June 24, 2016
In a surprising move, the Philadelphia Flyers decided to move back four spots in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft. In the process, they were able to improve their position for the draft's second day, all while presumably still getting a guy they targeted with their original pick.
The Flyers sent their first round pick (18th-overall) and their third-round pick (79th) to Winnipeg in exchange for the Jets' first-round (22nd) and second-round (36th) picks.
And when that 22nd pick rolled around -- the same spot in which the team drafted Captain Claude Giroux a decade ago -- general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers took Russian center German Rubstov, who won't turn 18 until Monday.
"He's a playmaker first and foremost. He brings speed and plays the game the right way."— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) June 25, 2016
-Hextall on German Rubtsov pic.twitter.com/aj0S1uTyJp
Take a look for yourself:
Heading into Friday night's draft, the prevailing wisdom was that the Flyers, who already have a plethora of promising blueliners in their system, were likely looking to add an offensive player.
But after a few surprises early on -- including just two defensemen going in the first 12 picks -- it was beginning to look like Hextall could be facing a tough decision: draft for need or take the best player available.
Ideally, you're able to get both, but that's not always the case.
Hextall seemed determined to take the best player available. Following the first dozen selections, however, the four best players available (according to TSN's Bob McKenzie) were all blue liners. That wasn't exactly ideal and could have left the Flyers GM in a tough spot.
Fortunately, the pressure of that decision was lessened when all four of those players were taken before the Flyers were on the clock, between picks 13-17. Once again, Hextall had some options.
1. Auston Matthews, C | Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Patrik Laine, RW | Winnipeg Jets
3. Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW | Columbus Blue Jackets
4. Jesse Puljujarvi, RW | Edmonton Oilers
5. Olli Juolevi, D | Vancouver Canucks
6. Matthew Tkachuk, LW | Calgary Flames
7. Clayton Keller, C | Arizona Coyotes
8. Alexander Nylander, LW | Buffalo Sabres
9. Mikhail Sergachev, D | Montreal Canadiens
10. Tyson Jost, C | Colorado Avalanche
11. Logan Brown, C | Ottawa Senators
12. Michael McLeod, C | New Jersey Devils
13. Jake Bean, D | Carolina Hurricanes
14. Charlie McAvoy, D | Boston Bruins
15. Luke Kunin, C | Minnesota Wild
16. Jakob Chychrun, D | Arizona Coyotes
17. Dante Fabbro, D | Nashville Predators
Because of the way it played out, the list of best players available quickly shifted from defensemen to forwards. And that allowed Hextall to make the trade while still be able to get one of the forwards they originally targeted at 18.
All Hextall could do was watch and see which of those players would be available to him at No. 22.
18. Logan Stanley, D | Winnipeg Jets
19. Kiefer Bellows, LW | New York Islanders
20. Dennis Cholowski, D | Detroit Red Wings
21. Julien Gauthier, RW | Carolina Hurricanes
With two of the next four picks being defensemen, the deal seemed to work out perfectly for the Flyers, as the top four players available were now all forwards.
And Hextall went with the 17-year-old center from Russia. Here's what he had to say about the decision to trade back and draft Rubstov.
In Rubstov, the Flyers got a very smart hockey player according to TheHockeyWriters, who compared him to Pavel Datsyuk:
Rubtsov is a highly-intelligent two-way center and is probably one of the players with the highest Hockey IQ of the entire draft. He possesses a great vision and can really distribute the puck very well. He seems to always be aware of his line mates and is a great setup guy. Rubtsov makes smart decisions with the puck and barely turns the puck over. He is a calm puck carrier and uses his strong puck-handling skills to dance through the neutral zone with speed. [thehockeywriters.com]
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound forward has a left-handed shot and tallied 26 points (12G, 14A) in 28 games with his Russian under-18 team last season.
Per elitehockeyprospects.com, many had Rubstov ranked higher than where the Flyers selected him:
• Ranked #16 by Hockeyprospect.com
• Ranked #15 by ISS Hockey
• Ranked #17 by Future Considerations
• Ranked #22 by McKeen's Hockey
• Ranked #5 by NHL Central Scouting (EU Skaters)
• Ranked #23 by TSN/McKenzie
But in the months leading up to the draft, Rubstov and his Russian teammates were involved in a scandal involving meldonium, the same substance Maria Sharapova recently tested positive.
According to reports, his team abruptly backed out of the IIHF under-18 world championships in April over fears that their players, who were on a meldonium regimen, would test positive. Interestingly enough, that is not currently outlawed in the NHL, but since January it has been on WADA's list of banned substances.
Hextall on the doping scandal and Rubtsov: "We did our research on this kid. Up, down and all around. … We’re very comfortable."— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) June 25, 2016
Hextall also said that he doesn't expect Rubstov to leave his Russian team just yet.
Hextall doesn’t expect Rubtsov to come to N. America next year. Says he has a 2 year deal, is prepared if he has to say in KHL for 2 years.— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) June 25, 2016
The second and final day of the draft begins Saturday at 10 a.m. and will include rounds two through seven.
Here's a look at the Flyers remaining picks:
• 2 36
• 2 48
• 2 52
• 3 82
• 4 109
• 5 139
• 6 169
• 6 172
• 7 199
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin