With the 2023 World Junior Championship kicking off today, and each competing nation submitting their finalized rosters yesterday, it’s time to go over Austria’s roster and see what they might be able to do at this year’s tournament. Last August’s tournament did not feature a relegation match so Austria wasn’t in too much trouble there, but relegation is back and the threat is real.
Austria’s best U20 prospect will not be competing after opting out of the tournament to focus on professional play. Detroit Red Wings prospect Marco Kasper captained Austria last December and has been excellent in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this year. Having him would have instantly made this team much more competitive so it’s quite a hit to be missing him. However, if he is succeeding against grown men, then he likely doesn’t have that much to gain by dominating at a junior tournament.
Related: Guide to the 2023 World Junior Championship
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While it would be nice to add Kasper to this roster, there are still some really solid prospects, drafted and undrafted, on Team Austria such as Montreal Canadiens 2022 third round pick Vinzenz Rohrer who has been excellent in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this year. Even though may people’s expectations are low for Austria this year, I actually like their chances of making it to the quarterfinals this year and avoiding relegation entirely.
(Benedikt Oschgan, Thomas Pfarrmaier, Michael Sicher)
Like many other teams in the tournament this year, goaltending will not be a strength for Austria with no clear starter emerging through the first half of the regular season. Each of the three goaltenders they have selected have varying amounts of experience in the Alps Hockey League (AHL) which has teams in Austria, Italy, and Slovenia. Professional experience is valuable, even at this level, so I wouldn’t count out any of their goalies before we see them in game action.
(Patrick Sollinger, Christoph Tialler, Tobias Sablattnig, Aron Summer, David Reinbacher, Lorenz Lindner, Lukas Horl)
Austria’s defensive group is going to be led by an 18-year-old named David Reinbacher who has been playing in the top Swiss professional league with great results. He has established himself as a clear top-four defender in a tough professional league as a teenager because of his solid offense and above-average defensive game.
Reinbacher will be asked to do a lot for Austria, and he might just be good enough to keep them out of relegation entirely. He is eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft next June and I personally think that his value as a big, right-handed defender who skates well makes him an easy choice as a first round pick. Only time will tell where he gets drafted, but his play at this tournament could go a long way in growing his draft stock.
(Jack Linton, Luca Erne, Max Stiegler, Johannes Tschurnig, Luca Auer, Vinzenz Rohrer, Finn van EE, Ian Scherzer, Tim Geifes, David Cernik, Jonas Dobnig, Jakob Engelhart, Stefan Klassek)
As I mentioned earlier, Rohrer is set to be Austria’s best forward (or at least one of them) and he has been tearing up the OHL so far this year with 32 points in 26 games. Although he’s on the smaller side (5-foot-10, 161 pounds), Rohrer is a very physical player who uses his low center of gravity to stay on his feet through checks and to catch larger opponents off guard. Rohrer is also a hard forechecker who is good at avoiding bad penalties while goading opponents into taking bad ones in return.
Another impressive player for Austria is Ian Scherzer who has played well in the J20 Nationell (the top Swedish junior league) this year as a 17-year-old. Scherzer is another draft eligible player who would benefit greatly from a good tournament this week, likely placing himself on the radar for plenty of NHL teams.
Austria Has a Chance to Avoid Relegation
If Reinbacher, Rohrer, and Scherzer can play to their potential this week, Austria has a very realistic chance to beat out another team in their group and earn their place in the quarterfinals. Canada, Sweden, and Czechia don’t seem like teams that Austria could beat, but Germany is a very beatable team, with not clear top prospect of their own.
Germany and Austria will play one of the most important games of the group stage on December 30 at 4:30 PM Eastern Time. This match will almost certainly determine which team fights for elimination, and which team is one win away from competing for a medal at the end of the tournament.