By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com
Switzerland has had a rough few years at the World Juniors, but with lots of future NHL prospects on the squad, there’s something to look forward to.
Goalies: Having a familiar goaltender acting as your starter is always a good feeling for a team at the World Juniors, especially when you’re one of the weaker, more inexperienced teams in the tournament. Joren Van Pottelberghe may have had one of the roughest outings a year ago, getting shelled by the Americans late in the tournament, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the guy to lead the team again this year. A Detroit Red Wings prospect, Van Pottelberghe has done a good job of leading HC Davos in his debut season as a starting goaltender, but won’t be joining the team in their annual Spengler Cup tournament due to the Juniors. He probably won’t mind, as he will want redemption for a tough tournament a year ago. Van Pottelberghe has looked good internationally previously at the World Junior A Challenge and Under-17 Hockey Challenge, two events put on by Hockey Canada. Can he regain his form with the Swiss national team? He’ll be facing a lot of shots every night, so he better.
Defensemen: For the third year in a row, Jonas Siegenthaler will be one of Switzerland’s top defensemen. A Washington Capitals prospect, Siegenthaler has the ability to crush an opponent along the board, but his strength doesn’t seem to transfer over to his shot. Still, Siegenthaler will be a minute-crushing defender will be used more as a defensive defender than a shooter, and that’s exactly how he thrives. Siegenthaler looked good in six games with the Hershey Bears of the AHL last year in the United States, but his time to play a full professional season in North America has not come yet.
Another experienced man on the back end is Roger Karrer, one of Switzerland’s better defenders in Finland at the most recent World Juniors. Karrer has won a medal with Switzerland in a previous international tournament, taking the bronze at the 2012 European Youth Olympic Festival in Austria. He has represented Switzerland at various other events in the meantime, His 2013 Under-18 World Championship performance was perhaps his best tournament to date, putting up five points in five games for a team that has generated some talented players. But this time, Karrer will give his last effort as a junior national team player, a tournament which should see lots of action heading towards the Swiss net
In terms of experienced defenders, Yanik Burren is another 19-year-old that will be counted on in comparison to the younger talent. Burren has never represented Switzerland in an official IIHF tournament prior to this year but was once his nation’s captain at the U18 level. Burren looked very strong with Bern U20 at the Junior A level in Switzerland this year, earning a promotion to EHC Visp in the Swiss B league after a five-game stint in junior.
The Swiss, however, have two good young prospects to look forward to. Starting the fun is 2017 NHL Draft prospect Tobias Geisser, a star member of the EV Zug NLA club. Geisser used to play as a centreman, but transferred back to the point and it has done wonders for his game. A rising NHL prospect, Geisser has split the season between the top two Swiss men’s leagues, the NLA and NLB. Geisser likely won’t play much in this year’s tournament but will be relied on in the next few years. Nico Gross is in that boat too, with Gross expected to play in the Under-18’s in April. Gross is just one of two 16-year-olds in the tournament, but he deserves a chance. He won’t see much playing time, but the 2018 NHL Draft prospect has proven his worth in the NLB this year.
Forwards: With almost all of the forwards being 19-years-old, the Swiss will have an experienced group up front to work with. Leading the charge is centreman Calvin Thürkauf, a seventh-round pick by Columbus at the 2016 NHL Draft. Named captain for the tournament, Thürkauf will look to improve upon a two-point performance a year ago for a team that will need offense big time. One of Switzerland’s best players at the 2014 World Junior A Challenge, Thürkauf has been one of the best players on the Kelowna Rockets with 31 points in 28 games, and only trails Kole Lind for the team lead.
The biggest star on the team, however, will likely end up being Nico Hischier, an almost sure bet to land in the top five in the NHL Draft this year. The small, speedy centreman has taken the QMJHL by storm this year, putting up 48 points in 31 games in his first year with the Halifax Mooseheads, good to put him sixth in the entire league and first for all imports. Hischier put up two points as a 16-year-old a season ago, where he finished with an Elite Jr. A Championship with the Bern U20 squad. Switzerland has a star on their hands, and potentially their best ever, with Nico Hischier.
The Swiss have 10 players capable of playing down the middle, and Philipp Kurashev is one of them. Kurashev likely won’t be used down the middle, as the goal-scoring winger seems to excel on the left side. The son of Rapperswil U20 head coach Konstantin Kurashev, Philipp has 29 points in 32 games with the QMJHL’s Québec Remparts this year. Like Hischier, Kurashev is eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft and is hoping to use the World Juniors as a way of moving up in the eyes of NHL scouts.
A couple Swiss players had a strong Four Nations tournament in Norway earlier in the year, and Raphael Prassl is one of them. Tied for second in tournament scoring with three points in three games, the 19-year-old helped the Swiss win a silver medal in the multi-day event in his first ever U20 tournament for Switzerland. Marco Miranda also had a similar performance, scoring twice on four total shots and adding an assist in a top line role for Switzerland. A quick, offensive forward, Miranda was dynamite for Switzerland at both the U16 and U17 level and it has transferred over well ever since joining the NLB’s GC Küsnacht Lions last year.
In terms of drafted prospect, Damien Riat, a future Washington Capital, is hoping to cap off his time at the World Juniors with a strong follow-up performance to his four-point effort a year ago. A second-year forward with NLA club Genève-Servette HC, Riat is a good skater and plays a game that will work well in North America. Other players to watch out for include 17-year-old Nando Eggenberger, who looks poised to be drafted in the top 60 in the 2018 NHL Draft. and former NA3HL star Yannick Zehnder.
Projection: Switzerland is always an interesting case at the World Juniors because they always have a few prospects to look forward to, but the team never truly meshes. This time, they’re bringing an older team that can find the net, and with one of the top prospects in the entire 2017 NHL Draft on their team, they have something to look forward to. But don’t expect them to go far this year once again unless they truly steal a game or two in Montreal.