Top 5 German prospects for 2008

By Chapin Landvogt

In recent years, a healthy number of German hockey players have been drafted by NHL clubs, some of whom have already managed to successfully crack NHL lineups. Along with established German NHLers Jochen Hecht (BUF) , Marcel Goc (SJ) and Marco Sturm (BOS), this past season witnessed Dennis Seidenberg (CAR), Christian Ehrhoff (SJ), and Christoph Schubert (OTT) making contributions to their respective NHL teams. Buffalo 2005 second rounder Philipp Gogulla just completed a very successful season for the Cologne Sharks and will be in Sabres camp this fall.

After the 2006 NHL Entry Draft featured the drafting of German players Korbinian Holzer (TOR, 4th round), Felix Schutz (BUF, 4th round) and Constantin Braun (LA, 6th round), the 2007 NHL Entry Draft saw the drafting of Timo Pielmeier and Dennis Reul , both of whom spent this past winter playing in the QMJHL. While Reul established himself as a defensive presence on the blueline, Pielmeier came in and assumed the No. 1 goaltending job. Pielmeier has recently been traded to Shawinigan.

Schutz spent this past season in the DEL and established himself as a regular. After having been somewhat surprising picks in 2006, both Holzer and Braun continued their surprising rise to prominence playing vital roles on their respective DEL teams’ blueline, while Braun made astonishing contributions towards Berlin’s winning the DEL championship, even having seen regular time on the power play. Making Braun’s arrival even more amazing was the fact that he first seemed to break through after having been switched from forward to defense.

San Jose has been the most common destination for Germans, having drafted four out of the five German goalies as well as Goc and Ehrhoff.

Whereas many of the German players to have been drafted this century have been goalies beginning with Robert Muller (WAS, 9th round in 2001) and Dmitri Patzold (SJ, 5th round in 01), and continuing with Patrick Ehelechner (SJ, 5th round in 2003), Thomas Greiss (SJ, 4th round in 2004) and Timo Pielmeier (SJ, in 2007), not a one is ranked among the top 200 draft-eligible Europeans by NHL Central Scouting this year. Instead, several forwards followed by a group of defensemen make up the list of Germans who have the best chances of being drafted this summer.

Here’s a look at the top five German prospects entering the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa on June 20.

1. Jerome Flaake, LW

CSS European Rank #22 – Shoots: Left – 6’1 185 lbs.

Team – 07/08 Stats GP G A TP PM 
Cologne Sharks – DEL 30 0 1 1 4 
Cologne Sharks – DNL 36 35 45 80 109 
U18 Germany – Div.1  6 1 2 3 6 
U20 Germany – Div.1A 5 3 3 6 5 

Flaake took the DNL, Germany‘s top junior league, by storm this season, finishing as the top scorer with 80 points in only 36 games. He also managed another six points in four playoff games. His 2007-08 season ended up being quite a long one, as he put in time playing for both the U18 and U20 national teams as well as a 30-game introduction to the DEL, Germany’s top men’s professional league. In his time there, he was exposed to life as a professional hockey player, surely profiting from the experience of playing and practicing alongside ex-NHLers such as Ivan Ciernik and Dave McLlwain.

According to Cologne general manager Rodion Pauels, Flaake’s strengths lie in his skating abilities, intelligence on the ice as well as his nose for the net. U18 head coach Jim Setters takes this assessment of this particular asset even further, stating that Flaake "has a very good sense around the net. In any league he has played he collects a lot of points. He very rarely misses the net when he shoots. He has great stickhandling skills."

As with many young players at his age, any path to the NHL will have to be accompanied by a significant gain in strength and weight. This will no doubt go hand in hand with Cologne’s plans to give Flaake every chance to be a regular member of their men’s team in the 2008-09 season, a plan that proved fruitful for the aforementioned Philipp Gogulla. Having been heavily scouted this past winter, it is expected that Flaake is a lock to be drafted.

2. Daniel Weiss, C

CSS European Rank #44 – Shoots: Right – 6’2 187 lbs.

Team – 07/08 Stats GP G A TP PM 
Eisbaren Berlin – DEL 14 0 0 0 0 
Eisbaren Berlin JRs – 3rd L  42 15 16 31 75 
Eisbaren Berlin – DNL 7 8 2 10 8 
U18 Germany – Div.1  6 4 0 4 8 
U20 Germany – Div.1A 5 2 7 9 6 

The younger brother of Eisbaren Berlin sensation Alexander Weiss, Daniel spent this past season playing for a number of teams. Aside from his 14 appearances in the big leagues, he saw time with four other teams, two of which are part of the Berlin organization. After a short appearance in the DNL where Alex proved to be just too good, he was permanently moved up to Berlin’s representative in Germany’s 3rd league – a men’s professional league. There he turned heads with his mature and heady play, while not being a pushover, as his 75 penalty minutes attest.

Perhaps even more impressive were his international appearances, scoring well for a German team too strong for the Division 1A U20 championship while effectively holding his own at the Division 1 U18 competition, which featured many of the young players who will be drafted this summer. His strengths lie, according to U18 coach Jim Setters, in the important little aspects of the game, such as taking face-offs, reading the game, setting up teammates and displaying good puck possession skills.

Judging by his rate of progress to this point as well as that of his slightly older brother, it is to be assumed that the Berlin organization is no doubt planning on giving Weiss every opportunity to become an integral part of their champion DEL team as soon as he proves capable. 

3. Toni Ritter, RW

CSS European Rank #59 – Shoots: Left – 6’2 192 lbs.

Team – 07/08 Stats GP G A TP PM 
Mannheim – DNL 40 34 35 69 58 
Heilbronn Falcons – 3rd L 4 1 1 2 0 
U18 Germany – Div.1  6 2 1 3 2 
U20 Germany – Div.1A 5 1 6 7 0 

Toni Ritter has made a quiet but steady move onto the scene and up the ranks this past winter. A somewhat unknown commodity and having been considered only about the 10th best German prospect heading into the fall of 2007, Ritter’s strong play in the DNL accompanied by steady performances for both the U20 and U18 teams has moved him up to third among Germans in this summer’s draft. Very large for his age, U18 coach Setters says that Ritter "will only get bigger." Furthermore, coach Setters reports, "Toni has a long reach and it’s difficult to get the puck away from him. He drives to the net well and has scoring ability."

These attributes may, in the eyes of scouts, play a big role in Ritter being drafted this summer. Still a bit of a project, Ritter will need to continue working on his overall stickhandling skills, something that hasn’t yet panned out in light of his physical development and playing style. Plans for next season have not been released by his club, the Mannheim Eagles.

4. Soren Sturm, D

CSS European Rank #67– Shoots: Left – 6’2 187 lbs.
 
Team – 07/08  GP G A TP PM 
Cologne Sharks – DEL 26 0 1 1 4 
Essen Moskitos – 2nd L 10 1 3 4 4 
Heilbronn Falcons – 2nd L 16 1 4 5 10 

In the 2006-07 season, Sturm (no relation to Bruins forward Marco Sturm) was a dominant figure from the blueline, racking up 49 points in 34 games while joining current CHLer Timo Pielmeier in helping the Cologne Sharks DNL team win the league championship. Although eligible, he was not taken in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Scouts have nonetheless kept an eye on Soren and he continued to develop steadily this past winter, spending the entire season playing professional hockey for three separate teams. The highlight of his season was nonetheless the 11 playoff games he played for the Cologne Sharks on their way to finishing as runners-up in the championship loss to the Eisbaren Berlin. He jumped into a regular role due to injuries and showed that he could keep up the pace at Germany’s top level.

Sturm’s strengths lie in his speed and overall skating ability. His calm demeanor with the puck means a low turnover percentage whereas his ability to read the game often allows him to intercept passes at neutral ice. He’s a very good skater, possesses strong agility and can jump into the offense well. While in the DNL and when playing with junior level national teams, Sturm has often been called upon to captain the power play, where he unloads an accurate shot from the point. According to general manager Pauels, Sturm is scheduled to spend the upcoming season with Bremerhaven in Germany’s 2nd league, where he’ll continue to develop until called upon by the Sharks.  

5. Benedikt Brueckner, D 

CSS European Rank #75– Shoots: Left – 6’1 181 lbs.

Team – 07/08  GP G A TP PM 
Mannheim – DNL 44 12 22 34 82 
Heilbronn Falcons – 2nd L 1 0 0 0 0 
U18 Germany – Div. 1 6 0 2 2 4 

Another somewhat unknown commodity entering this past season, Benedikt Brueckner spent the better part of this past season manning the blueline for the cooperative Mannheim/Heilbronn DNL team, the Jungadler, and captaining them to the league championship. The type of player often categorized as a born leader, Brueckner served his team in every situation this past season and played any and all important minutes throughout the playoffs.

His No. 5 ranking among German prospects, however, is highly attributable to his play at the U18 tournament, where Germany managed to beat Slovakia 5-4 in the final preliminary round game and successfully maintained their position in the U18 Division 1 group with a 4-0 victory over neighboring Denmark. Along with draft prospect Daniel Weiss, Benedikt was named one of Germany’s top three performers at the tournament. As is the case with Ritter, plans for next season have not been released by his club, the Mannheim Eagles.

The remaining six Germans ranked by CSS for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft are listed below:

Marko Nowak, D   CSS European Rank #101– Shoots: Left – 6’2 205 lbs.
Team – 07/08  GP G A TP PM 
Dusseldorf – DEL 16 0 0 0 0 
Dusseldorf – DNL 17 8 11 19 10 
U18 Germany – Div.1 6 0 0 0 2 

Sinan Akdag, D
   CSS European Rank #111– Shoots: Left – 6’2 200 lbs.
Team – 07/08 GP G A TP PM 
Krefeld – DEL 43 0 0 0 6 
Bad Nauheim – 3rd L 4 0 2 2 0 

Patrick Geiger, F
CSS European Rank #122 – Shoots: Right – 5’8 169 lbs.
Team – 07/08  GP G A TP PM 
Eisbaren Berlin – DNL 47 9 17 26 0 

Philipp Riefers, F 
CSS European Rank #137
Team – 07/08  GP G A TP PM 
Mannheim – DNL 39 41 31 72 38 
U18 Germany – Div.1 6 0 1 1 4 

Andre Huebscher, F  CSS European Rank #157– Shoots: Left – 5’11 187 lbs.
Team – 07/08  GP G A TP PM 
Krefeld – DEL 53 0 2 2 4 

Steven Rupprich, F  CSS European Rank #158– Shoots: Left – 5’11 178 lbs.
Team – 07/08  GP G A TP PM 
Eisbaren Berlin – DEL 43 5 11 16 0 

Other notables

The aforementioned Alexander Weiss of the Eisbaren Berlin went undrafted last summer, but arrived in the DEL with a splash this past season, being an instrumental part of his team’s DEL championship. He gathered 35 points over the course of the season and playoffs. If not drafted as an overager this summer, it is widely considered within the German hockey community that another season like this past one will earn him some form of an UFA contract with an NHL club.
 
Abbreviations:
CSS = Central Scouting Service
*DEL = Deutsche Eishockey Liga (German Ice Hockey League)
**DNL = Deutsche Nachwuchs-Liga (German Young Prospects League)