2021-22 Team: Leksands IF (SHL)
Date of Birth: May 18, 2004
Place of Birth: Wolfwil, Switzerland
Ht: 6-foot-5 Wt: 216 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2022 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings: 14th (Among EU Skaters)
- Ryan Kennedy’s March Rankings: 25th
- FC Hockey: 25th
- Bob McKenzie’s Mid-season Rankings: 35th
- Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: 37th
- Matthew Zator’s April Rankings: 38th
- Draft Prospects Hockey Spring Rankings: 38th
- Peter Baracchini’s March Rankings: 47th
- Craig Button’s March Rankings: 62nd
Although they often don’t get the same recognition as their offensive counterparts, defensive defensemen are crucial in a team’s success. Just look at the best defensive pairings in the NHL; Cale Makar has worked beautifully with Devon Toews, while Tony DeAngelo revived his career with Jaccob Slavin by his side. These players put in the hard minutes in their own end, allowing a more dynamic player to rush the puck and create scoring chances.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
This year, one of the best options among defensive defenders is Lian Bichsel. The Swiss national has been one of the best U18 players in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this season, ranking third in games played with 29 appearances and fourth in points with a goal and two assists. Few players in that age group get the opportunity to play at that level; only 12 players aged 18 or younger appeared in more than 10 SHL games this season, and only eight registered a point.
Yet Bichsel has been a big part of Leksands IF’s blueline, and it was never more evident in the Champions Hockey League tournament. He appeared in all but two of their games and recorded one goal, nine blocked shots, three hits, six shots on goal, and averaged 7:24 minutes of ice time. He also averaged a 59.62 Corsi For percentage, which shows the team controlled the puck more when he was on the ice. Given that he started his shifts mainly in the defensive end, that’s an impressive stat, especially for a teenager.
While Bichsel’s best attributes are in the defensive end, he also possesses some offensive upside. In Sweden’s J20 league, he put away three goals and seven points in just 11 games, which would have put him second among all defenders on the team in points had he spent the full season there. He was equally dangerous in the Swiss U20 league, where he spent 2020-21, putting up 28 points in 45 games despite being the youngest player on the team. He owns a heavy shot and leans well over his stick in order to put as much power as he can muster behind the puck, and though he often passes first, when he sees an opening, he loves to rush in and score himself.
However, it’s impossible to talk about Bichsel and not mention his size. Standing 6-foot-5 and already weighing in at 216-pounds, he’s one of the biggest prospects available at the 2022 NHL Draft. He’s also more than happy to use his size to his advantage, which makes him very difficult to knock off the puck, especially once he gets a bit of momentum behind him. With a massive wingspan and even longer stick, he can quickly pick up pucks no where near him. It also makes him an absolute wrecking ball when he chooses, but he has yet to fully reign in his strength; in his first Champions League game, he was ejected from the first game for a check to the head.
While scouts still focus too much on size, causing undersized players with high potential to drop in favour of bigger, safer picks, Bichsel already has displayed a well-rounded skillset against some of the best players in the world. He won’t be the biggest name on draft day, but he could become one of the most effective, giving his future team a chance to win every time he steps on the ice.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Lian Bichsel – NHL Draft Projection
NHL GM’s will no doubt be intrigued with Bichsel’s size and the presence he can bring to a team’s blueline, which will almost certainly boost his draft position. Right now, he’s projected to be a late-first or early-second pick. He was expected to be a big part of Switzerland’s U18 team at the World Under-18s, but a late-season injury has forced him onto the sidelines, which may cause him to fall slightly, but it’s unlikely he will have to wait until the third round to hear his name called.
“Uses size and reach effectively to defend. Puck skills and playmaking ability are improving, but there’s still a rawness in these areas.” Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet
“Swiss defender Lian Bichsel stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and 216 pounds and he knows how to use it with his physicality, and his long reach to disrupt plays. The two-way defender surprises with the amount of skill he possesses, from his long, powerful strides to his overall offensive awareness, he shows top-four potential. He needs to calm his game down a bit at times, but this is definitely a player that NHL teams will take note of.” Josh Bell, The Sporting News
“Though his foot speed isn’t something to rave about, he has a strong yet smooth stride that is effective in playing north-south hockey. Has a ton of poise as the puck carrier leading the attack. Edges can see improvements, turns and pivots are slow. Showed solid patience at the top of the blue on the PP. Big body, incredibly hard to knock off the puck. Strong puck protection combining both his size and long reach. Super heavy on the puck and leaning his stick over the top of the opposition. Great outlet passes leading to controlled zone exits. Liked the use of occasionally using the boards to lead his passes. Uses his stick to seal off passing lanes on the PK. Makes smart reads to close gaps as attackers enter the zone, actively looking to shut them down at his blueline. Will use his size to his advantage in board battles but we wouldn’t classify him as an overwhelming physical presence. Could use his size more defensively. Bichsel has the potential to become a top-four two-way defenseman and terrific upside as a puck-moving defenseman as the confidence is already there.” DraftPro
- Puck control
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Defensive awareness
- Playmaking and puck movement
Given his size and current level of play, there’s little chance that Bichsel doesn’t make the NHL eventually and is on track to be a solid top-four, two-way player, able to contribute in any situation. His game is still quite raw, though, and he’ll likely need some more time in the SHL and a season or two in the American Hockey League (AHL) before he becomes a full-time NHLer. That’s fairly common among defensemen, especially among taller players, who need some time to grow into their frame, but hopefully, he’ll be worth the wait.
Risk – 2/5, Reward – 3/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 5/10, Defence – 7/10
Bichsel has been a mainstay on the Swiss blueline, having already played on the U20 team and multiple times on the U18 team, and at the 2021 U18 World Junior Championship, he was named top-3 on his team. Unfortunately, fans will have to wait until next season to see him play again after he was forced to sit for the 2022 U18 World Championship.
Lian Bichsel Statistics
Lian Bichsel – Remember the Name (Swiss mini-documentary, in German)
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.