CALGARY - In scouting circles, if you can ultimately push 1.5 of your seven draft choices in any given year to the NHL level, you're doing all right.
Radel Fazleev, the forward the Flyers took a flier on in the sixth round, could be that second big-league player from last June's class.
It was really only one six-game flash in the WHL playoffs last spring that caught Flyers scout Mark Greig's eye, while he was there watching teammate Travis Sanheim on the Calgary Hitmen.
Fazleev (pronounced Rah-dell Faz-LIE-yev) was hurt most of last season. His offensive numbers - 25 points in 38 games - were not eye-popping. His size was average. His skating was probably below average.
The Flyers really took a chance based only on how he looked in the first round of the playoffs, where he notched seven points in six games in a losing effort. In the sixth round, it was the perfect risk/reward scenario.
"I've gotten lucky," Fazleev said. "I hadn't really played well, but I fought through that, scored some goals in the playoffs and luckily the Flyers drafted me. Good for me. Now, I've gotten much better, much stronger. I've played more physical hockey."
The improvement for Fazleev, now 19, year over year is astounding - even just off the ice. He arrived in Calgary for training camp in 2013 and could speak only a few words of English, whatever he could remember from classes in Russia. He didn't know anything about North America.
"I had a good billet family who worked with me, plus a roommate who would explain things in simple terms for me," Fazleev said. "Now, I can speak English, everything is good for me. I've learned about the city, team, WHL, I know everything and now I feel great here and believe I'm getting better with each game."
It's hard not to notice Fazleev on the ice for the Hitmen. He plays in just about every situation - second-unit power play and penalty kill - he has a strong nose for the net and he digs relentlessly for pucks on the boards. With the Hitmen tied in the final minute of regulation in an important game against Red Deer last week for playoff seeding, Fazleev was on the ice.
He finished the game on the ice, too, assisting on the overtime winner. Fazleev finished with 51 points (18 goals) in 71 regular-season games - more than doubling his total from last season. Hitmen coach Mark French has Fazleev averaging 18 or 19 minutes per game.
Fazleev just reminds you of a player who will do whatever it takes to make it to the NHL, a prototypical third-line player. Out of the 20 to 25 players who grew to the top of his Ak Bars Kazan youth system in Russia, Fazleev is one of only four to make the jump to North America.
Forward Maxim Lazarev is eligible for this June's draft, posting 80 points in 65 games for Cape Breton (QMJHL). Eduard Nasybullin went undrafted last year and plays on the same defense corps as Samuel Morin in Rimouski (QMJHL). The third player, Artem Rasulov, skated for Mississauga (OHL) last year, but already returned home.
Few Russians want to make the jump this early. Fazleev made his move, knowing now that his draft position (168th overall) is just a number. His next step is earning a contract - which won't prove too difficult at this rate.
It would be a nice coup for the Flyers, who haven't often made picks in Rounds 4-7 count. Of the 60 selected from 2000-12, only a handful (Dennis Seidenberg, Roman Cechmanek, Zac Rinaldo, Tye McGinn, Pat Maroon) have become NHL regulars. Maroon, Seidenberg and McGinn were traded. Eric Wellwood (2009) already retired after a gruesome injury, and Oliver Lauridsen (2009) seems destined for Europe after his one-way contract with the Flyers this year.
"I don't know about other [Russians], but for me, I want to play in the NHL," Fazleev said. "This is not the easiest way, but I think this is the shortest way to get there. I've got to work on everything, my speed, my weight, my shot. I don't want to stop working hard. Progressing never stops."
Phantoms defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere will learn his season's fate today at a doctor's visit to examine his recovery from a torn ACL in November . . . Ron Hextall said Robert Hagg needs to continue to develop consistency, but credited him for making the jump to the AHL as a 19-year-old from Sweden . . . Hextall said Samuel Morin has "progressed like we'd hoped," and his looming playoff run with Rimouski will be a big part of the "education process."
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