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Written by Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
The big news of the day in the Philadelphia Flyers organization on Monday was that their 2016 1st-round draft choice German Rubtsov had his contract with Vityaz Podolsk of the KHL terminated. Rubtsov will be joining Chicoutimi in the Quebec Major-Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) as soon as he's medically cleared following a recent facial surgery to repair an injury at the World Junior Championships.
Even though the plan appears - at least for now - that Rubtsov will report to the QMJHL and jump start his development with regular ice time the rest of this season, it's worth noting that since he's transferring to the CHL from a European pro league he's actually eligible to join the Flyers' American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Lehigh Valley as soon as tomorrow. (Note: This would require the Flyers to sign Rubtsov to an entry-level contract.)
After the jump, an explanation of why Rubtsov is technically eligible to join the Phantoms this season even though it's unlikely to happen at this point.
Typically in the AHL, players must be 20 years of age to be eligible to play due to the transfer agreements in place between the junior hockey hockey leagues in Canada - the OHL, WHL & QMJHL - and the AHL. But since Rubtsov was drafted by the Flyers while he was a member of a non-North American hockey league, he is eligible to play in the AHL at 18 years old because he was born before September 15th in the year he turned 18.
While it's a rare exception, there are a few players currently playing in the AHL under this exception.
In fact, current Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg played the entire 2014-15 season in the AHL as a 19-year old and could have played at 18 if not for contractual obligations in Sweden with the pro team he played for (MODO) prior to transitioning to hockey in North America.
Another example of the exception to the rule that is more similar to Rubtsov's situation is that of Buffalo Sabres prospect Alexander Nylander - the 8th overall draft pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Nylander is currently a member of the Sabres' AHL affiliate in Rochester as an 18-year old despite spending an entire season in the OHL last season with Mississauga. The reason why he's AHL-eligible this season? Nylander originally began playing pro hockey in Sweden's top pro league, the SHL, before transferring to the OHL - thus the exception to the rule.
Even though Rubtsov, by rule, could play in the AHL as soon as this season, the real reason for the termination of his KHL contract was to get him into a situation where he will be able to play and get a lot of ice time to help his development. The fact that Rubtsov is transferring to the QMJHL and playing hockey in North America also bodes well for his transition to the smaller ice surface used in North American hockey.
For now, it appears the plan for Rubtsov is to play in the QMJHL and adjust to North American hockey. Chicoutimi has reported that Rubtsov could make his debut as soon as January 19th.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for Rubtsov. With a strong showing in the 'Q' this year, it's not out of the realm of possibilities that Rubtsov could join the Phantoms this spring after Chicoutimi's season ends on an amateur tryout contract (ATO) as to not use up a year of a potential entry-level contract that to date Rubtsov hasn't signed yet.
Obviously, Flyers' GM Ron Hextall preaches patience with prospects and is focused on developing the organization's prospects the right way - not rushing them through the ranks until they've proven ready, perhaps even beyond ready. It's still up in the air what the plan for Rubtsov is moving forward, but it's still worth noting the possibilities.
It's not out of the realm of possibilities that Rubtsov can come in and play in the AHL with the Phantoms full-time as soon as next season if he proves he's adjusted to the North American style of play and comes into training camp next fall more physically mature.