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Craig Button gives Flyers' draft high marks, especially Rubtsov

When free agency opens Friday, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall won't have a lot of cap space to make a big splash.

Hextall is committed to building through the draft and, according to Craig Button, he did a spectacular job last weekend in Buffalo.

Button, the highly respected draft expert for TSN in Canada, gives the Flyers high marks for a draft in which they selected 10 players: seven forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie.

He was  particularly enamored with the Flyers' first three picks: German Rubtsov, the two-way center from Russia who Button says reminds him of former NHL star Butch Goring; Pascal Laberge, a tenacious right winger who combines speed with grit; and Carter Hart, a goalie Button calls their "steal of the draft."

Rubtsov had 12 goals and 26 points in 28 games for Russia's under-18 team last season. He probably would have gone in the top-15 selections if not for a doping scandal - blamed on the head coach and not the unknowing players - that left the team banned from the heavily scouted World Juniors.

As it turned out, Rubtsov slipped to the Flyers at No. 22.

"Time will tell, but I think German Rubtsov will prove to be a player who should have been drafted much earlier," said Button, who rated him as the 14th-best prospect in the draft.

Button called Rubtsov a "IB or 2A" center, meaning he's a low-end first liner or high-end second liner.

"He's a real diligent, purposeful player," Button said. "When you factor in that they have Claude Giroux and they have Sean Couturier, I just think he's an unbelievable fit to the Flyers' lineup."

Button said Rubtsov is the type of player who "you never feel uncomfortable having him on the ice - and for a coach, that's incredibly important. When he's out there, things are under control. I watch to see if a player gets deterred, if he gets pushed out. And I've never seen German Rubtsov get pushed off the puck."

Fans will have to wait before getting a close look at Rubtsov. He  won't be at the Flyers' development camp, which starts Thursday in Voorhees, because he has a two-year contract with Russia's KHL, though he is trying to get out of it.

"If I had to compare him to a player, I would say Butch Goring," said Button, referring to a center who scored 375 goals in the NHL. "That's the kind of player Rubtsov is. It's that type of quality (in) faceoffs, penalty killing, power play; he creates goals, makes people around him better. So when you start thinking of all those elements that are incredibly important to winning, he really brings them."

If Rubtsov can't get out of his KHL contract and play on the junior level in Canada, Button said, it shouldn't stall his development.

"I think it's about what opportunities are going to be given to a young player like Rubtsov," he said. "The important thing is getting a chance to play regularly and play in situations where he can continue to develop."

Button called Laberge, drafted No. 36 overall with the second-round pick the Flyers acquired from Winnipeg, a smart player who "adds elements of playmaking and goal scoring. Will he be a 50-goal scorer? No. But he'll be a good offensive player....who can take pressure off their top offensive guys and play on the power play."

Hart was the first goalie taken in the draft, selected in the second round with the 48th overall pick.

"Everything you want in a goalie, he possesses," Button said. "He's exceptionally smart, he's exceptionally poised. He reads the play so well. Great lateral ability. I think he's outstanding and he's an outstanding young man, too."

Button, formerly the Calgary general manager, was dumbfounded that some teams thought Hart, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 177-pounds, was too small and thus bypassed on him.

"I can't tell you how many teams talked about how good his game is, but said he's only 6-1. Oh, OK. I say, 'who cares? ' "