Potulny hits the big time

PATRICK WILLIAMS -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

BUFFALO –- Philadelphia Flyers rookie – and that is rookie as in not a game of pro experience at any level – Ryan Potulny is now a member of the very exclusive club that includes the likes of Tony Amonte, Rob Blake and Joe Nieuewendyk.

Potulny, 21, made his pro debut at the very top, dressing on Philadelphia’s fourth line in Friday night’s 4-2 Flyers win over the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena in what could very well be a first- round playoff preview. Potulny joined a select group of players to make the direct jump from the NCAA to the NHL.

“I’m excited,” Potulny said following the Flyers’ morning skate on Friday.

In AHL graduates Freddy Meyer and R.J., Potulny has two Philadelphia teammates with NCAA pedigrees. That duo, however, put in solid AHL time that aided tremendously in helping them making the quantum leap from the college game to the NHL.

A native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, Potulny, whose older brother Grant is with the Binghamton Senators, has altogether bypassed the AHL. The AHL in most cases is a prerequisite for NHL success, particularly for NCAA players who must adjust to an NHL schedule that is nearly twice as many games as the college schedule.

But the AHL was not in the cards this season for Potulny, who signed a one-way NHL deal after last month’s AHL Clear Day deadline and was not eligible for AHL play.

With a year of NCAA eligibility remaining, Potulny had the negotiation hammer of choosing simply to remain in school.

A third-round of the Flyers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Potulny used 38-25-63 numbers in 41 games this season with the University of Minnesota to leverage himself a two-year entry-level contract that he signed with the Flyers back on March 29th.

A first-team All-WCHA honoree and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, Potulny popped in 17 power-play goals this season, his third with the Golden Gophers. Most of his freshman year was lost after he sustained a knee injury in November 2003.

Space opened up for Potulny with injuries to Peter Forsberg and Petr Nedved that forced Philadelphia head coach Ken Hitchcock to shuffle his lines. Potulny edged past veteran Turner Stevenson and into Hitchock’s group of top 12 forwards.

Potulny had some muscle on his side in making his NHL debut, what with the youngster at centre on a line with Donald Brashear. Brian Savage played the other wing.

Potulnly wound up logging 6:23 of ice time and going 3-for-6 in the faceoff circle.

“I’m sure it’s his dream come true,” Meyer said. “It’s a stepping stone for his career.”

Hitchcock deflected away any thought that Potulny might be in too deep in taking Friday night’s stage, considering the playoff jockeying in progress with the Eastern Conference shuffling its playoff positioning on a seemingly daily basis and the Flyers meeting a potential first-round foe in the Sabres.

“I mean, you’ve got to get a game under your belt sooner or later,” Hitchcock reasoned. “If we’re going to use Ryan in the playoffs if we need him, we might as well get him out now.”

”This is going to be a playoff atmosphere,” Hitchcock predicted at the morning skate, “so you might as well find out how he looks. I don’t think you’re going to get a better occasion than playing in a game in Buffalo. Might as well get going and get after it.”


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