play regularly with consistent effectiveness in the NHL.

Andrei Razin, C — Metallurg Magnitogorsk (RSL)

6th round (177th overall)
NHL games: 0
Status: NHL bust

What we said then:

Razin, who has signed to play next season with Dynamo Moscow, is not quite at the “now or never” stage to come to the NHL, but it’s difficult to imagine why the Flyers (or any team) would have drafted a player of his age and reputation without intending to try and sign him soon. Razin really would have nothing to prove [in the AHL], so it’ll be the NHL or Europe for him. In order to be effective in the NHL, he’d need to center a scoring line and get plenty of power play time. — Bill Meltzer

Five-year evaluation

Interestingly, the selection of Razin left many analysts and observers shaking their heads — and questioning the Flyers intentions — on draft day.

It’s not that the pick itself was a “bad” one, as Razin was internationally recognized as a world class performer. In fact, some considered him to be in an elite group as one of the best passers in the world. He was well-established as a top-notch offensive player in the Russian Super League, and was coming off of a strong showing for his native country at the World Championships.

However, at age 28, Razin had just signed a deal to play for Dynamo Moscow, and showed no intention whatsoever to jump across the pond to play in the NHL.

He also did not appear to be a good stylistic fit with the Flyers organization, being a smallish finesse player whose effectiveness was predicated on the perimeter game and transitional flows that were (and remain) hallmarks of RSL play.

In the end, it appears as if the Flyers were simply taking a shot in the dark at Razin. The talented forward remained content to continue (and presumably finish) his career in Russia, and that was that.

The pick proved to be a puzzling one for many at the time, but, all in all, it can be viewed simply as a good attempt to make something happen with a sixth round pick.

Razin, now 32, continues to play in Russia. He appears to be on the downside of his career at this point, and is coming off of an injury-riddled 2005-06 season in which he appeared in only four games for Tver MVD.

Thierry Douville, D — Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

7th round (208th overall)
NHL games: 0
Status: NHL bust

What we said then:

From one extreme to the other — Razin and Douville are at the polar opposites of hockey. Douville is a very similar style player to ex-Penguin Francois Leroux. That is, a big body that will crash into people and drop the gloves. Douville, incidentally, lists the Flyers as his favorite team while he was growing up. — Bill Meltzer

Five-year evaluation

During a four-year, 253-game junior career with two teams in the QMJHL, Douville tallied a grand total of one goal, 34 total points, and a whopping 1,334 PIMs!

By the time he left the Moncton Wildcats at the end of the 2003-04 season, the rough-and-tumble St. Francois, Quebec native had evolved into a competent stay-at-home defenseman in the Q.

However, it had become evident long before then that he did not possess the physical skills or the level of discipline necessary to ultimately challenge for a job at the NHL level.

The Flyers kept a close eye on and were intrigued by Douville during his time with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar (2000-03), but chose not to offer him a pro contract when the signing deadline came.

He would go on to play one season of professional hockey, suiting up for the three games with the Worcester IceCats in the AHL and a total of 58 games with the Fresno Falcons and Pee-Dee Pride in the ECHL during the 2004-05 season. His temper got the best of him on many nights.

David Printz, D — Great Falls Americans (AWHL)

7th round (255th overall)
NHL games: 1
Status: NHL prospect

What we said then:

Printz, who originally developed in the Hammarby and AIK programs in Sweden, has an interesting combination of size and, for his level of play, skill. It is difficult to assess where Printz really stands until he plays against collegiate competition. He will play for Northern Michigan next season. — Bill Meltzer

Five-year evaluation

The very definition of a “project” pick at the time of his selection, Printz has followed a most unusual, winding career path that today has him in a better position to play in the NHL than most would observers would have ever imagined.

Drafted out of the obscure AWHL, a now-defunct Junior A league in the Rocky Mountain region, the towering Swedish native was the third-oldest member of this draft class, at roughly a month shy of his 21st birthday.

Printz was originally set to attend Northern Michigan, but, in an odd twist, he instead decided to accept an offer to return to Sweden to play professionally for AIK, the organization whose developmental program he was originally trained in.

He would then spend the following season in Finland before returning to AIK in 2003-04. When Printz was invited to participate in a Flyers prospect mini-camp in Philadelphia during the summer of 2004, many observers were caught off-guard.

After all, reports of his progress in Europe had been far from impressive, and it had seemed that he had become nothing more than an organizational afterthought by this time. But, Printz enjoyed a very solid camp, and was offered a contract shortly thereafter.

Printz debuted for the Phantoms in 2004-05, but his season was marred by a variety of nagging injuries. While he showed signs of being of being an effective stay-at-home rearguard, he was limited to only 50 games for the Calder Cup champions.

The 2005-06 season, however, was much kinder to Printz. Healthy and motivated, he appeared in 80 games for the AHL team, and was a steadying force on a unit in a constant state of flux all season. He was rewarded for his solid play with a one-game call-up to the Flyers late in the campaign.

At this stage, Printz appears to be settling in as, at worst, a decent AHL defenseman. Whether or not he will ever be able to take his game to the next level and make any kind of impact in the NHL remains to be seen, but his game has shown enough improvement over the past few years to suggest that it is a plausible feat.

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