Flyers Prospect Season Overview: European Leagues
by Al Alven
This is the third of three parts of a season review of Philadelphia Flyers prospects currently in the system.
As the Flyers prepare to embark on a pivotal offseason, General Manager Paul Holmgren and his staff will be faced with a number of intriguing challenges.
The most obvious pertain to the courses the team opts for with regard to the upcoming entry draft and free agency. Both of these ventures will be heavily influenced by the positional depth the Flyers have accumulated throughout their system over the past few years.
With this in mind, the following is a look at the performances of the organization’s prospects this season in the European leagues.
For Part 1 of the series, which looks at Flyers prospects in the Canadian major junior hockey leagues, click here.
For Part 2 of the series, which looks at Flyers prospects in the NCAA (United States), click here.
Togliatti Lada (Russia)
It generally takes a young defenseman several years to mature into a regular contributor in the Russian Super League, due in part to the circuit’s disciplined nature and defensively-oriented style of play. Bodrov, however, has managed to establish himself as a valuable asset on the blueline for Togliatti Lada after just two seasons.
Selected by the Flyers with the 55th overall selection of last summer’s entry draft, the
Bodrov possesses strong skills across the board, along with the added dimension of an effective physical game. He appeared in 49 games for Lada this season, recording six points (one goal, five assists), a plus-one rating and 70 penalty minutes.
“Denis has made a very smooth transition to the top league in Russia, which is no easy feat,” said Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren. “It‘s a defense-first league where there is so much emphasis on taking care of the puck and not making mistakes, but he’s made some adjustments and is playing regularly. We were very pleased that we were able to get him with the third of our second round picks last summer, after [Andreas] Nodl and [Michael] Ratchuk.”
Joonas Lehtivuori, D
Ilves Tampere (Finland)
The season that was proved to be a one long learning experience for Lehtivuori, a product of the Ilves Tampere system in Finland and a fourth round draft selection (101st overall) of the Flyers in 2006.
A smooth-skating defenseman with strong puck skills and a good head for the game, Lehtivuori appeared in 40 games with Tampere as a rookie in SM-liiga. He did not record a point, but managed a plus-three rating and 18 penalty minutes while being worked into the team‘s defensive rotations. He will be counted upon to take on an expanded role with more responsibility next season.
Lehtivuori also suited up for Team Finland at the World Junior Championships. The squad turned in a rather disappointing performance on the whole, though Lehtivuori showed signs of promise, particularly with his ability to move the puck up the ice efficiently. As with his situation at Tampere, he is likely to return to the WJCs next year with increased expectations.
“Lehtivuori is a good young defenseman,” observed former Flyer and current European scout Ilkka Sinisalo, prior to the WJC tournament in December. “He’s not real big, but with the way the game is played now, that doesn’t matter as much. We like the way he moves the puck. For a young defenseman, he handles pressure with poise.”
Jakub Kovar, G
Ceske Budejovice (Czech Rep.)
Selected by the Flyers in the fourth round (109th overall) of last summer’s entry draft, Kovar cemented himself as a dominant force at the junior level in the Czech Republic this season. He registered a 2.07 GAA and .929 save percentage in 38 games for Budejovice, improving on his impressive numbers from the previous campaign (2.23 goals-against average, .926 save percentage in 19 games).
The 18-year-old netminder’s standing as a highly-regarded prospect in his homeland was confirmed when he was chosen to play for the national team at this year’s World Junior Championships. There, he appeared in two games while serving as the backup to Atlanta Thrashers draftee Ondrei Pavelec.
It is still unknown where Kovar will play next season. Most scouts and observers agree that he is ready to graduate to the Extraliga, but he is blocked in the Budejovice system behind former NHL’er Roman Turek and 23-year-old year old Jan Chabera. Kovar is reportedly considering making the jump to North America, to continue his development at the major junior level in Canada.
“Jakub Kovar is a goaltender that we drafted last year and had an outstanding year,” explained Holmgren. “He played some games for the Czech team in the World Junior tournament as an 18-year old. He’s a player that we’re extremely high on. I know right now he’s a European goaltender that’s looking at options in North America next year in the CHL somewhere. So, in terms of his development, that would probably be a good step for him.”
- Swiss prospect Kevin Romy continues to be recognized as one of the top young players in his homeland. The 22-year-old forward tallied 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) and 56 penalty minutes in 40 games this season with Nationalliga A powerhouse HC Lugano.
- Right wing Andrei Popov, the Flyers’ final draft selection last year (7th round, 205th overall) got off to a slow start as a rookie in the Russian Super League, but eventually settled in. He recorded 12 points (two goals, 10 assists), a plus-one rating and 36 penalty minutes in 44 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk.
- Finnish netminder Ville Hostikka finally made his SM-liiga debut with SaiPa Lappeenranta this season, after dressing in eight total contests over the course of the previous four seasons. He appeared in only six games, but posted a sparkling 1.08 GAA and .952 save percentage, making the most of every chance he had to play. According to Holmgren, the 22-year-old has been invited to the Flyers’ conditioning/development camp in July.