This is the third of a three-part review of Philadelphia Flyers prospects who played in the CHL, NCAA and European leagues during the 2007-08 season.
Over the course of the past year-and-a-half, the Flyers’ front office, led by general manager Paul Holmgren, has succeeded in restocking the club’s feeder system with an impressive crop of talent.
Just as the team relied heavily upon the contributions of young stars such as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Braydon Coburn
deep playoff run this season, it will look to the next wave of talent as the push to win a Stanley Cup continues.
With this in mind, the following is a look at the performances of the organization’s prospects who played in European leagues this season.
For Part 1 of the series, which looks at the Flyers prospects at the Canadian Junior League level, click here
For Part 2 on the prospects in the NCAA, click here
Denis Bodrov, D Lada Togliatti (Russia)
As a 22-year-old with three full seasons of play in the Russian Super League already under his belt, Bodrov is something of a rarity. After all, as perhaps the most defensive-oriented major hockey circuit in the world, the RSL is generally known as a very difficult league for young rearguards to break in to and excel.
The 6’0’’, 185-pound Moscow native was 19 when he debuted with Togliatti in 2005-06. He now has 132 games of experience in what is arguably the top league in Europe and second best worldwide, only to the NHL.
|Denis Bodrov is a good skater that brings a physical edge to his game. (Getty Images) |
This past season, Bodrov, a second round pick of the Flyers (55th overall) at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, continued to emerge as one of the top young blueliners in his homeland.
He finished third among defensemen and 12th overall on Lada with 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 46 games, while stepping into more of leadership role. He also finished with 74 penalty minutes, tying him for the team lead in that category.
Again, you also have consider the nature of the RSL for perspective when examining stats. With his 11 points, for instance, Bodrov finished only 17 points behind team co-leaders Dmitry Vorobiev and Konstantin Panov.
Bodrov is regarded as a solid defenseman in his own end, despite some up-and-down moments this past season. He is a very strong skater with good vision, who also brings something to the table that sets him apart from many of the players in his league - a physical edge.
It is the latter attribute that rounds out Bodrov’s game and makes him one of the more intriguing young blueline prospects in the Flyers’ system.
“He’s a player who we really like, and we don’t think that he’s too far off,” said Flyers Director of Hockey Operations, Chris Pryor. “He has already played for three seasons over in the Russian league, so he’s practically a veteran already. We’ve seen progression in his game, from year to year.
“Bodrov isn’t a guy who shies away from physical contact, even though that’s not necessarily something his league is known for. We’ve been watching his development, and think he could be a good fit here. He does a lot of things well and has a lot of upside.”
Bodrov will play at least one more season in Russia, where he will continue to fine tune his game. He recently signed with Avangard Omsk, which will give him the opportunity to play as a key member of a defensive unit in a new environment.
We put a lot of stock in character when assessing prospects, and we think very highly of [Denis] Bodrov’s attitude and work ethic. - Chris Pryor
Omsk will be a member of the revamped Super League, which is set to become the Continental Hockey League in 2008-09. The circuit will feature all 20 existing RSL clubs, plus four additional teams formerly based in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Latvia.
“Denis is under contract next season to a team in Russia, so he’ll play at least one more season over there,” noted Pryor. “We’ve kept our eyes on him and feel like he could develop into a really good player. There is some thought that he could have been ready [to come to North America] next season, and he’s definitely close.
“Playing for a new team will be a new experience and a good test for him. We put a lot of stock in character when assessing prospects, and we think very highly of Bodrov’s attitude and work ethic. New challenges are always good, and how a player handles them generally tends to say a lot.”
Joonas Lehtivuori, D Ilves Tampere (Finland)
A product of one of Finland’s most successful hockey systems, Lehtivuori is a smooth-skating defenseman with above average puck skills and a heady presence at both ends of the rink. The 19-year-old recently wrapped up his second full season in SM-liiga for Tampere.
He appeared in 48 games for the team this year, registering 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) and 10 penalty minutes, finishing second among Ilves defensemen and ninth overall. These totals are indicative of the huge strides he made after his rookie season in 2006-07, during which he appeared in 40 contests but did not register a single point.
Lehtivuori responded to an increased level of responsibility and ice time as a sophomore, and appeared to gain in confidence as the season wore on. He also appeared in six games for Team Finland’s entry at the World Junior Championships, recording one assist and six penalty minutes.
Listed at just 5’11’’ and 167-pounds, Lehtivuori does not have a large frame but is solidly built. He is deceptively strong on the puck and in high traffic situations, has learned to effectively make a smart first pass out of his defensive zone, and possesses an accurate shot from the point.
He was selected by the Flyers in the fourth round (101st overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
|Joonas Lehtivuori will spend next season playing in Finland. (Getty Images) |
“Lehtivuori isn’t a big guy, and he’s not going to suddenly develop into a huge physical presence or anything,” explained Pryor. “But, we like what he brings to the table in the skill department. He is very talented with the puck and brings that skating element that is becoming so important to develop for your defense.
“He’s still growing, and that will take some more time. As he continues to get stronger, though, Joonas will gain a better understanding of the things he does best. He already has a good idea, because he‘s a very smart player.”
Lehtivuori has less than a year remaining on a military obligation in his homeland. He will serve out his tenure and suit up for Ilves in 2008-09. After that, it will be determined whether he is ready to make the jump to North America.
“Another season in Europe should be good for Lehtivuori,” continued Pryor. “He’ll be another year older and will be able to continue to grow into a leadership role with his team. That’s always a good position for a young player to be in. We’ve watched him progress [in Finland] over two seasons now, so we’ll continue to see how he does next year.
“It can be a long learning curve with young defensemen, but it’s also difficult for a player to make a big transition, like the one we’d eventually like to see Lehtivuori and Bodrov make. Coming over, there are no guarantees that what [a player accomplished in Europe] will translate to success here.
“We really like both players and see them as young defensemen who factor into our future plans. We look forward to seeing them down the road, hopefully as early as next year.” Andrei Popov, RW Traktor Chelyabinsk
Upon his selection by the Flyers toward the end of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (seventh round, 205th overall), Popov was described by many outlets as a “low risk/high reward” prospect.
Undeniably skilled and well noted for his offensive capabilities, Popov’s stock suffered due to his defensive shortcomings and lack of overall polish. The 6’0’’, 187-pound forward has made some progress in becoming a more complete two-way player over the last two seasons in Chelyabinsk, but continues to have a ways to go.
Popov registered seven points (five goals, two assists) and 12 penalty minutes in 33 games for Traktor this past season, good for 15th on the team. He did so, however, at just 19, one of the youngest players on a veteran-laden squad.
“Andrei is a kid who we took a chance on late in the draft two years ago,” explained Pryor.
“He’s a skilled player and has shown a lot of talent in the offensive end, even though his numbers might not show that yet. He has to work on his defensive play, and a lot of the little, fundamental things. But, he can definitely put the puck in the net.”
We took a chance on him and are hoping that he can be one of those guys that put it all together. It’s ultimately up to him, as to how far he wants to go. - Chris Pryor on Andrei Popov
As is the case with Bodrov and Lehtivuori, the Flyers will continue to hold on to Popov’s rights for at least one more calendar year, due to the uncertainty of the transfer agreement situation between the NHL and IIHF.
He will return for a third season in Chelyabinsk in 2008-09, as the team will join the aforementioned Continental Hockey League.
“Popov is a player we’ll continue to assess, of course, and keep track of how he’s coming along,” said Pryor. “He has a lot to work on, especially in the defensive end. But, the Russian leagues are known for teaching defense, so he’s in the right place, for sure.
“He is a skilled guy. There’s no question about that. We took a chance on him and are hoping that he can be one of those guys that put it all together. It’s ultimately up to him, as to how far he wants to go."