This is the second 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
during its 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 this season at the U.S. Collegiate (NCAA) level.
For Part 1 of the series, which looks at the Flyers' prospects at the Canadian Junior League level, click here
James van Riemsdyk, C/LWNew Hampshire (Hockey East)
The second overall pick in last June’s entry draft, van Riemsdyk is considered to be in a class of elite prospects that includes only the very best teenage players in the world.
|James van Riemsdyk will return to the University of New Hampshire for his sophomore season. (photo courtesy of the University of New Hampshire) |
A product of the U.S. National Developmental Team program (USNDT), the Middletown, New Jersey native completed his freshman season at New Hampshire this spring. Not surprisingly, he made his mark quickly upon his arrival on the collegiate stage, wasting little time in becoming an impact player in the highly-competitive Hockey East conference.
van Riemsdyk scored a spectacular goal in his debut, an end-to-end rush around multiple defenders, in a 4-1 win over Boston University. From that point on, there was no looking back. The 6’4’’, 210-pound man-child would go on to finish third on the Wildcats in scoring and fourth among freshmen in the conference with an impressive 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) and 36 penalty minutes in 31 games.
“It really didn’t take him long to establish himself at the NCAA level,” said Flyers Director of Hockey Operations, Chris Pryor. “He certainly met our expectations this season, and he had a great season overall. It’s not easy for any player, regardless of talent, to just jump in and succeed like that at a higher level. But he made that jump just fine.”
New Hampshire enjoyed a strong season overall, but suffered two disappointing losses at the end. The Wildcats were eliminated by Boston College in the semifinals of the Hockey East playoffs, dropping a 5-4 decision in triple overtime. The team did qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but was taken out in the West Regional Semifinal by Notre Dame, 7-3.
Amid some talk that he might decide to turn pro after his freshman season, van Riemsdyk has decided to return to New Hampshire for at least one more year. He is expected to continue to evolve into one of the top forwards in the NCAA as a sophomore, and will lead the Wildcats‘ push for a national championship.
“Sometimes you see players taken in the top five of a particular draft playing in the NHL right away. And, sometimes, it takes a little longer,” explained Pryor. “Every player is different and for James, we feel that another season in college will be good for him. He’s comfortable with that decision, and that’s the most important thing.
He has a terrific combination of size and skill, which is another reason why we like him so much. It’s actually a little scary to think what he will be like in another three or four years when he fills out. - Chris Pryor on James van Riemsdyk
“One thing is for sure, and that is that he is going to be a huge part of New Hampshire’s team next season. He’s already considered to be one of the leaders of that team, despite heading into next year as just a 19-year-old. It’ll be a great situation for him to be in, and we look forward to seeing what he does with it.”
Most observers predict that van Riemsdyk will turn pro, if not already in a Flyers uniform, by the start of the 2009-10 season.
“We’ll see how it goes from here,” continued Pryor. “James is growing bigger and stronger. He’s becoming a man, basically. As with all players at this age, physical growth and development takes time. As some guys fill out, they get a better sense of how to use their bodies.
“Of course, James is already a big guy, and that’s definitely one of his assets. He has a terrific combination of size and skill, which is another reason why we like him so much. It’s actually a little scary to think what he will be like in another three or four years when he fills out."Andres Nodl, RWSt. Cloud State (WCHA)
Boasting an impressive combination of size, marksman-like skill and skating ability, Nodl has earned a distinction as one of the top offensive performers in the NCAA ranks over the past two seasons.
The 6’1’’, 195-pound Vienna, Austria native turned in another impact campaign at St. Cloud State this season, finishing third on his team as a sophomore with 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) and 32 penalty minutes in 40 games. He was selected by the Flyers in the second round (39th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
|Andreas Nodl was drafted by the Flyers in the third round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. (photo courtesy Neil Andersen, St. Cloud State Athletic Media) |
“Andreas is just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of, if you ask me,” said SCS head coach Bob Motzko. “His numbers this season and last show what he is capable of, but there’s so much more to him than that. He has really developed into a much better all-around player, and I think he’s going to be a dangerous offensive weapon in the pros.”
There had been some speculation that Nodl was going to turn pro after he exploded onto the collegiate scene for the Huskies in 2006-07, leading the nation in scoring among freshmen with 46 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 40 games.
He wound up returning to play one more NCAA season, but there was little question that he would be leaving the program behind this time around. Over the course of his two seasons at SCS, the talented forward totaled 90 points (36 goals, 54 assists) and 54 penalty minutes in 80 games.
After the completion of his collegiate season, Nodl signed with the organization and joined the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League to finish out the 2007-08 campaign. He scored one goal in three regular season games, and added another single marker in 10 playoff games with the team.
“Andreas has a real nose for the net, and his offensive instincts and skating abilities are top-notch,” said Pryor. “It was really a no-brainer for us to bring him in for an early look with the Phantoms this year, after his college season ended. He did well, and now we’ll go from there.
“There’s always the chance that a player like Nodl can come into a training camp situation and surprise people. At this point, I’d say that he’s likely to get some additional seasoning in the AHL and start next season with the Phantoms, but you never know. A great camp can really make things interesting.”
Nodl was known primarily as an offensive player when he arrived at St. Cloud State two seasons ago, after a pair of campaigns in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede. He is an underrated player in his own end, however, who has improved even more so in that regard with experience.
“Andreas still has some things to work on, like any young player,” continued Pryor. “But, he’s another guy with a lot of offensive ability who is a good fit in our system. He’s just an outstanding skater, and we saw some glimpses of what he can do with the Phantoms late in the regular season and the playoffs.
“As with any prospect, it’ll be a matter of him having to adjust to a higher level and play in more games against tougher competition. But we will be looking for big things from him.”
Michael Ratchuk, DMichigan State (WCHA)
Smooth-skating, puck-carrying defensemen seem to be at a premium in today’s NHL. Ratchuk, an offensively-skilled rearguard who recently wrapped up a two-season stint at Michigan State, is a player cut from this mold that the Flyers have very high hopes for.
The 5’11’’, 175-pound blueliner was the team’s second round selection (42nd overall) at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. As a freshman in 2006-07, he played a key role in helping the Spartans to an NCAA national championship.
|Michael Ratchuk was drafted by the Flyers in the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. (Getty Images) |
This season, Ratchuk served as the unofficial captain of the Michigan State defense, despite his standing as a 19-year-old sophomore. He finished first among defensemen and eighth on his team with 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) and 48 penalty minutes in 42 games.
He turned pro after the season, joining the Phantoms. Ratchuk made a nice impression in three regular season games with the team, notching a goal and two assists. He also recorded one assist in five playoff games.
“Mike did a really good job, coming in right out of college and playing for the Phantoms,” said Pryor."
“He plays with more of an offensive angle to his game, and there are some things he has to work on, of course. Getting bigger and stronger, learning how to play against tougher competition. It’ll come. He has an excellent work ethic and he has the talent to go a long way.”
In addition to Ratchuk’s obvious skill level and attitude, the Flyers are very pleased with his pedigree. The Buffalo, New York native has been a winner at every level.
Prior to his participation in Michigan State’s national title win two years ago, Ratchuk, like van Riemsdyk, participated in the U.S. National Developmental program. He was a member of the Team USA contingent that captured gold at the 2005 IIHF Under-18 Championship in Sweden. He also helped his country’s entry to a tournament win at the 2004 Four Nations Cup in Rochester, New York.
Going back even further, Ratchuk was a member of the Buffalo Select Saints, who won the 2004 Midget AAA National Championships.
This kid obviously has a wealth of talent, and we’re really excited about some of the things he can do back there on the blue line for our organization. - Chris Pryor on Michael Ratchuk
“He has a great track record for being a member of winning teams,” said Pryor. “Obviously, that’s something we’d like to see continue, but he definitely brings in a winning attitude. He was a very important player in helping Michigan State win their national title [in 2006-07], and that is something that you rarely see out of a freshman defenseman.
“We felt that he took another step this year, and that another year in college probably wouldn’t have helped him much. Again, you have to judge every player differently, but we feel that he is ready to play in the pros. We think very highly of Michael, and consider him to be a valuable part of our future.”
Ratchuk is expected to play for the Phantoms, full-time, in 2008-09.Jon Kalinski, LWMinnesota State-Mankato (WCHA)
This time last year, Kalinski was hoping for the best. Having already been passed over in the draft on two occasions, the Bonnyville, Alberta native was hoping that the strong sophomore season he had just turned in at Minnesota State-Mankato would be enough for some NHL team to give him a look.
The call didn’t come until the sixth round (152nd overall) of last June’s event, but the important thing was that it came. It was there that the Flyers selected the 6’1’’, 180-pound forward, projecting him as a potential role player in their system.
A noted agitator, Kalinski turned in an even better junior season. Though his stats were down slightly from the previous year, he took on a more prominent role with the Mavericks, playing in all game situations and emerging as a key component of the team’s top penalty-killing unit.
Kalinski finished his NCAA season with 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) and 56 penalty minutes in 39 games. He had tallied 27 points (17 goals, 10 assists) and 74 penalty minutes in 37 games the previous season.
The Flyers came calling again after Kalinski’s season at Mankato ended, signing the 21-year-old forward to an entry level deal. He immediately joined the Phantoms, recording three assists in five regular season games. He would add a goal and two assists in 10 postseason games with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate.
“Jon is a guy who kind of came on a little later,” said Pryor. “He had a real strong season [in 2006-07] as a sophomore, and continued to progress as a junior this year. By the end of the season, we figured he was ready to go pro. He stepped in right away with the Phantoms and did a terrific job for what he was asked to do. I see no reason why he wouldn’t be with the [Phantoms] next season.
“We saw Jon take some big steps to improve, and he really became a key part of his college team. He has a terrific work ethic, and is really good at getting under the skin of the opposition. He‘s very reliable defensively and we think he‘ll be a good fit here.”Rob Bellamy, RWMaine (Hockey East)
A fan favorite over the course of this four-year collegiate career at the University of Maine, Bellamy is another of the Flyers forward prospects set to turn pro in 2008-09.
The 6’0’’, 195-pound Westfield, Massachusetts native served as the Black Bears’ captain for his senior season, during which he finished third on the team with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 33 games. He also led the team, by a wide margin, with 61 penalty minutes. The next-highest player, defenseman Bret Tyler, had 34 penalty minutes.
|Rob Bellamy served as the captain of the University of Maine in his senior season there. (photo courtesy University of Maine) |
These totals are indicative of the rambunctious, high-energy style with which Bellamy plays every shift. Known as a relentless forechecker when he arrived at Maine as a freshman four years ago, the now 23-year-old right winger evolved into a very steady two-way player under the guidance of Black Bears head coach Tim Whitehead.
In 137 total games for the Black Bears, Bellamy registered 48 points (15 goals, 33 assists) and a whopping 252 penalty minutes. His true value to the team came in the form of his physical play and leadership ability, which evolved steadily over the course of his collegiate tenure.
“[Bellamy] packed a heck of a lot into his four years at Maine,” explained Whitehead. “Three NCAA Tournaments, two Frozen Fours, and he was our captain for his senior year. I really think he’s a classic Philadelphia-style player, and he’s going to do well down there. The fans are going to love him.”
Bellamy inked an entry-level deal with the Flyers following the end of his season at Maine. He appeared in one late regular season game with the Phantoms, but did not appear on the scoresheet. Still, he gained valuable experience, practicing with the team through the end of its postseason run.
He will be given a chance to make the AHL squad this October.
“Rob is a guy who puts out maximum effort every time he’s on the ice,” said Pryor. “He’s a case of a player we watched for four full seasons of college, and we think he’s developed into a very well-rounded player who understands his strengths and weaknesses.
“He’s a good two-way player and a very physical guy. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t have some offensive ability, but he’s the type of player who will embrace whatever role he is given and will work hard in all situations.”Matt Clackson, LWWestern Michigan (CCHA)
The son of former NHL tough guy Kim Clackson, Matt recently wrapped up his third and final season at Western Michigan University, notching six points (three goals, three assists) in 35 games while finishing second on the team with 87 penalty minutes.
A rugged forward with a sparkplug-like build at 6’0’’, 195-pounds, Clackson signed a two-year entry level deal with the Flyers after the end of the college season. He appeared in two games with the Phantoms late in the AHL team’s regular season, recording 19 penalty minutes.
In 105 total games over three seasons at WMU, Clackson tallied 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) and amassed 219 penalty minutes.
By the end of his collegiate tenure, Clackson was viewed as one of the tougher, more physically-effective players in the CCHA. Though he was not a consistent point producer, the Pittsburgh native did make notable strides in improving his two-way play. He also became an effective penalty-killer for the Broncos.
As fighting is not allowed under NCAA rules, Clackson was obviously not able to show off his pugilistic ability at the collegiate level. His fists will likely be one of his primary assets in the pros, however.
“Matt’s a real tough kid,” said Pryor. “Like [Bellamy and Kalinski], he’s a hard-working player with a very strong work ethic. These are character guys, and I don’t think you can ever have enough of them in your system. When it comes to his chances as a pro, Matt’s a guy who is going to have to be physical to succeed. That’s his game, and we expect nothing less of him.
“We’ve seen him drop the gloves, and he can play that style, but he‘s also come a long way in other areas of his game.”
Clackson will challenge for a full-time roster spot with the Phantoms in training camp. Brad Philips, GNotre Dame (CCHA)
Yet another product of the USNDTP, Philips was the lone netminder selected by the Flyers at last summer’s entry draft (7th round, 182nd overall). The Allen Park, Michigan native made his collegiate debut at Notre Dame this season, but appeared in only five games behind junior starter Jordan Pearce.
Philips made a strong impression despite his limited workload, recording a 4-1 record to go along with a sparkling 1.53 goals against average and .923 save percentage.
At 6’2’’, 175 penalty minutes, Philips is a rangy netminder who is still growing into his body. He is solid positionally, using his size and quickness to cover a lot of ground in net. He possesses a strong glove hand and solid rebound-controlling skills, and is known as an excellent skater.
“Brad has the tools,” said Pryor. “It’s a matter of development. Goaltenders are always the most difficult players to project, but we really like what he brings to the table, in terms of skill and work ethic. He’s a very confident young man. For a goaltender, obviously, that’s a must.”
Philips appeared in 24 games for the U.S. Under-18 team in 2006-07, going 15-5-2 while recording a pair of shutouts.
“He didn’t see much playing time as a freshman at Notre Dame, but we knew that that would be the case coming in,” explained Pryor. “This will be a case of watching a player’s development over the course of his college career, but his time [to play] will come. He’ll see more games gradually, starting next season.
“With goaltenders, you want to take things a little slower. We may not know what kind of prospect we have in Brad for a few seasons yet, but he’s a talented player who we like. He has a great attitude, and he’s in an excellent program. So, we’ll keep an eye on him and see how things go.”