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2012 World Juniors Preview: Team Switzerland

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It's been an interesting couple of years for the Swiss junior hockey program. Entering the 2010 tournament, the team was really just hoping to finish ahead of Latvia and Austria and stay in the elite group. They ended up riding Nino Niederrieter and Benjamin Conz's heroics to a 4th place finish, despite the fact that the team was one period away from losing to Latvia in the preliminary round. Last year, they finished 3rd in their group, lost to Canada in the quarterfinals and beat Finland in the 5th place game in a shootout. So the past two years, the Swiss have not only leapfrogged the Czechs and Slovaks, which is impressive enough, but they've even finished ahead of Finland both years. They're getting good results, and quite frankly, last year's team and this year's team are frankly better and deeper than the 2010 team that finished 4th. Things are legitimately on the up in Switzerland.

Such success is quite new for the Swiss, even though they are not reaching the status of a true contender quite yet. 2012 offers a completely new experience for the Swiss: they will be at the top tournament without their top teenaged player, as Niederrieter has stuck around with the New York Islanders this year (Luca Sbisa wasn't available in 2009, but the Swiss were in the Div. 1 U20 tournament that year). There will also be a changing of the guard in goal as Conz has turned 20 years old (somehow without ever being drafted by a NHL team). However, new youngsters are emerging, ensuring that the future remains bright.

The Swiss have never been a team that relied exclusively on their 19 year olds at this tournament, as they quite frankly don't have the volume of high end talent to be so choosy. Half of this year's roster are made up of 19 year olds, less than what we see from their central European contemporaries in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This makes their roster a bit more interesting to watch for NHL scouts, but at a competitive disadvantage in the tournament itself. The advantage of this is that Switzerland will be icing a roster in which all but four players have previous IIHF U18/U20 experience.

There are no highly touted draft prospects on this team, at least not yet. This tournament could be the exposure a couple of draft eligible forwards will need (Christoph Bertschy and Dario Simion), while Switzerland also boasts the distinction of having the youngest player at this tournament: 16 year old defenseman Phil Baltisberger. He's a late 1995 birthdate, and therefore isn't eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2014. All of these players are already playing professional hockey in Switzerland, although for Baltisberger it's in the second Swiss league (the NLB).

After the jump, we'll examine the Swiss roster in greater detail.

Switzerland U20 - Forwards
Name Pos Ht Wt DOB Club League Draft IIHF Exp.
Reto Amstutz C 5'9" 176 Feb 24/93 Bern U20 Elite Jr. A Undrafted U18 (1)
Sven Andrighetto RW 5'9" 183 Mar 21/93 Rouyn-Noranda QMJHL Undrafted U18 (2)
Alessio Bertaggia RW 5'8" 163 Jul 30/93 Brandon WHL Undrafted U18 (1)
Christoph Bertschy C/RW 5'10" 170 Apr 5/94 SC Bern NLA Elig. 2012 U18 (1)
Sven Bärtschi LW 5'10" 185 Oct 5/92 Portland WHL Flames (1/13, '11) U20 (1), U18 (2)
Gaëten Haas C 5'11" 176 Oct 31/92 EHC Biel NLA Undrafted U20 (1), U18 (2)
Gregory Hofmann C/LW 6'0" 176 Nov 13/92 HC Ambrì-Piotta NLA Hurricanes (4/103, '11) U20 (1), U18 (1)
Lino Martschini RW 5'6" 132 Jan 21/93 Peterborough OHL Undrafted U18 (2)
Tanner Richard C/LW 6'0" 183 Apr 6/93 Guelph OHL Undrafted U18 (1)
Cédric Schneuwly LW 6'1" 187 May 19/92 Zug U20 Elite Jr. A Undrafted none
Dario Simion LW 6'1" 187 May 22/94 HC Lugano NLA Elig. 2012 U18 (1)
Joël Vermin RW 5'11" 185 Feb 5/92 SC Bern NLA Undrafted U20 (1), U18 (1)
Samuel Walser C 6'3" 205 Jun 5/92 Kloten Flyers NLA Undrafted U20 (1), U18 (1)

I'm sometimes quite astonished at the quality of junior players that don't get drafted by NHL teams nowadays, and although I'm not in the know, there seems to be an aversion to drafting small Swiss forwards. This is quite a small group of players, and aside from Sven Bärtschi, none of them are getting picked at a level I'd expect. Gregory Hofmann isn't exactly small, but he slipped in the draft last year to the fourth round when some saw him as a 2nd rounder, and no one else here has been drafted at all. Players like Lino Martschini, Tanner Richard, Alessio Bertaggia and Sven Andrighetto have come over to Canada and put up point per game seasons in major junior, proving their quality.

But none are at the level of Sven Bärtschi. Bärtschi would be a standout on Canada or Russia's roster, not just on the Swiss team. He's puttiing up more than two points a game in the WHL, stepping into an offensive leadership role on a team that lost two players who were standouts the past two WJCs: Ryan Johansen and Niederrieter. He will draw each team's top defenders, and I wouldn't put money on him losing those matchups.

Other players that should be key contributors include Joël Vermin and Samuel Walser, while I expect draft eligible forward Christoph Bertschy to see a good amount of ice time, as he is the top point producer of the players who are playing in Switzerland. Gregory Hofmann has had a tough year so far, but plays on an awful team, so this could be a big moment for him.

Switzerland U20 - Defencemen
Name Ht Wt DOB Club League Draft IIHF Exp.
Phil Baltisberger 6'0" 201 Nov 13/95 GC Küsnacht Lions NLB Elig. 2014 none
Cédric Hächler 6'0" 165 Jul 1/93 Mälmo J20 J20 SE Undrafted U18 (2)
Dean Kukan 6'2" 198 Jul 8/93 Luleå J20 J20 SE Undrafted U18 (2)
Christian Marti 6'3" 203 Mar 29/93 Kloten Flyers NLA Undrafted U18 (1)
Dave Sutter 6'5" 209 Feb 21/92 Seattle WHL Undrafted U18 (1)
Dario Trutmann 6'0" 192 Sep 17/92 Plymouth OHL Undrafted U20 (1), U18 (2)
Mike Vermeille 6'4" 212 Apr 5/92 Genève-Servette U20 Elite Jr. A Undrafted none

The defensive pipeline from Switzerland has dried up a little the past couple of years, with no current NHL prospects amongst this group. However, it's a big group, in stark contrast to the small, skilled forwards the team is sending out in front of them. Dario Trutmann was passed over in the 2012 Draft for whatever reason, but he should be looked at as the top guy for Switzerland here. Expect Trutmann to play the top minutes and on both special teams units. I don't know what to expect from the young Baltisberger, but I'd have to assume he'll be in a very limited role. It is interesting to see a couple of players from the Swedish junior leagues on this team, but I'd expect them to be playing complimentary roles. Christian Marti and Dave "the other" Sutter should figure into the team's top 4. The team is missing Davos D Samuel Guerra from last year's team, who is out with an injury.

Switzerland U20 - Goaltenders
Name Ht Wt DOB Club League Draft IIHF Exp.
Luca Boltshauser 6'0" 176 Jul 17/93 Färjestad J20 J20 SE Undrafted U18 (1)
Lukas Meili 5'10" 165 Jan 19/92 GC Küsnacht Lions NLB Undrafted U18 (1)
Tim Wolf 6'1" 176 Jan 25/92 GC Küsnacht Lions NLB Undrafted none

Boltshauser should be the starter here, although this is quite a unique situation in goal here. All three goalies are coming from the same GCK Lions club in Zürich... Meili and Wolf are the team's two goalies (Wolf has had a few more starts this year) and Bolthauser left the team to play in Sweden this year. Bolthauser had success in the U18 tournament, much moreso than Meili, although since he's a year younger we may see more of Tim Wolf.

This will be an interesting year for the Swiss yet again. While I can't argue with their depth relative to their peers in Slovakia and Latvia, are they physically mature enough to compete as a team? Is their goaltending ready to carry them through the tough spots like Benjamin Conz did the past two years? Those are the key questions for Switzerland this tournament.

Switzerland U20 Schedule
Date City Opponent Result/Time
Dec 21 Camrose USA Us_medium
L, 7-3
Dec 22 Red Deer Canada Ca_medium
L, 7-1
Dec 26 Calgary Russia Ru_medium
8:00 PM MST
Dec 28 Calgary Sweden Se_medium
3:30 PM MST
Dec 30 Calgary Latvia Lv_medium
8:00 PM MST
Dec 31 Calgary Slovakia Sk_medium
4:00 PM MST

Prediction: 3rd in Group A.