WJC Final Report : Who Is Ready To Help Lehigh Valley This Spring?

In the aftermath of 2017 World Juniors, der Eishockeyzuschauer examines who might be the first “Phuture Phantoms” among Flyers’ prospects.

Russia center Mikhail Vorobyov (# 24) finished in a three-way tie for fourth place on the scoring chart with 10 points at this year's IIHF World Junior Championship in Canada and would certainly be a useful addition to a Lehigh Valley Phantoms squad which will be attempting to abruptly end the franchise's embarrassing seven-year playoff drought later on this season ..... (photo courtesy Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF images)

Russia center Mikhail Vorobyov (# 24) finished in a three-way tie for fourth place on the scoring chart with 10 points at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championship in Canada and would certainly be a useful addition to a Lehigh Valley Phantoms squad which will be attempting to abruptly end the franchise’s embarrassing seven-year playoff drought later on this season ….. (photo courtesy Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF images)

der Eishockeyzuschauer

ALLENTOWN, PA

The 41st installment of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s annual World Junior Championship has ended with the upstart United States, who defeated the both Russia and Canada (the two traditional powerhouses) twice at the same WJC tournament for the very first time in history, being awarded the coveted set of gold medals for only the fourth time ever. Meanwhile, here in the Mecca Of Minor League Sports, the most obvious question that always accompanies the planet’s premier competition for players under the age of twenty has yet to be addressed. Exactly how many of the Philadelphia Flyers’ nine NHL prospects who were on display at the 2017 IIHF WJC in Montreal and Toronto are actually ready and able to assist the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with their Calder Cup playoff chase in the American Hockey League later this spring?

Mikhail Vorobyov (6’2″ 207 lbs), the 19-year-old center who helped Russia claim a bronze medal by racking up ten assists in seven games to lead all players at this WJC, is the one and only forward who looks like he could command a place in what is already a talent-laden line-up for the Hamilton Street Heroes to begin with. The 19-year-old center, who is already a regular performer for a fairly high end Salavat Yulayev Ufa side in the crack Kontinental Hockey League, clearly demonstrated both very creative passing skills as well as a noticeable ability to use his above average size to effectively shield the puck from his opponents. Vorobyov, who averaged 16:58 minutes of ice time per game while skating on Russia’s top line, also showed himself to be extremely reliable on defense and finished as one of the tournament’s top ten players in the circle having won 70 of his 114 faceoffs taken (61.4%).
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There is no question that Kirill Kaprizov, Russian winger who was named the tournament’s Best Forward by the IIHF Directorate after having scored nine goals in seven WJC games, would not have been quite so dominant had it not been for the assistance of Vorobyov, who just so happens to be the miniature Ovechkin’s linemate with Ufa in the KHL, too.
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Whether of not Vorobyov can be expected to arrive at the corner of Seventh and Hamilton Streets in center city Allentown later this spring remains to be seen. The 4th round pick (# 104 overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2015 NHL Draft reportedly has an existing contract with Ufa that expires at end of this 2016/17 season. Whereas Kaprizov, who already played in the KHL All-Star Game and skated in one game for Russia’s senior national team as an 18-year-old last season, has a very good chance to be called up by the senior national team this spring, his linemate at this year’s WJC does not and so, at least in theory, Vorobyov could come and join the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms once Salavat Yulayev’s KHL campaign has formally concluded.
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Whether or not Vorobyov — or the Flyers’ prospect Oskar Lindblom from Swedish elite league club IF Brynas Gavle — evens wants to travel overseas and skate in the second tier American Hockey League later this spring is probably a subject that would be much better served by having a blog post of its very own. And, perhaps someday it shall be. Until then, moving right along.
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German Rubtsov (6’0″ 190 lbs), the 18-year-old who was demoted to fourth line winger for Russia’s quarterfinal match before a broken nose and concussion suffered in that knockout round game against Denmark prematurely ended his participation at this year’s WJC, is the one Flyers forward prospect who definitely does not appear as if he is ready to earn a place in the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ line-up at this point in time. As previously reported here at this blog, the player whom the Philadelphia Flyers chose in the first round (# 22 overall) of the 2016 National Hockey League Draft this past summer went pointless in four round robin games after averaging just 11:31 minutes of ice time per outing, mostly as a winger on the third Russian line featuring Yakov Trenin, the second round pick (# 55 overall) of the Nashville Predators at the 2015 NHL Draft, and the undrafted 18-year-old Kirill Urakov. Notwithstanding the defensive rating of minus one, most unimpressive of all is the fact that Rubtsov failed to register even one shot on goal in his four plus games at this high profile international tournament.
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To put things in proper perspective, Kaprizov, who was ‘only’ a fifth round selection (# 135 overall) of the Minnesota Wild at the 2015 NHL Draft, logged one goal, three points and 19 shots on goal in seven games while skating as an 18-year-old player for silver medalist Russia at the 2016 WJC in Helsinki last season; Urakov, the other 18-year-old forward aside from Rubtsov who made the made the Russian WJC team this winter, had one goal, two points and 17 shots on goal in seven games for the bronze medal winners this term.
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David Kase (5’11” 170 lbs) recorded a personal bests of two goals and three points in what was his third career appearance at the annual WJC on behalf of the Czech Republic but also did not make much of a convincing case for his inclusion on the Hamilton Street Heroes’ roster later this spring, either. The 19-year-old whom the Philadelphia Flyers earmarked in the fifth round (# 128 overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft skated on the Czechs’ top line at this tournament and scored a fortuitous goal during the quarterfinal loss to Canada after a puck which had inadvertently bounced off the Slovakia referee produced a ‘couldn’t miss’ opportunity in front of the net. On the whole, however, the undersized Kase is better served by continuing his development in the domestic elite league with KLH Chomutov as he is unlikely to force any current Lehigh Valley Phantoms player to cede his jersey.
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After averaging roughly twelve minutes of ice time per game in the round robin as well as the quarterfinal contest against Switzerland, center Tanner Laczynski (6’0″ 190 lbs) was held out of the United States’ semifinal clash against Russia and only logged 8:17 of action against Canada in a Gold Medal Game that actually lasted a total of eighty minutes including the overtime session. Still, the 19-year-old freshman for the Ohio State Buckeyes had respectable overall totals of one goal, one assist, a healthy + 2 defensive rating, and won 58.4% of his 53 faceoffs while operating in a fourth line capacity for the title-winning American team. Laczynski, the sixth round choice (# 169 overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2016 NHL Draft, is unlikely to leave college anytime soon but much like it has been for current Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Cole Bardreau, who also won a gold medal for the United States at the annual WJC, the experience of contributing to a successful side as a role player in a major international tournament could prove to be very beneficial at the AHL level down the road.
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As far as defensive prospects at this year’s WJC are concerned, Philippe Myers (6’5″ 205 lbs), the undrafted 19-year-old from the Rouyn Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League who is already under contract to the Philadelphia Flyers organization, is the one blueliner who could probably help the Hamilton Street Heroes immediately. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this tournament is the fact that, prior to sustaining a concussion in the round robin game against the United States, the far less heralded Myers had been paired with Thomas Chabot, the first round selection (# 18 overall) of the Ottawa Senators at the 2015 NHL Draft who ended up being named both Best Defenseman as well as Most Valuable Player at the 2017 IIHF WJC. This speaks volumes about how much talent the Canadian junior national team’s coaching staff thought Myers had (has) at his disposal.
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Although Myers must receive an “incomplete” grade for having missed all three of silver medalist Canada’s knockout round matches, the native of Moncton, New Brunswick, certainly showed enough potential to succeed at the AHL level before getting injured.
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Very much like the enitre Swedish team at this year’s WJC, itself, David Bernhardt (6’3″ 203 lbs) put up good numbers in the preliminary round robin phase before tailing off considerably once the knockout rounds began. The 19-year-old who was tabbed in the 7th round (# 199 overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers had three assists in addition to a gaudy + 8 defensive rating in four round robin games but went pointless in the knockout rounds while posting a – 1 defensive rating during the Swedes’ runaway 8-3 win over Slovakia at the quarterfinal stage as well as the deflating 5-2 loss to Canada in the semifinals. Perhaps most notable of all is the fact that Bernhardt, after averaging nineteen minutes of ice time per game during the round robin, was limited by the Tre Kronor coaching staff to an average of just 15:17 minutes of ice time per game during the three knockout round contests.
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Felix Sandstrom (6’2″ 194 lbs), the 19-year-old whom the Philadelphia Flyers snatched in the third round (# 70 overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, wound up being named Best Goaltender at this year’s WJC by the IIHF Directorate after making 38 saves during Sweden’s 2-1 overtime loss to Russia in the Bronze Medal Game. The truth of the matter is that individual award probably should have went to either Russia’s Ilya Samsonov, the first round pick (# 22 overall) of the Washington Capitals at the 2015 NHL Draft who was voted to the tournament’s official All-Star team by the accredited media, or the United States netminder Tyler Parsons, the gold medalist who had a virtually identical goals against average as well as a slightly higher save percentage than his Swedish counterpart. After letting three pucks get past him against low scoring Slovakia at he quarterfinal stage, the perhaps overrated Sandstrom came up small in the huge semifinal clash with host nation Canada : aside from conceding four times, he was also cleanly beaten on two other occasions and needed to be bailed out by his goal cage.
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It has to be concerning that Sandstrom allowed eight goals to the Americans in the Bronze Medal Game at the 2016 WJC in Helsinki last winter and, despite a few moments of brilliance and a decent amount of saves, did not look all that convincing versus Canada this year, either. After all, games against Canada and the United States do offer the young Swedish puck tamer the best opportunity possible to actually experience first hand what kind of ice hockey North American professional teams really play, something that even starting every single game of the season in the Swedish elite league club can never do : provide that same kind of hands on the wheel training. By the same token, games against Canada and the United States also some kind of indication of how the youthful Sandstrom might do against North American professional competition.
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Nevertheless, Sandstrom’s existing contract with IF Brynas Gavle reputedly runs out at the end of this 2016/17 campaign. Futhermore, Swedish clubs have always been open-minded about permitting players whose domestic commitments have concluded to cross the Atlantic Ocean and skate for American Hockey League clubs in the spring anyway. Considering that the Philadelphia Flyers might lose a goaltender for an extended period of time again later this season and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms seem to have no use whatsoever for Martin Ouellette, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Sandstrom – ready or not – could very well be standing between the pipes at the PPL Center in Allentown at some point in the next few months to come.
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Carter Hart (60″ 177 lbs), the 18-year-old whom the Philadelphia Flyers chose in the second round (# 48 overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft this past summer, redeemed himself by backstopping Canada into the Gold Medal Game after coming off the bench almost halfway through the first period of the semifinal match against Sweden. Although Hart heroically cobbled together 28 saves and kept his sheet clean in the Canadians’ come from behind triumph, the youngster also had two heart-stopping moments late in the second period on what appeared to be routine high shots. The first was a wrister from Joel Eriksson Ek, the highly touted first round pick of the Minnesota Wild who skated in nine NHL games (two goals, five points) earlier this season before going back to BK Farjestad Karlstad on loan, that hit off the heel of Hart’s glove, hopped over the crossbar and bounced down onto the ice behind the net while the second was a wide angle shot from out along the boards went in and out of the Canadian netminder’s mitt before dropping down on its way over the goal line – only a last ditch reaction from Hart saved the day at, quite literally, the very last moment or else the score would have been tied 3-3 and who could say for sure what would have happened then?
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Hart also had a close call on a shot that bounced in and out of his glove and just barely went wide of the post in the final against the never say die United States. Aside from a catching hand which could use some work, lateral movement was another area in which the Philadelphia Flyers’ youngest goaltending prospect could be a little better but, of course, there is plenty of time to hone such skills in the years to come. A late season cameo appearance in the AHL on behalf of the Hamilton Street Heroes seems rather improbable at this point in time, but, then again, one never really knows for sure, do they?


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

1 reply

  1. There are some talented young players there, to be sure. And, an excellent report as Phantoms Phans everywhere need to learn these names for the future.

    And, we don’t know what the future holds. Players getting traded, injuries–all manor of chaos could be coming our way for all I know. We could use help, I know, so don’t take this the wrong way dear fans, but as of right now….

    I don’t want any of these guys this Spring. This Phantoms roster is deep enough and skilled enough to challenge the best in the AHL and their chemistry should be in top form by April. Pounding a skilled-but-square-peg into a round hole just for the sake of PTO or whatever isn’t what I want to see when it comes time to choose between Phantoms and IronPigs. I want to see a well-oiled machine ready to go deep in the playoffs. This Spring isn’t about babysitting it’s about the return to playoff hockey.

    I hope.

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