Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL) Report:
The Phantoms are off to a tough start (just 4 wins in 11 games) in the early going of the 2000-2001 season. The team, riddled with injuries and further depleted by callups to the Flyers, has had a tough time scoring goals. The powerplay has been absolutely anemic. Veteran minor league stars such as Michel Picard , Mark Freer, and Mark Greig receive the most ice time from new Phantoms coach John Stevens but have struggled to provide the needed offense. A veteran trying to earn his way back to the NHL, Derek Plante, has been a major disappointment. Rookie Vaclav Pletka has yet to make the offensive impact he was expected to deliver.
The Phantoms, thus far, have been an undisciplined team. They take a lot of untimely penalties and too many players have been prone to mental mistakes. Stevens typically dresses at least 3 (and often 4) players who are primarily enforcers. While this has provided some entertainment for the fisticuff enthusiasts in the crowd, it has not helped the team overcome its offensive woes.
Things have been a bit better on the blueline. Stevens and assistant coaches Kjell Samuelsson and Don Nachbaur are trying to incorporate three rookie defensemen into the lineup; always a dicey proposition. For the most part, the rookies played as well as can be expected.
The Phantoms goaltending situation is now settled, with Roman Cechmanek joining the Flyers. The Flyers top prospect, Maxime Ouellet, played briefly with the Phantoms on a “conditioning assignment” before he was returned to his junior team, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL. As seems to be an annual occurance, the Phantoms starting goaltending chores will now fall on a full-time basis to AHL veteran Neil Little.
Ruslan Fedotenko has opened some eyes with the Flyers. The exuberant young Ukranian forward has brought a lot of enthusiasm– and hints of offensive potential– to the Flyers lineup in the four games since his emergency callup. He has been especially good defensively and in the forechecking department. It looks like “Rusty” may be staying with the big club for awhile, even though he got off to a slow offensive start with the Phantoms (1 G, 0 A, but a +2 rating).
Todd Fedoruk worked very hard over the offseason and it paid off with a strong training camp with the Flyers. Fedoruk, an enforcer with above-average speed, looked good in his NHL debut against the Devils. He will likely be sent back down when the Flyers get some healthy bodies back in the lineup. However, Fedoruk could have a fourth line future with the big team. Prior to his emergency call-up, Fedoruk had re-joined the Phantoms after serving a suspension for leaving the bench to join a wild altercation against the Albany River Rats. For the AHL season, Fedoruk has one assist and 40 penalty minutes in 9 games.
Mark Greig, who has spent most of the last couple seasons shuttling back and forth between the Phantoms and the Flyers, is currently on another Flyers recall. When he returns to the Phantoms, he will resume his typical role on the top line and the penalty killing unit. For the season, he leads the Phantoms with 4 goals (2 SHG); a pace that needs to be accelerated a bit for the Phantoms to be succesful.
The Phantoms are almost as injury-riddled as the parent club. Veteran defenseman Brad Tiley suffered a knee injury on Sunday against Providence, while veteran defender Dean Melanson has also been out of action. Among the young NHL prospects on the Phantoms:
Francis Lessard is back in action, wearing a jaw guard on his helmet, after missing the start of the season with a broken jaw suffered in the Flyers first exhibition game.
Petr Hubacek has missed the last three games with an undisclosed injury. He is apparently on a day-to-day basis. Since being sent down by the Flyers, he has a goal in four games.
Bruno St. Jacques suffered a shoulder injury after coming back from a groin problem. He has had shoulder surgery and is out indefinitely.
Tomas Divisek is recuperating from shoulder surgery. He is officially out until January but there is a chance of quicker return if all goes well.
Vaclav Pletka has been back for a couple weeks since missing 3 games with a minor knee sprain. The Czech forward seemed to be on the virge of breaking loose when he was on a line with Hubacek and Fedotenko but has been virtually invisible since Hubacek’s injury and Fedotenko’s callup have forced Stevens to juggle his lines. Pletka has recently been a line with Derek Plante and enforcer Steve McLaren. His powerplay time has been limited. For the season, Pletka has just 1 goal and no assists in 9 games. He shows good moves and surprising grit but his lack of size and strength have definitely come into play. Thus far in the AHL, Pletka has gotten taken off the puck and boxed out of the slots too easily.
Mikhail Chernov is just not making that next step to being an NHL-ready player. He is still too indecisive in reading the rush and makes too many unforced turnovers. On the bright side, he continues to fire the puck at will, which has resulted in two goals for Chernov and a pair of assists on rebound goals.
Jason Beckett has been the best of the young Phantoms defenseman. At his current rate, it is only a matter of time until he is in the NHL. Beckett is very aggressive and very strong. He makes some rookie mistakes but he seems to bounce back quickly. However, Beckett did a very stupid thing in a game last weekend against Wilkes Barre/Scranton. He intentionally headbutted a Penguins player. Beckett was lucky to get a double minor instead of a match penalty.
Joe DiPenta has played like the rookie he is. Sometimes, he’ll stop opposing forwards cold and/or rattle the boards with big hits. Other times, he’ll either overplay his man or back in too much. He’s screened Little on a couple of goals against. DiPenta can handle himself in the physical aspects of the game and for such a big guy, seems to have above-average skills with the puck, despite the fact that he has not registered a point to date. I suspect that he will get better in every department over the course of the season. He has definitely shown some things he can build upon.
Dan Peters was originally supposed to converted to wing but the small, quick player has remained on the blueline. He’s shown a chippy streak and he rushes the puck well but he has work to do in his own end of the ice. He has gotten significant time on the Phantoms scuffling powerplay but only has one point (an assist) on the season.
Francis Belanger and Jesse Boulerice are both struggling for their AHL keep. Boulerice was hit with a 6 game suspension for leaving the bench to get involved in a brawl against Albany. He had no points and 55 PIM in 6 games. Belanger, once projected as a burgeoning playing enforcer, seems to have stagnated. He has a goal and 30 penalty minutes in 9 games (Belanger served a one game suspension earlier in October).
Chris Heron, a rookie free agent signing from Boston University, has dressed in all but one Phantoms game so far. He has played some center and also played wing on a line with veteran checking center Rob Murray (the Phantoms captain).
Trenton Titans (ECHL) Report
The Titans are off to a fast start (6-2-0). Trenton has been strong through the middle. Center Mike Hall has been dominating offensively (5 goals, 13 points in 8 games) and centers Stewart Bodtker and Jed Whitchurch have provided strong depth. None of the aforementioned players are affiliated with the Flyers. The Flyers organization has sent rookie defenseman Ian Forbes and second year back Sergei Skrobot to Trenton.
Ian Forbes is a work in progress. His body has filled out and now packs a reported 210 pounds on his 6-6 frame. Eventually, the organization would like to see him play at about 225. He has worked hard to improve his gawky-looking skating and the results have been better. Skillwise, though, he is still very raw and figures to be in the ECHL for most or all of this season. Forbes still has to work on his positioning and his puckhandling. To date, he has 1 assist, a -3 rating, and 13 PIM in 7 games for the Titans.
Sergei Skrobot is still on the borderline between an AHL and ECHL player. He can’t quite seem to get over the hump with the Phantoms and has not taken the next step with the Titans where it becomes obvious that he is too good for the league’s level of play. So far, he has reportedly played decently for the Titans, although he has just 1 assist and -1 rating to show for it.
Major Junior Report:
Maxime Ouellet has been returned to his junior team in Rouyn. He played reasonably well in limited action the Flyers and Phantoms but the organization decided that he would be better off playing for Huskies than sitting and watching Boucher in Philadelphia. The fact that the Flyers have struggled so far probably hastened the decision to bring up Cechmanek and sent Ouellett to Rouyn-Noranda. Ouellet, formerly with Quebec, will now take over the Huskies starting goaltending chores from Sébastien Centomo.
Guillaume Lefebvre is a teammate of Ouellet’s on Rouyn-Noranda. The center has been limited to 11 games played due to a league suspension and an injury. To date, he’s dressed for 11 games (2 G, 8 A, +6, 30 PIM).
Jeff Feniak, a defenseman for Tri-City, plays a lot against the opponents’ top lines. He developed into a reliable defensive defenseman. He had a couple of bad games recently, but seems to be back on track. In 16 games to date, he has one goal, no assists, a +3 rating, and 52 PIM.
U.S. College Report
Only people tracking Flyers prospects would look first at the progress of John Eichelberger when looking at the fine hockey team iced by the Wisconsin Badgers. Most eyes are, of course, on Dany Heatley. At any rate, freshman Eichelberger has dressed in 4 of the Badgers 8 games to date. He has one assist.
Colin Shields has not yet played in any of Maine’s games.
Antero Niittymäki has been on the bench for 3 of the last 4 TPS Turku games. He had a pair of rough starts but rebounded with 18 saves on 19 shots his last time out. For the season, Niittymäki has started a bit few than half of TPS’ games; a disappointment to the Flyers organization, who expected that he would be Turku’s game-in/ game-out starter after his excellent rookie season. To date, he has a 2.19 GAA and is stopping pucks at a .913 clip (he was at 1.88 GAA and .929 SV% before the two bad starts).
Marko Kauppinen has been a disappointment for Jokerit since they lured the young back from JyP. When Jokerit has a healthy lineup, Kauppinen starts but plays sparingly. When he’s been given a chance at more ice time, he has not taken advantage of it. For the season, he has 1 goal and no assists in 15 games and a -4 rating. He was on for two goals against in Jokerit’s last game; a loss.
Pär Styf plays on the third pairing for Timrå, which has been surprisingly competitive in the early going of Elitserien. Styf plays on their third defensive pairing. He has no points, 2 PIM and a -2 rating in 14 starts.
David Nyström got off to a great start in Allsvenskan South for Troja/Ljunby. However, he has struggled ever since getting a slash across the hand. In his last eight games, he has but one goal and two assists to go along with a -6 rating. For the season, he’s played 13 games (4 G, 5 A, even +/-, 6 PIM).
Alexander Drozdetsky is stuck in a hockey nightmare. His army-owned SKA St. Petersburg team is having severe financial problems and the team on the ice is the laughingstock of the Russian Super League. The club has but one win and one tie to show for their 17 games played to date. SKA routinely gets pounded; they’ve scored only 27 goals and allowed a whopping 67. Reportedly, a corporation called LenEnego is trying to purchase SKA. If the sale goes through, the team could stabilize. If not, the once-proud program is in trouble. Despite the uneviable circumstances under which he is playing, Drozdetsky’s play has drawn praise. His 3 goals and 2 assists may not look like much but it ranks him third on his team. More importantly, his all-around development seems to have progressed since last year. Drozdetsky has said that he would not jump ship from SKA (as other players, including former Flyer draftee Ruslan Shafikov, have done). He has also reportedly said that he will remain in Russia until he is NHL-ready, rather than spending a stint in the minor leagues here. Drozdetsky recently had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 SKA loss to Amur Khabarovsk.
Konstantin Rudenko did not make much of an impression for Locomotiv Yaroslavl. After 8 games with the team (1 assist), he was assigned to their top farm club, for whom he has played well (4 goals in 5 games in one recent stretch).
Pavel Kasparik’s season has not shown any signs of emerging from its early doldrums. He’s still on the third line of a poor Karlovy Vary team and still without a goal (2 assists) on the season.
Milan Kopecky has shuttled back and forth between Slavia Prague’s junior and senior team. He’s dressed in 3 games (no points) for the senior team and 14 (9 goals, 4 assists) for Slavia Jnrs.