Flyers NCAA prospect update

By Al Alven

The Philadelphia Flyers currently have nine prospects playing at the NCAA level, including four players who were added to the organization’s depth chart at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Positionally, the crop consists of five forwards and four defensemen. The Flyers have not drafted a collegiate goaltender since 2002.

R.J. Anderson, D
University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Drafted: 2004 (4th round, 101st overall)

Anderson endured a trying first few months to his second season at Minnesota, but has since reestablished his place on the powerful Golden Gophers (23-5-3, 15-4-3) blueline.

The 6’0/182 rearguard appeared in his team’s first three games, but missed the next three with a shoulder injury. He then played in five games before having to sit out the next eight after undergoing an appendectomy. Anderson returned to the Minnesota lineup on Dec. 29 against Alabama-Huntsville, and has not missed a game since.

It took some time, understandably, but the Lino Lakes, MN native has regained his legs and recently appears to have hit his stride. Anderson has not yet recorded a goal, boasting only four assists and 16 PIMs in 23 games thus far. But, he has played well in his own end, and the Golden Gophers coaching staff continues to believe that he will eventually develop a more effective offensive game.

Anderson registered four assists in 37 games as a freshman in 2005-06. Prior to joining the NCAA ranks, he tallied 175 points in three seasons at Centennial High School in Circle Pines, MN.

“R.J. got a lot of work in as a freshman defenseman at Minnesota last season,” explained Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren. “He had a rough start getting into the lineup this season because of injuries, but is now getting back on track. It might take him a while to regain his footing, but we’re interested in seeing how he [progresses].”

Rob Bellamy, RW (Junior)
University of Maine (Hockey East)
Drafted: 2004 (3rd round, 92nd overall)

Bellamy has endured a difficult season for Maine, unable to get his game on track from the start. The Westfield, MA native continues to be praised by the Black Bears’ coaching staff for the tireless effort and hustle he displays game in and game out, but his strong work ethic has not carried over to success on the ice.

Offensively, Bellamy has failed to produce. To this point, he has yet to register a goal, having tallied only six assists in 26 games. This is a step back from his promising 2005-06 performance, which saw him register 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 40 games, while emerging as leader and integral two-way component to Maine’s lineup.

Bellamy remains an outspoken voice in the Black Bears’ locker room, and has retained his reputation as a competent defensive forward. Developmentally, however, his inability to add an offensive dimension to his game could hurt his chances of ultimately landing a pro contract with the Flyers.

“Rob plays with a lot of fire and intensity,” said Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren. “He’s struggled to put it together offensively this year, but he continues to show a lot of heart and emotion, things we like to see. He has another year left at Maine for us to assess his play, in a very solid program.

“We’ll have to wait and see how he does.”

Matt Clackson, LW (Sophomore)
Western Michigan University (CCHA)
Drafted: 2005 (7th round, 215th overall)

Clackson has recorded a mere seven assists in 29 games for Western Michigan this season, but his value to the Broncos rests with his versatility and ability to physically intimidate the opposition. The team (14-15-1, 11-12-1) has a trio of forwards in Mark Letestu, Paul Szczechura and Jeff Pierce, who have combined for 102 points in the 30 games thus far this season.

While Clackson is generally considered to be a checking line player, he is occasionally used by head coach Jim Culhane on scoring units, to protect and create space for one or two of the aforementioned three. The Pittsburgh native is responsible enough defensively to assume such a role. He plays an aggressive but smart game with and away from the puck, rarely committing costly turnovers or other mistakes.

Clackson ranks second on his team with 72 PIMs in 29 games. The Pittsburgh native is the only current Western Michigan player to be drafted, but his limitations render him an NHL longshot.

Travis Gawryletz, D (Junior)
University of Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA)
Drafted: 2004 (8th round, 253rd overall)

Gawryletz has settled nicely into a role as a steady stay-at-home rearguard for Minnesota-Duluth (10-17-3, 6-14-2).

He is paired regularly with sophomore Matt Niskanen (DAL), the team’s second-leading scorer (28 points in 30 games) and one of the top offensive defensemen in the WCHA. Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin has credited Gawryletz’s fine play in his own end as a prime factor in allowing Niskanen to open his game up and take chances at the other end of the rink.

“We’ve struggled defensively,” said Sandelin, “but Travis has been very effective and reliable. He’s improved his skating and has gotten stronger over the past three years, and has become a valuable veteran leader on our blueline. His steadiness has allowed us some versatility.”

Gawryletz remains lean, but has filled out at 6’2/200. Though he’s never been known necessarily for his physical play, he has shown more of an aggressive edge this season, particularly along the boards and behind the net.

The Trail, British Columbia native is still looking for his first goal of the season, after tallying a total of four times over the previous two years. He has four assists and ranks second on his team with 47 PIMs in 28 games.

Jonathan Matsumoto, C (Junior)
Bowling Green University (CCHA)
Drafted: 2006 (3rd round, 79th overall)

For proof that statistics can sometimes be misleading, look no further than Matsumoto’s performance at Bowling Green this season. Last year, the Orleans, ON native exploded offensively, leading the team with 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) in 36 games as a sophomore. He is not quite averaging a point-per-game this year, but is, by all accounts, having an even better all-around campaign.

Quite simply, Matsumoto has been one of the lone bright spots in what has been a dismal season for the Falcons (6-24-2, 4-19-1). In fact, he is considered to be the glue that has held the team together, leading the squad with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) and 60 PIMs in 32 games, playing effectively at both ends of the rink and emerging as a quality leader on and off the ice.

Matsumoto now has accumulated 107 points (48 goals, 59 assists) in 104 games thus far in NCAA play. The 6’0/185 forward was named one of the Falcons’ assistant captains prior to the start of the season.

“Jon continues to prove his worth at the collegiate level,” said Holmgren. “He boasts an impressive package of speed and skill and is a very good leader on his Bowling Green team. He’s another talented player we added in the most recent draft, and someone we look forward to continuing to see develop.”

Rumors circulated earlier in the season that the Flyers were interested in signing the 20-year-old forward and bringing him to Philadelphia next fall. Whether or not the rumblings hold any water remain to be seen. Holmgren declined to comment on the matter.

Andreas Nodl, LW
St. Cloud State University (WCHA)
Drafted: 2006 (2nd round, 39th overall)

The Flyers may have found a gem in selecting Nodl with their first of two second round picks at the entry draft last June.

The Austrian has exploded onto the scene at St. Cloud State (18-5-5, 12-5-5), putting up outstanding offensive numbers from the start of the campaign. Not surprisingly, observers have been quick to draw comparisons between Nodl and his friend and countryman Thomas Vanek, the current Buffalo Sabres star and former Minnesota standout.

“You don’t want to jump the gun and draw unfair comparisons, but he is an outstanding talent,” Huskies head coach Bob Motzko said of Nodl, who presently ranks ninth in the nation in scoring with 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) in 28 games. “He deserves the accolades he’s receiving.”

Nodl, an outstanding skater who can pass and shoot with equal effectiveness, was a prized recruit. Still, his meteoric emergence in the highly-competitive WCHA has taken the conference by surprise.

The 6’1/195 forward arrived in North America two seasons ago, opting to continue his amateur career on this side of the pond at the suggestion of Vanek. He played for the Sioux Falls of the USHL prior to joining the Huskies, tallying 59 points (29 goals, 30 assists) in 58 games for the Stampede last season.

“It’s really just a matter of time for this kid, and I’m talking about his ability to play in the NHL,” said Motzko. “Andy has come in here and proven already to be an outstanding offensive player at the college level. He still has a ways to go in rounding out his game, but he’s very coachable and has a desire to learn.

“If he’s still with us in his sophomore and junior years, he’s going to be considered an elite [NCAA] player. Will he put up the kind of numbers Vanek did at Minnesota (113 points in 83 games over two seasons)? That remains to be seen. But, he’s already on track to be a big-time scorer for us.”

Added Holmgren, “Nodl is certainly on offensively-gifted player. He’s really made a nice transition to college hockey and is putting up excellent numbers at St. Cloud State. He’s a player we intend to watch very closely in the future. He’s very intriguing in what he can do at the offensive end of the rink.”

Michael Ratchuk, D (Freshman)
Michigan State University (CCHA)
Drafted: 2006 (2nd round, 42nd overall)

A product of the U.S. National Development Team program, Ratchuk has made an immediate impact as a freshman on the blueline for Michigan State (18-8-3, 14-6-3). The Flyers are very high on the 18-year-old Buffalo native, who presently ranks second among Spartan rearguards in scoring with 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 29 games, and has done a solid job of taking care of his own end.

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. He is very proficient at moving the play out of his own end quickly, and loves to stickhandle up through the neutral zones and into the opposing zone.
The brother of former Colorado Avalanche draftee Peter Ratchuk (26th overall, 1996), Michael finished with an impressive 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) and 50 PIMs in 47 games with the U-18 team last season. He worked his way up the USNTDP ladder, attending USA Hockey Selects 14, 15 and 16 camps, before ultimately going on to play for the U-17 and U-18 national squads.

“Michael is another player who has made a good transition, coming out of the National Team Program,” said Holmgren. “There is generally a more difficult learning curve for defensemen, but he’s been a regular on the blueline for Michigan State this year, and has been very steady.

“We were very pleased to see that he was still available at the draft when we made the 42nd selection, I believe, in the second round. As a college player, Michael will have four years of potential development at Michigan State, and we‘ll be able to monitor how he does and chart his progression at the collegiate level.”

Jon Rheault, C (Junior)
Providence College (Hockey East)
Drafted: 2006 (5th round, 145th overall)

After a breakout performance as a sophomore in which he notched an impressive 30 points in 35 games for Providence last season, Rheault was expected to take his game to the next level in 2006-07. He has failed to meet expectations, however, struggling at both ends of the rink for the lowly Friars (7-19-2, 6-13-2).

The Deering, NH native has produced only 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists) in 27 games this year, still good for second place in scoring for Providence. He has one power-play goal after leading the team with eight man-advantage markers last year. The 5’11/200 forward has been adequate at best in the defensive end, though he has been solid on the penalty kill, with three short-handed goals to his credit.

Rheault has and will continue to play big minutes in all game situations for the Friars this year. Regardless of his performance to this point, he remains one of Providence’s most talented players and a viable threat on an offensively-challenged team.

“We expected a lot out of Jon this year, and, so far, it’s been a real struggle for him,” explained Friars head coach Tim Army. “In a sense, I believe that a lot of it is mental, that Jon got himself into this funk and has just been trying so hard to break out of it, that he’s… well, trying too hard.

“Jon is a great kid, very likable and a diligent student-athlete. He still has a lot of maturing to do on the ice, but certainly has the ability to take his game to another level here. He’s willing, but we need him to improve his focus a bit and get back to some of the things that worked for him in the past.”

Chris Zarb, D (Sophomore)
Ferris State University (CCHA)
Drafted: 2004 (5th round, 144th overall)

Zarb has emerged as the leader of the Ferris State (9-19-3, 6-15-2) blueline corps in his second season with the team. The lanky 6’4/200 defenseman has displayed improvement in virtually every facet of his game this season, particularly emerging as a physical force to be reckoned with in his own end.

A native of Waterford, MI, Zarb leads the team, in fact, with 75 PIMs in 29 games. He has also begun to make his mark at the other end of the rink, ranking first among Bulldogs rearguards with 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists).

Ferris State has struggled to compete in the CCHA this season. With six seniors set to graduate this spring, including defensemen Joe Van Culin and Jeremy Scherlinck, expectations on Zarb’s play will continue to increase for next season and beyond. It’s a task that Holmgren believes the 22-year-old is up to.

“Chris has filled out a little bit more, and that should be a big help for him,” said Holmgren. “He still needs to get a little bigger and stronger to be effective with his size, but he’s coming along. He’s a player who was very highly-touted coming out of the USHL [with Tri-City] two years ago. He continues to show a lot of improvement, and we are pleased with his development thus far.”

Zarb is the only skater on the Ferris State roster to be drafted. Junior goaltender Derek MacIntyre was selected by the San Jose Sharks in 2004 (8th round, 234th overall).

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