Philadelphia's Prospects – Some Surprises After Camp

Taking a cue from the mikster, here is a look at how the top prospects for the Philadelphia Flyers looked in training camp. There were some surprises, as those who were expected to make some noise and play for the big club fell short of expectations and will be toiling across the street in the Spectrum for the AHL’s Phantoms.

Forwards: Guillaume Lefebvre, Radovan Somik, Patrick Sharp, Pavel Brendl, Alexander Drozdetsky.

Lefebvre (seventh round selection, 2001 draft) was the early favorite to make the team, and impressed the coaching stff with his steady play. Somik (fourth rounder, 1995) is considered a late bloomer. He’s already 25, but came into came and immediately formed a bond and great chemistry with Michal Handzus. Sharp (third rounder, 2001) played the past two seasons at the University of Vermont and impressed scouts enough to garner a pro contract. Brendl (first rounder of the Rangers in ’99, acquired as part of the Lindros trade) we all know about. Tons of potential, but questionable commitment. Drozdetsky (third rounder, 2000), unfortunately, was unable to attend camp or sign a contract this season, as he still has commitments to his Russian league team, but Flyers scouts are very high on him.

In training camp, it was expected that Lefebvre would step up and claim the roster spot that had opened up when Ruslan Fedotenko was traded to Tampa Bay. Instead, it was Somik who really put on a show with his crisp passing. Brendl actually showed up to minicamp in excellent shape, trimming his body fat and adding strength and muscle. Sharp is a very intelligent player, though his lack of size is evident.

Lefebvre was beaten out, and sent down to the Phantoms last week. Somik, Brendl, and Sharp are on the Flyers’ roster, although it is anticipated that Sharp will be sent down once Mark Recchi fully recovers from his knee sprain. In the meantime, Brendl and Sharp will be battling for ice time. The coaches have said repeatedly that the individual who earns it will get to play. Brendl has had an up-and-down camp, but has really turned it on in the past week or so.

Defensemen: Joni Pitkanen, Jeff Woywitka, Bruno St. Jacques, Dennis Seidenberg.

Pitkanen (first rounder, 2002 – fourth overall) is the jewel that Bob Clarke swiped from the Lightning. Most scouts think that he will be better than the more highly-touted Jay Boumeester, and favorably compare him to Nicklas Lidstrom. Woywitka (first rounder, 2001) is big and steady, sort of like another Dan McGillis. St. Jacques (ninth rounder, ’98) is a punisher, a big kid who loves to hit and specializes in a Rob Blake-style hip check. Seidenberg (sixth rounder, 2001) is on the smaller side, but has a huge offensive upside. His superior vision and smooth skating were evident.

The big story in all of training camp was the battle between St. Jacques and Seidenberg. Pitkanen was nursing an injured knee and returned to Finland for one more year, and Woywitka was returned to his junior club in Red Deer for more seasoning and sure ice time (Woywitka was also ineligible to play for the AHL’s Phantoms due to his young age).

St. Jacques had the advantage from the beginning. His familiarity with his team and his organization were evident, and he loves to throw his body around. His development was the main reason that the Flyers decided not to re-sign Luke Richardson, and it was all but a sure thing that the kid would step up and take Big Luke’s place – the club even issued him Luke’s number 22. What the coaching staff didn’t expect was a strong showing from Seidenberg. The young German showed excellent poise and his positional play was superior to St. Jacques. Ken Hitchkock emphasizes positioning, so the edge went to Seidenberg. His offensive play was also superior. The only knock on him is his size, at six feet and 180 lbs, he could get muscled off too easily by larger forwards.

Seidenberg has made the big time, St. Jacques is back with the Phantoms. I have to say I’m disappointed in Bruno, I really was looking forward to him playing full-time for the Flyers.

Goaltender: Antero Niitymaki.

Niitymaki (sixth rounder, ’98) has shown lots of promise playing in the Finnish elite league, where he posted a 1.73 GAA last season. His strong play and development led to the trade of former top prospect Maxime Ouellet. He was impressive in the early stages of camp, showing very quick reflexes and strong play in traffic. He did let in a couple of long shots, but playing for the Phantoms full-time will allow him develop more quickly and eventually push for the starting job.

The Flyers’ future looks bright, as the organization has always drafted very well. If there is one caveat I have, it is that there really isn’t a bona fide star centerman anywhere to develop. Fans really shouldn’t worry about the future, though. It’s the present that concerns us all now.