The highest ranked Russian forward of the 2016 draft, German Rubtsov seems to be a member of a new breed of European skaters – ones that appear to be groomed for the North American style of game at a young age. While he can put up points, Rubtsov is garnering a lot of attention for his two-way acumen and defensive responsibility – traits not frequently seen in Russian teenagers.
Age: 17 (June 27th, 1998)
Birthplace: Chekhov, RUS
Frame: 6′ 1″, 174 lbs
Draft Year Team: Team Russia U18 (MHL)
Accomplishments/Awards: U17 WHC Gold Medal (2014-15); Hlinka Memorial Bronze Medal, World Junior A Challege All-Star Team, World Junior A Challenge Silver Medal (2015-16)
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We don’t know if German Rubtsov is representative of some sort of new breed of Russian-trained forward. What is clearly apparent to us is how “North American” his overall game is, and he’s arguably the 2016 draft’s best two-way forward. Rubtsov has been Russia’s go-to guy when it comes to matching up against top opponents, and why not? He’s been blessed with size and what seems like adult strength despite being only 17 years old. Rubtsov has had plenty of international exposure, winning gold at the 2014 U17’s and contributing mightily to the Russian U18 entry which nearly knocked off Team Canada at the Hlinka semifinals. He was rewarded with a place on the U20 roster for the Four Nations in November, but was kept off Russia’s preliminary list for the 2016 World Junior Championship. He took this disappointment in stride, however, as his two-way play and penchant for stepping up guided the U19 team to the gold medal game at the World Junior “A” Challenge.
He is a very strong skater with excellent acceleration and balance. But mix in his mobility with strength and tenacity, and you get a coach’s dream. Rubtsov is a “big play” center who preys on the weak, and his superior playmaking ability and vision enables him to be used in key situations regardless of which end of the scoreboard his team is on. He’s an extremely competitive leader who will involve himself physically if the game is in need of a momentum shift. Rubtsov has a very good shot which he can wire off his back foot or unload via a slapper, and while he is very accurate in terms of getting it on net, we has a tendency to look for the pass as a primary course of action.
The well-rounded Rubtsov was the top player on the inaugural Russia under-18 team this season, and showed well in international play. Offensively, he has the traits one would expect of a top Russian prospect. He’s an above-average skater, with a good first step and an easy stride. His skills aren’t elite, but he shows good hands and is able to create space for himself. His hockey IQ is very impressive, as he displays great patience with the puck, sees his options well and always finds himself involved with the play. Rubtsov is a fierce competitor in puck battles and, despite having a lean frame, is able to win a fair amount of them. He’s also a quality defensive center, who has been leaned on all season in critical defensive situations, and is often a threat to score shorthanded. Though he and the rest of his teammates were disqualified from the under-18 world championships, it’s hard to see his draft stock slipping too much.
From the Hockey News Draft Preview:
Scouts were looking forward to seeing what Rubtsov would accomplish in the under-18 worlds, but the entire team was scratched from the tournament for testing positive for meldonium and replaced by its under-17 team. It’s not expected to hurt his draft standing, but scouts would have liked to see him there. “I was I had seen him more,” said one scout. “He’s a steady two-way guy.”
What scouts like most about Rubtsov is he has a grasp of the game that is difficult to find in teenagers. Playing for the Russian under-18 team in the KHL’s junior league, Rubstov has a firm handle on the defensive side of the game. “He’s an elite skater, and his defensive game is mature,” said another scout. “It’s rare you see a guy with the attention to detail and defensive responsibility this guy has at that age. That’s usually the thing you have to teach, and it’s usually the thing you’re not sure they’re going to buy into. That foundation is there. He could play anywhere from a top second-line role to the fourth line, and you don’t see guys with that versatility that often.”
As the top ranked Russian forward in the 2016 draft class, Rubtsov has several traits that you’d expect from a Russian trained player: he has pro-level skating ability, a good shot, impressive offensive vision, and fantastic hands – Alessandro Seren-Rosso of Hockey Prospectus remarked that they’re “definitely one of the best set of hands of the draft”.
However, it’s not just his offensive talent that is garnering attention. Rubtsov is lauded for his ability to play in all three zones, and the Draft Analyst’s Steve Kournianos suggested that he may be the best two-way forward available. While he isn’t a big player, he’s deceptively strong. He knows where to go to get into passing lanes and break up developing plays, owing largely to a well developed hockey sense. He backchecks hard, as well as often. As a result, “good 200-foot player” is something that can be read or heard consistently when pertaining to Rubtsov.
The fact that Rubtsov and all of his teammates were disqualified from the under-18 tournament in North Dakota for testing positive for a banned substance doesn’t appear to be affecting his draft stock, other than in the manner that a slew of scouts missed an opportunity to get one last live look at him. Certainly they already have a vision in mind in terms of what he’s capable of, but these heralded international tournaments do have a way of swaying scouting staffs to bump guys up a couple of rungs on their internal draft boards.
Among the areas that Rubtsov has been tasked to improve in are his physicality and faceoff ability. His faceoff percentage clocked in at just under 47 per cent on the year, though a per game breakdown show an early lull and a slow climb back to a more respectable ratio.
Still, he was facing MHL competition and was fully in the red – it’s an area that he’ll have to work on if he hopes to make it as a two-way centre in the NHL, where high pressure faceoffs are part of the gig.
Having spent the season in the MHL, Russia’s top junior league, German Rubtsov is not in the pGPS system, owing to the fact that the league is only half a dozen years old, presenting substantial predictability problems.
Various rankings have Rubtsov going somewhere in the middle to late first round. Whatever team grabs him in likely to be satisfied with the player they receive. His all around game is developed to the point that he is ahead of many of his peers, particularly those coming from overseas.
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