Flyers’ Prospect Rubtsov Struggling to Make NHL Roster

Upon arrival, Philadelphia Flyers prospect German Rubtsov has slowly struggled to crack the roster as part of the team’s youth movement. From a well sought out player entering the league to now a borderline disappointment to the club and its fans, Rubtsov has yet to prove he has what it takes to solidify his spot at the professional level in the NHL. With the team’s most recent success without him, the centerman’s window is closing faster than expected.

German Rubtsov Team Russia
German Rubtsov #17 of Team Russia, World Under-17 Hockey Challenge on November 2, 2014. (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

The Flyers have been on an absolute tear in the second half of the 2019-20 season, streaking to the top as one of the league’s best contending for the Stanley Cup. They have now taken on the identity of preaching depth along with a hard style of play in order to go the distance come playoff time. Young guys like winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel and center Joel Farabee have been the most recent prospects to shine in the spotlight as the Flyers mow down every team in their sights. First and second-year players like Aube-Kubel and Farabee have flourished as the season has gone on, gaining the experience they’ve needed in order to grow. Unfortunately, the Flyers and their fans can’t say the same thing for Rubtsov.

Flashes of Promise

In the 2016 NHL Draft, the Flyers selected the then-18-year-old Rubtsov at 22nd overall out of the Kontinental Hockey League. Now 21, Rubtsov has slipped into hockey purgatory after failing to leave his mark with the Flyers so far. After spending time playing for HC Vityaz in his native Chekhov, Russia, international scouts and front-office execs around the league were predicting Rubtsov to be the NHL’s next breakout star. Since competing in his homeland at the ripe age of 18, Rubtsov had also gotten his first taste of North American hockey playing for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens and Acadie-Bathurst Titans in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. 

German Rubtsov Lehigh Valley Phantoms Joey Anderson Binghamton Devils
German Rubtsov, Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Joey Anderson, Binghamton Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

According to scouts, Rubtsov’s two-way playmaking abilities accompanied by his competitive nature is what seemed most impressive. He drew similarities to fellow Flyer Sean Couturier in the way that he was very responsible at both ends of the ice while shutting down teams’ top players defensively.

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It wasn’t until he had gotten to the QMJHL that people started to see his game taking off, posting 33 points in 27 games played over a span of two years with Chicoutimi and 32 points in 38 games played in just one year with Acadie-Bathurst. The potential was there for Rubtsov, showing promise and productivity. Yet these flashes in a pan have become frustratingly inconsistent ever since arriving in the Flyers’ system.

Rocky Reputation

Injuries have also plagued Rubtsov early in his career, forcing his slow progression as a player despite plenty of upside. After joining the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in his AHL debut back in 2018, Rubtsov took a brutal hit behind the net in a game in November against the Providence Bruins 14 games into the season. While posting some legitimate numbers (six goals, four assists) in the onset, Rubtsov had season-ending shoulder surgery and was done for the year. 

German Rubtsov Philadelphia Flyers
German Rubtsov, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Prior to the injury, Rubtsov was caught up in a doping scandal along with the entire Under-18 Russian National Team that prevented them from competing in the 2016 World Championships for taking a cardiac drug called melondium.

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The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) went on to sanction a four-year ban on all Russian Athletics associated with taking the drug which lasted through the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. In the face of all of this, former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall — who drafted Rubtsov at the time — didn’t let the scandal get in the way of seeing the player for his skillset instead of his association. 

Time Will Tell for Rubtsov

Fast forward to today, as Rubtsov has been in and out of the Flyers lineup this year. He has played in just four games all year with little impact as a fourth line plug-in and no points to show for it. Granted, these short call-up stints are hard for any player to get their feet wet at the most elite level of the sport. Even at the minor level, Rubtsov has yet to propel himself to the standards most thought he’d reach by the age he’s at now. With his entire career still in front of him, Rubtsov can either right the ship or continue to get lost in the shuffle.