When the Flyers selected forward Radel Fazleev with the 168th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, it was clear that the coaching staff of his WHL team, the Calgary Hitmen, had to prepare the Russian native for the rigors of playing professional hockey in Philadelphia. Although all eyes would be on first-round pick and teammate Travis Sanheim, Fazleev needed to make sure that his two-way game improved and that he could be counted on to play solid, fundamentally sound hockey that encompassed all 200 feet of the playing surface.
Luckily for him, one of Calgary’s coaches has some familiarity with the Flyers system and is being relied upon to help the prospect take the next step.
Joel Otto spent 14 seasons in the National Hockey League, three of which were with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was known as a fierce defensive centerman who’s nightly assignment would be to shut down the opposition’s best players. He was a leader both on and off the ice and was respected throughout the league during a career in which he scored 508 points in close to 1,000 games and won the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989.
Ten years later he won the World Cup with Team USA and also represented his county in the 1998 Winter Olympics. As a player who was perennially discussed for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward, he was highly sought after as a free agent following the 1995 season. After debating whether to join the New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers, Otto ended up picking the latter so that he didn’t have to worry about defending the league’s arguably best up and coming superstar in Eric Lindros.
Otto proved to be a key ingredient for the Flyers success as he helped the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996-97 as part of the Minnesota Line, which consisted of fellow natives Trent Klatt and Shjon Podein. He would score 80 points over three seasons with the orange and black and left his stamp on the game after announcing his retirement following the 1997-98 season.
Fast-forward 17 years and Otto is back in Calgary, where it all began, as an assistant coach for one of the WHL’s best clubs. After so many years of studying and preparation, Otto has become a teacher of the game and takes satisfaction in the notion that his players could someday follow in his footsteps.
Enter Radel Fazleev.
Fazleev is an offensive playmaker who began his hockey career as a teenager in Russia’s junior hockey program. After being selected in the first round of both the 2013 KHL and CHL Import Drafts, he decided to cross the pond and play for the Calgary Hitmen, which he determined would provide him with the best chance of making it to the NHL.
His debut season was somewhat successful but incomplete as he only dressed in 38 games due to a wrist injury that kept him out of the lineup from January until postseason play. He managed to record 25 points (mainly assists) and was a plus-one before returning with a vengeance in the Hitmen’s first round series with the Kootenay Ice. Although the Ice would advance, Fazleev scored three goals and added four assists in the six game series and gave the Hitmen something to look forward to the following season.
Thanks to his efforts, Fazleev was ranked as the 121st best North American skater by Central Scouting leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia. After watching Sanheim selected in the first round, Fazleev got to experience his own dream come true as the host city’s team selected him in the sixth round on the second day of the draft. Immediately Fazleev knew he had his work cut out for him if he wanted a chance at making the leap from junior hockey to professional hockey.
After attending camp with the Flyers, Fazleev returned to Calgary on a mission. His goal was to turn raw skill and offensive awareness into a complete profile which would include increased speed and better positional play without the puck. Joel Otto was just the man to help him with the latter and relate it to a Flyers culture that has remained consistent since the 1960’s. Otto taught and Fazleev listened as he turned in an impressive sophomore season in which he learned the importance of consistency and playing each shift as though it was his last. He recorded 18 goals and 33 assists for 51 points in 71 games played but perhaps most impressive was his plus-23 rating that was not only a product of his team’s dominance on the ice but also his adjustment and improvement as a two-way forward under the tutelage of Otto.
Another successful season has resulted in yet another first round battle with the Kootenay Ice. Looking to exact revenge for last season’s early exit, the Hitmen are preparing for a long battle and it just so happens that Fazleev is one of the most talked about players in a series that includes Sanheim and fellow first round pick Sam Reinhart (Buffalo) of the Ice.
Are there any 2 Euros in the WHL playoffs making a bigger impact right now than @WHLHitmen Pavel Kharnaukov and Radel Fazleev..brilliant!
— Bill Wilms (@BillFairway) March 30, 2015
Perhaps the most fitting review is the following:
Radel Fazleev has been all over the ice on offense/defense. He’s done it all season. Small, but intelligent, responsible two-way forward.
— Shawn (@ShawnTHW) March 5, 2015
It’s still still early and unclear as to what type of NHL player Fazleev projects to be, however, what is very clear is the progress he has made in becoming more of a complete hockey player thanks to the experience and wisdom of Joel Otto.
To follow Fazleev and the Hitmen as they take on Kootenay in the playoffs, check out www.hitmenhockey.com and follow me on twitter @healedbyhockey for more discussion and recaps.