With the World Junior Championship just around the corner, it is time to get to know the players participating. In this article I will start with underdogs Denmark and Switzerland and present you some players you should keep an eye on.
The WJC was as contrary as it could have been for Denmark and Switzerland. Both teams played in the group B and Switzerland lost their crucial game against Denmark in shootout which sent them to the relegation stage where they have won both of their relegation playoff games against Germany. On the other hand, the win against Switzerland sent the Danes to the quarterfinal for the first time in history, but lost there against the host Canada 8-0. Still, Denmark played the best tournament of their history and played themselves into the hearts of the home crowd.
Although Switzerland won the crucial relegation playoff which ensured them the participation ticket for Helsinki, it was a very disappointing tournament for the Swiss, not making the quarterfinals and losing to Denmark. Especially as Switzerland had three first round picks in the line up with Timo Meier, Kevin Fiala and Mirco Mueller and two second rounders in Noah Rod and Jonas Siegenthaler. Additionally, the 2015-Draft Class was considered one of the best the country ever had. Therefore not making the quarterfinals and losing to Denmark in the crucial game was a big blow and disappointment for the nation.
From the above mentioned core players it looks like Fiala and Mueller won’t be available this year. Mueller played already 10 games with the Sharks and it remains doubtful if San Jose sends him to Helsinki. Contrary to Muller’s situation, there are reports saying Fiala won’t join Switzerland. According to admiralsroundtable.com, the Nashville Predators don’t make Fiala available for Switzerland. This is a big blow for the team as Fiala is currently one of the most prolific Swiss U20 offensive player.
BREAKING. Vladislav Kamenev joining Russia for World Juniors. Kevin Fiala will not be heading to World Juniors.
— Admirals Roundtable (@adsroundtable) December 16, 2015
However, the remaining core group stays the same and next to Halifax Mooseheads captain and Sharks prospect Meier, it will be Rod, Siegenthaler, Pius Suter, Denis Malgin and Damien Riat who will have to lead the Swiss team.
One area where Switzerland might be ahead of other playoff competitors is the experience on their roster. At least six players on the currently projected roster are playing regularly in the National League A, the highest Swiss league and one of the most competitive European leagues overall. Capitals prospect Siegenthaler plays in his second full season with Matthews’ team ZSC Lions while Sharks prospect Rod is already in his third.
Players to Watch:
Pius Suter (C, ZSC Lions, undrafted)
Pius Suter returned to Switzerland after spending the last two season in the OHL. He plays an outstanding season in the shadow of Auston Matthews and has already scored 17 points for the ZSC Lions. I do like him a lot because he is a very smart player, makes great decisions with the puck and is a great two-way player. I was really impressed with him so far and would be surprised if he remains undrafted next summer. One of the best players on the Swiss team and I look forward to see him in action against strong competitors. He might be used a lot against opponent’s top lines with his responsible own zone game.
Damien Riat (C/RW, Servette-Geneve, undrafted)
Damien Riat returned to his youth team Servette for this season. He has played in all season games with the team and scored 11 points so far. Riat led the Swiss team in scoring at the U18 Worlds this April. He is a hard-nosed player who isn’t afraid to get involved in the physical stuff. He won’t shy away from after whistle scrums but also brings decent offensive upside to the table.
Nico Hischier (C, SC Bern, top prospect 2017)
16-year-old Nico Hischier is one of the most talented hockey players Switzerland ever produced. Because of injuries occurred to his club SC Bern, he currently plays in the Swiss National League A and scored already his first professional goal lately.
@scbern_news Nico Hischier scores his first LNA goal….he's just 16 years old. If you're good enough,you're old enough.
— Darren Marsden (@marsdendd) December 12, 2015
According to sources covering SC Bern, he is ahead of Roman Josi and Mark Streit at that stage of their careers. While you shouldn’t have too much expectations on Hischier, it will definitely be fun to watch him against much older opponents. He is going to be a top pick in the 2017-Draft.
On the Hot Seat:
Timo Meier (C,W, Halifax Mooseheads, 9th overall San Jose Sharks)
Sharks prospect and ninth overall selection of this year’s draft, Timo Meier, didn’t make the Sharks roster in training camp and returned to the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. He took over the captaincy and picked up the pace after a slow start this season. He might see his point production slightly dropping by end of the season without playing on a line with Nikolaj Ehlers. However, he will be one of the offensive key players for Swiss Head Coach John Fust as he might be the most complete player on the Swiss team. Switzerland will need all of his offensive qualities, especially without Fiala in the line-up the team will rely on Meier more than ever.
Although usually Switzerland is always good for an upset, it will be very hard against to get points against Sweden, Canada and USA if not impossible. Like last year, the key game will be against Denmark where Switzerland has to win and get revenge for last year. It seems to me that Switzerland can’t go any further than the quarterfinal because they lack stellar goaltending which they would need to upset a big nation.
Denmark played the best WJC tournament last year and upset Switzerland to make it into the quarterfinal against Canada. With the 4-3 shootout win over Switzerland the Danish made history as it was the first win ever recorded by a Danish U20 team on that tournament level. besides their surprising win against Switzerland, they also got a point in the game against Russia and the Czech Republic. Although they had no chance against Canada and ended the tournament with a devastating 8-0 blowout loss against the hos, this was clearly a tournament to remember for the Danes.
Denmark was led by standouts and NHL-prospects Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nikolaj Ehlers. Bjorkstrand scored four goals out of the total 10 goals scored by Denmark and Ehlers led the team in assists and was second in scoring, just one point behind Bjorkstrand. Danish Head Coach Olaf Eller, father of Montreal Canadien Lars Eller, will have to be without Bjorkstrand this year but can count again on Jets forward Ehlers.
Players to Watch:
Alexander True (C, Seattle Thunderbirds, undrafted)
Alexander True is a tall center playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. Seattle selected him 48th overall last year in the CHL Import Draft and the 18-year-old has collected 19 points in 29 games for them this season. Coach Eller will be glad to have some offensive upside in the team with True, who could take some pressure off Ehlers shoulders, although not in the same way like Bjorkstrand would be able to. Additionally, True is the cousin of Ehlers.
Mathias From (C, Rogle, prospect 2016)
Tall winger Mathias From plays for Rogle BK and is a draft eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft. He made his first four professional games in the Swedish Hockey League this season but is still waiting for his first point. He is looking to make an impact to rise his stock ahead of the coming draft but this will be a difficult task as the Danes aren’t expected to have a big offensive coming out party.
On the Hot Seat:
Nikolaj Ehlers (RW, LW, Winnipeg Jets)
Of course the Winnipeg Jets forward and 9th overall of the 2014-Draft is the Dane on the hot seat. Ehlers will be one of few NHLers in this tournament and will be the flag carrier of the Danish team. Offensively, Denmark needs to rely almost purely on him and if Denmark wants to make it to the quarterfinals again, Ehlers needs to have a big tournament. Ehlers proved this season already that he is ready to play in the big league.
— Halifax Mooseheads (@HFXMooseheads) November 28, 2015
He used his elite shot to score five season goals and suited up in all of the 30 games for the Jets so far. As a side note, Ehlers played junior hockey in Switzerland, where his father Heinz Ehlers is Head Coach of professional team HC Lausanne.
It will be an ambitious goal for Denmark to repeat last year’s story. They will need to win the crucial game against Switzerland like last year but the team has lost depth this year. I do not see them surviving the group stage and rather have them going to the relegation playoffs.