After reviewing what the landscape of the first round had become at the 2016 NHL Draft, Flyers GM Ron Hextall took an opportunity to add a high-end asset in what is widely viewed as a deep draft and was still able to get the player he said he’d targeted all along.
Hextall swung a trade with Winnipeg to move down four spots, packing the Flyers’ #18 pick and their third round pick at #79 to obtain the 22nd overall pick, which originally belonged to Chicago, and Winnipeg’s own second round pick, which is the 36th overall and the sixth in the second round. With that 22nd selection, the Flyers grabbed 6-1, 185-lb center German Rubtsov from the U-18 Russian national team.
He’s a full-sheet player, a playmaker first and foremost,” Hextall said. “He’s responsible, brings speed and plays the game the right way.”
The Flyers looked at the board when their original pick came up at #18 and decided they could roll the dice on still getting Rubtsov while obtaining an early-second-round pick that they’d hoped to add. It gives them a total of three selections in Saturday morning’s second round.
“We had a really good backup plan that we were comfortable with,” Hextall said. “We said best case scenario, we get this guy, and at 37 we’re looking at a group. Then, if we don’t get this guy, these [other] guys are close, so we’re OK with it. Otherwise you don’t [make the trade].”
Rubtsov recorded 12 goals and added 14 assists for 26 points in 28 games for his Russian team this past season. That team was headed to the Under-18 World Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota in April, but it was removed from the tournament because of a team-wide issue with the drug meldonium.
“That’s not a concern for us,” Hextall said. “We did our research on this kid, trust me. Up, down and all around. I think the hockey world understands [that it wasn’t his fault.] We did more research on this kid than I’ve ever done. He’s got really good character.”
The Flyers are hoping that unfortunate situation turns out to be to their benefit. The rumblings around the draft indicated that his draft stock could have been much higher if he’d played at Worlds. As such, the Flyers are hoping they’ve found a bit of a steal.
“Him not being at the Under-18 in Grand Forks there, that was a big platform for him,” Hextall said. “I think there’s multiple reasons [he was available at #22,] but we’re very comfortable with him. This kid’s a real good hockey player. He brings speed, good size… he’s really, really smart.”
Rubtsov turns 18 on Monday, so even as draft picks go, he’s a young player. He’s under a two-year contract to play for Chekov Vityaz of the KHL, which his agent is reportedly trying to cancel. However, the Flyers are OK with waiting if that contract requires it.
“If he has to stay there, so be it,” Hextall said. “If he can come over before then, terrific.”
Regardless of how long it takes, the Flyers are happy to have landed a player who’s lauded as a terrific two-way center who’s a fiercely competitive playmaker, but takes care of the puck in the defensive zone,
“We got the player we wanted and we added a pretty good pick in the second round,” Hextall said. “It honestly kind of fell in our lap a little bit.”
The Flyers currently have nine picks remaining in the draft, but could add a 10th depending on what the Arizona Coyotes decide to do with a fourth-round pick they acquired from San Jose earlier this week. They owe the Flyers either that pick or a 2017 third-rounder to complete the Nick Grossmann trade from last year’s draft, and must inform the Flyers of their intentions by the start of the fourth round.
Saturday’s rounds 2-7 get underway at 10 AM. Follow along at our Draft Central for full coverage.