- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

One of the Philadelphia Flyers' prized blue-chip prospects a year ago was a 20-year-old goalie named Maxime Ouellet, drafted by the team 22nd overall in 1999. To listen to the Flyers' brass, this was the guy who would lead the team back to Stanley Cup glory.
But the order of priorities changed drastically last spring. The Flyers and a lot of other people thought they had a pretty good chance to make a deep run in the playoffs until injuries piled up at center. Philadelphia was desperate it needed an experienced center in a hurry.
The Flyers, and at least four other teams, started bidding for Adam Oates as the trading deadline neared. General manager George McPhee kept telling interested parties "not enough" because the Washington Capitals still had playoff hopes on March19, albeit very faint ones.
Finally, Philadelphia offered its prized prospect plus draft picks in the first, second and third rounds. It may have been the worst trade in Flyers history; they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs and elected not to re-sign Oates after paying a huge price for the 39-year-old.
Ouellet, meanwhile, believes he benefited from the trade. He has escaped from a situation that was often confusing and seemingly governed by a strange set of rules that changed constantly.
"There's no doubt he'll be a No.1 goalie in this league," said McPhee yesterday as Ouellet and 20 other young prospects went through drills on the ice, part of a two-week orientation session with the organization. "How good is he? That still has to be determined but he's good enough to be one of the top 30 goalies in the world."
At the moment he is not in that category. There is a clear pecking order and Olie Kolzig is at the top, one of the five best goalies in the league in Ouellet's judgment. After that there is Craig Billington, Kolzig's long-time backup, then Sebastien Charpentier, who played well in his baptism last season and has been in the Caps' system since 1997.
None of which fazes Ouellet, who played well enough in his first pro camp a year ago to get serious consideration for a spot on the Flyers' roster. Eventually he was sent to the team's American Hockey League affiliate.
"I'm only asking for a fair chance," he said yesterday. "I know there's a new coaching staff here so everybody starts out on the same page. What I want to do is make the decision harder for them to make."
Dave Prior, who is entering his sixth season as goaltending coach, likes what he sees so far but Ouellet, like every other player, has areas where he could improve.
"We want to improve his skating, his ability to get out there and play loose pucks around the net," Prior said. "His strengths are his ability to recognize the potential of plays and react accordingly. He's excellent in shot blocking, he fills the net very efficiently and makes it very difficult to find space to put the puck in. And we had some concerns when he arrived about his overall conditioning but I think he's done a good job of addressing that."
Prior acknowledges the need for the team to get younger at the position (Kolzig is 32, Billington will soon be 36) but league experience is a huge plus for a goaltender.
"I view all young goalies as prospects until they've actually played at this level," said Prior. "You're not a bona fide NHLer until you start getting the job done. You can ask Olie about that," referring to the fact Kolzig spent years in the minors before his number was called.
"My situation here is better than it would have been with the Flyers, I know that," Ouellet said. "This year I have a shot if I do well."
Notes The team yesterday announced the re-signing of three players and the signing of one free agent. Re-signed were left wings Ivan Ciernik and Mark Murphy and center Trent Whitfield. Added to the roster was free agent defenseman Chris Hajt, who had been in the Edmonton system. All contracts were for one year except Ciernik's, which contains a club option for a second year.



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