Flyers' Vorobyov Signed to Entry Level Contract

Friday, April 28, 2017
Photo graphic from Flyers official website.
Vorobyov's likely addition to Phantoms in 2017-18 boosts depth down the middle

Written by: Alexander Appleyard - Twitter

Lehigh Valley Phantoms fans might be wondering what will happen at the center position for next season.

The Flyers and Phantoms front office have already all but penciled in the defense and wingers for next season, with Myers and Friedman added and Carey re-signed. However, the middle of the ice looks noticeably sparse for 2017-18.

Jordan Weal has probably played his last ever AHL game, and Scott Laughton will no longer be waiver exempt next season - making it unlikely he'll be reassigned to the AHL next fall. Furthermore, neither Andy Miele or Corban Knight have been re-signed yet.

That leaves Cole Bardreau and Radel Fazleev as players with solid experience playing in the middle at the pro level. Both have their place in a line-up, but neither are legitimate top-six level players. As everyone knows, centers drive play. You can have a fantastic defense and skilled wingers, but without legitimate talent down the middle a team is unlikely to excel.

Part of that puzzle for the Phantoms was answered this week. The Flyers signed World Junior Championships stand-out forward Mikhail Vorobyov to an entry-level contract. We will almost certainly not see the big Russian in Allentown this year, as he is currently with Russia’s ‘B’ international team for the Alrosa Cup, where he will face-off against Slovenia and Norway this weekend. However, next year he will almost certainly be gracing the PPL Center.

So where does the man from Ufa fit in? What is his skill-set? What can he bring to a Phantoms team that should be expected to be a power-house?

His junior coach compared him to the great Igor Larionov. That comparison is not particularly fair to Vorobyov – he himself seems uncomfortable when he heard it – but he does play a gritty two-way game with great vision and soft hands.

Flyers scout Todd Hearty compared him to first round pick Joel Eriksson Ek after the 2015 NHL draft, another big, play-making, two-way center. You are probably already starting to get an image of him now. Handzu┼í, Couturier, Zubrus – other names that are not overly dissimilar to the hulking pivot – all big, responsible in own zone, good on the cycle, pass-first forwards.

But Mikhail Vorobyov is not Handzus, or Eriksson Ek, or Larionov. Comparisons are nice, but what is a better way to describe a player's game than simply speak about – well – that player?!

Vorobyov is a player who has a multi-faceted skill-set.

From an offensive stand-point, he can run a power-play from the right half-boards with aplomb - picking out team-mates with thread of the needle kind of passing.

The Russian also plays an impressive game down-low, though it should be stated that this is generally on the boards instead of around the net-front. His cycle game is impressive as a result of these two combined characteristics, as he can often win pucks or hold off opposition players along the boards before finding a team-mate with a well weighted pass.

Vorobyov possesses a solid release on his wrist-shot as well, but in the past has not used it as often as he should. He is most certainly a pass first player.

As would be expected for a full-time center, he is strong in the face-off dot for his age. He struggled at times in the KHL against more experienced veteran players in the circle, but against players his own age he has been elite on the draw. As he gets older this should transfer to pro-level hockey too – hopefully as soon as next season.

From a defensive standpoint, Vorobyov is extremely committed to playing a 200-ft game. He prides himself on it. When he is on ice it is rare to see odd-man rushes, simply as his anticipation combined with defensive awareness and determination means he will often expunge them in the neutral zone, or at least pick up the trailer in his own zone.

While he is physical on the boards, he is not overly aggressive. He can deliver bone-crunching hits with his 6’2, 210lb listed frame (which in reality may be an underestimate now), but will only do so when it is the best option to negate an opposition rush or cycle.

He has an active stick and is conscious of how to clog lanes, which is arguably one of the few skills that is more difficult to accomplish on European size ice. Vorobyov has also shown he can play a solid role on the penalty-kill, spending time as an extra man on Salavat Yulaev Ufa’s KHL PK this season and also penalty-killing for the Russian ‘B’ international team this past month.

So, where will he fit in on the Phantoms?

My guess is that to begin next season he will begin in a middle-six role, centering either the second or third line. It is also possible that he will be a cog on the second power-play unit from the get-go, likely manning the right half-boards. He may also find his way into the penalty-kill rotation.

As for line-mates? Personally, I feel that Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Danick Martel could be the perfect players to pair with him. Both are solid defensively and the line would be able to match-up well against oppositions top sixes. Furthermore, both the French-Canadian wingers have great releases and a shoot-first mentality, which on paper would contrast perfectly with Vorobyov’s pass-first preference.

Vorobyov's size would help the two smaller forwards on the cycle – while both are strong for their size, the hulking Russian could create more space for them – and his defensive ability would allow the two relentless fore-checkers to cause havoc in the offensive zone without overly worrying about play coming back the other way.

He might only be 20 years old, but Vorobyov plays like a veteran and by all accounts has an engaging personality and team-orientated disposition. Fellow Russian Radel Fazleev being on the team should help with his integration into the locker-room, and it would be no big surprise for him to establish himself as an important player in Allentown early on.

Vorobyov has already shown in the KHL and internationally that he could keep up in a third line role. With him being another year older and further developed come autumn, I would imagine he should do a good job in an AHL middle-six role straight away.

The Phantoms may not be completely set quite yet at center for next year, but the news of Vorobyov’s impending arrival from across the Atlantic should be welcome news for fans who want to see Lehigh Valley continue to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the AHL.


ironpigpen said...

The primary responsibilities of all Soviet, um, er, ah, Russian centers, have always been to play diligent defense and look to provide creative passes for goal-scoring wingers. Been that way since 1946 and it's because the Soviets / Russians have always viewed the ice as being divided into two main zones, as compared to the three zones that North Americans have always viewed the ice as being divided into. Compare Igor Larionov's goals and points totals for USSR national team and compare that the goal and points totals for the USSR national team of his two wingers, Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov.

Compare ANY Soviet / Russian center's goals and points totals with the totals of his two wingers. Evgeny Malkin has always been an aberration, an exception but certainly not the norm. Vorobyov plays the prototypical game of the classic Soviet / Russian center.

Vorobyov's first-ever goal at senior international level, the first goal scored in Russia B's 8-2 win over Norway in St. Petersburg on Thursday, can be seen here :

Todd Gersh said...

Is Rubstov and Labarge expected to join the Phantoms next fall or are they expected to stay in Jr's ?

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