While several Germans drafted by NHL teams are now on summer break or currently performing for the national team at the World Championship in Switzerland, a handful of others are still fighting for their leagues’ respective championships in North America. In general, the 2008-09 season was a very good one for German draftees. Those still playing in Germany all took a step forward with Constantin Braun even playing for the DEL champion Eisbaren Berlin. The progress of the German draftees in North America was just as impressive, with Timo Pielmeier advancing as one of the QMJHL’s top goaltenders and Alexander Sulzer stepping up as one of the AHL’s top offensive defensemen. With the 2009 NHL draft only a few months away, below is a review of the progress made by drafted German players.
Draftees playing in Germany
For the second year in a row, Braun finds himself celebrating a DEL championship with his club, the Eisbaren Berlin. Also for the second year in a row, Braun came into the season as a planned forward and ended up playing a good number of his minutes on defense. No sweat for the big man, who didn’t quite have the offensive impact in this year’s playoffs that he had in last season’s playoffs (three goals, seven assists, 10 points and +9 in 14 games), having totaled two assists and +8 in 2008-09. In the regular season, Braun was able to rack up six goals and 15 points in 43 games while gathering an impressive +17 rating. Being blessed with good size and a frame ripe for another 10-15 pounds of muscle, Braun has continued to improve as an all-around player. Still, having only amassed 20 minutes in penalties, Braun may need to gain more of a mean streak as he looks towards a possible venture in North America. He’s currently signed for two more seasons with the Eisbaren Berlin.
Jerome Flaake, LW – Toronto Maple Leafs
6’2, 187 lbs.
Drafted in round five of the 2008 draft
Drafted last summer, there was much confusion as to whether Jerome Flaake would spend the 2008-09 season in Germany or perhaps in the WHL. As Hockey’s Future verified in an interview with Cologne’s General Manager Rodion Pauels, Flaake would go on to spend the season with Cologne’s DEL team and showed why Cologne was so adamant in keeping him in Germany this past year, gathering five goals, 11 assists and 16 points with 22 penalty minutes in 43 games. In what was a highly disappointing season for a team that had reached the finals the season before, the bottom-feeding Cologne Sharks just kept feeding Flaake with more and more ice time. He didn’t disappoint. He worked his way to the second line and even managed a +2 rating. This took place despite his missing action at midseason to ultimately finish second in scoring for Team Germany at the 2008 WJC in Canada with three goals, five points and a +3 rating in six games. At this point, it will be most interesting to see where the tricky winger will play next season. There are once again rumors of a move to a Canadian junior league although he technically has one more year on his contract with Cologne.
Like teammate Flaake, Gogulla suffered through what was a poor season for his Cologne Sharks, but proved one of the few bright spots on the team, continuing to establish himself as a viable NHL prospect. He scored a career-high 17 goals and totaled 38 points in 48 games. His top-gear skating, hands and eye for the game are already among the best in the DEL and he’s only just 21 years old. Boasting a keen sense of where his teammates are located all around the ice surface, Gogulla’s ability to provide soft but direct and timely passes makes him a dangerous threat whenever he’s on the ice. His skating is essentially strong, but there are things that will have to change in order for him to take the next step. He still needs to bulk up and add the muscle necessary to survive the North American game. Being a player who is not afraid to go into traffic areas, he’ll need to add strength in order to establish himself over the long run. There’s plenty of room on his 6’2 frame for a good 20-30 pounds and this may ultimately decide between a DEL and NHL career. Gogulla also has been known to have a bit of a temper, something that has led to some unnecessary time in the penalty box. He racked up 58 penalty minutes this past season. This attribute may, however, be part of the moxy necessary to establish himself in North America. His contract with Cologne has just expired and he is scheduled to go to camp with the Buffalo Sabres in the fall.
Korbinian Holzer, D – Toronto Maple Leafs
6’3, 190 lbs.
Drafted in round four of the 2006 draft
In his second season with the Dusseldorf Metro Stars, one that ended at the hands of the DEL champion Eisbaren Berlin, Holzer put up four goals, six assists and a -1 rating in 54 total games, 16 of which were in the playoffs. He had totaled a +2 rating in the regular season. Despite these stats only representing a moderate offensive improvement over his rookie season (seven points in 2007-08), Holzer’s game and role on the team were enhanced a good notch and he saw plenty of time as the team’s defensive zone punisher. He assumed these duties with great gusto, as he 107 penalty minutes attest. More importantly, the 21-year-old has reached a stage in his career where he could continue his career in North America. His game features a little bit of everything and he doesn’t back down from any opponents. These attributes have even earned him a few test games with the German national team, of which he should be a long-time member. His contract with Dusseldorf is up this summer.
After several seasons of toiling on the third and fourth lines for the Cologne Sharks, plus having dealt with two ACL injuries and their ensuing treatment, Hospelt transferred to the Wolfsburg Grizzlies last summer. This season he helped Wolfsburg to not only become the league’s biggest surprise, but also contributed to the DEL’s most potent offense, pivoting primarily the third line and chipping in with 30 points in 62 total games. In the course of the season, Hospelt managed to see some duty on the top two lines and even got a number of minutes on the power-play unit. Despite his career year, it is felt that he could be a much more dangerous goal-scoring threat if he’d simply take more initiative in making the best of the many opportunities his speed and intuition afford him. He must also buckle down on play in his own zone as his -10 rating was deemed unnecessary for a player on the league’s highest-scoring team. What he did earn, however, was a nomination to the German national team for the 2009 WC in Switzerland, with whom he is entering the relegation round. Hospelt has one more year on his contract in Wolfsburg.
Sebastian Stefaniszin, G – Anaheim Ducks
6’0, 190 lbs.
Drafted in round four of the 2007 draft
Stefaniszin spent the 2008-09 season with the Iserlohn Roosters of the DEL. His team experienced an up-and-down season that saw him get the call for a number of starts after the team’s starter Norm Maracle failed to bring the same level of consistency as he had shown the season before. Expected to solely fill in as a backup, Stefaniszin eventually stepped into the No. 1 role in January and has since given management reason to believe that he could be a starter as soon as next season, which would surely please the Anaheim Ducks. When all was said and done, Stefaniszin had established a record of 6-5-0 in 23 outings with a GAA of 3.34 and a save percentage of .903. Still, despite some good showings, Iserlohn failed to even make the pre-playoffs despite one of the league’s most potent offenses. Stefaniszin is signed for two more seasons and looking to see his workload increase considerably next year, which will surely be a tough task in a league dominated by foreign-born goalies.
Draftees Playing in North America
After having been drafted as an overager on the tails of his best DEL season, Dietrich had a very disappointing 2007-08 season, one which only allowed him to play nine regular-season games and 13 playoff matches due to a serious leg injury. Nonetheless, the strong-skating defenseman made the jump to North America last fall and has put in a respectable 2008-09 rookie season for Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, who finished tied for first overall in points. Worked in slowly, Dietrich’s ice time increased throughout the season, unfortunately due in part to an injury to fellow German defenseman Alexander Sulzer, with whom he also played for his last German organization, the Dusseldorf Metro Stars. In 63 regular season games, Dietrich totaled four goals and 19 points with 32 penalty minutes and a -1 rating. As the playoffs began, Dietrich was taking a regular shift as Milwaukee convincingly swept Rockford in the first round. He had two assists and a +3 in the first round playoff sweep.
Thomas Greiss, G – San Jose Sharks
6’1, 190 lbs.
Drafted in round six in 2006
Greiss is coming off his busiest season in North America, if not his best. With playing time in 57 games for the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate in Worcester, Greiss had the No. 1 goaltending duties for the team after having played 41 and 43 games respectively the past two seasons. In the regular season, he posted a record of 30-24-2 with a GAA of 2.47 and .907 save percentage. Although Greiss didn’t spend any time in the NHL this season (he had played in parts of three games in 2007-08), he has hit a point in his development where he’s forcing management’s hand. Known to keep a cool head and regulate his workload with consistency, there is belief that he’s ready for a backup role at the NHL level. With a strong playoff run, Greiss may ultimately have dibs on the 2009-10 San Jose Sharks’ number two goaltending position. In the first round of the playoffs, he stood valiantly in goal in each of the seven games, carrying Worcester to a 4-3 series victory on the strength of a gaudy 2.02 GAA and .922 save percentage.
Timo Pielmeier, G – San Jose Sharks
6’0, 165 lbs.
Drafted in round three in 2007
Yet another in a long line of German-born players drafted by the Sharks – and the fourth German goalie drafted by San Jose since 2001 – Pielmeier joined the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL for the 2008-09 season after having spent the prior season with the St. John’s Fog Devils. Well-schooled, Pielmeier has not disappointed, ultimately seeing the bulk of the playing time for the league’s second best team overall. With a GAA of 2.67 and .909 save percentage, Pielmeier’s record of 30-9-2 in 43 games played had led to the team naming him the uncontested starter for the playoffs. He has proceeded to go on an incredible run in the CHL’s traditionally highest scoring league, currently boasting a record of 11-2 and a 2.43 GAA. The soon-to-be 20 year old Pielmeier should make the jump to the pro ranks next season.
Denis Reul, D – Boston Bruins
6’4, 226 lbs.
Drafted in round five in 2007
After a successful rookie year in North America during the 2007-08 season, Reul’s blueline responsibility grew this past season for his Lewiston MAINEiacs. Known as a physically punishing player, Reul helped an inconsistent Lewiston team slip into the playoffs only to be dismissed in quick fashion via a first-round sweep. He then reported to the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence for preparative prospect work. Blessed with intimidating physical attributes, Reul is seen as a future stay-at-home defenseman. It is undoubted that he’ll need a proper introduction into the pro game and a couple of years of development at the minor-league level before becoming an NHL option, but Boston does seem pleased with his progress to date. In 60 games with Lewiston, Denis scored four goals and 18 points with 91 minutes in penalties and a -19 rating. It is expected that the Bruins will retain his rights this summer.
Felix Schutz, C – Buffalo Sabres
5’11, 187 lbs.
Drafted in round four in 2006
After being named the DEL Rookie of the Year for the 2007-08 season, Schutz made the jump to the AHL for this past season. His rookie introduction proved a successful one in which his role on the team grew throughout the season and saw him put up 15 goals and 27 assists in 78 games. Immediately responsible as a two-way center (+7 rating in the regular season), his strengths also lie in his competitiveness, skating and eye for his teammates. His shot is hard and accurate, but it’s a weapon he still doesn’t make enough use of. He’s not one to avoid the rough stuff and gets his nose dirty on a regular basis, willing to pay the price to make a play. Although Portland was dismissed without much ado in the first round of the AHL playoffs by a strong Providence Bruins team, Schutz finished third on his team in scoring with one goal and two points while putting up an impressive +2 rating in his first AHL playoff performance.
Alexander Sulzer, D – Nashville Predators
6’1, 190 lbs.
Drafted in round six in 2006
After having enjoyed a successful initial year in North America in 2007-08, posting seven goals and 25 assists for Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, Sulzer took yet another step in his development for the same team this past season. With a respectable +8, Sulzer became a fixture on the power play and even ranked top three in the AHL in scoring among defensemen before suffering a serious shoulder injury in January. It couldn’t have come at a worse time considering he had been promoted to the Predators on several occasions in January to help compensate for the loss of Shea Weber. Sulzer’s injury was then sustained in a game against the Canucks in Vancouver. After missing 17 games, he returned to action but has since had further problems, which have ultimately prevented him from playing in the 2009 AHL playoffs. In total, Sulzer missed 32 AHL games, with several due to his time in the Predators line-up, but still managed to score 8 goals and 34 points while gathering 36 penalty minutes in 48 total games. Extended in January with a two-year contract, it is expected that Sulzer will be given every opportunity to earn a job with the Predators next fall.
Dmitri Patzold, originally drafted by the Sharks, returned to Germany this season after a faulty start in the KHL and promptly started splitting goaltending duties for the Hannover Scorpions with incumbent Alex Jung. By playoff time, he had taken over the No. 1 goaltending spot and started all of Hannover’s playoff games. Patzold is currently manning the net for Team Germany at the WC in Switzerland. Patzold’s teammate Sascha Goc, formerly a sixth-round pick of the New Jersey Devils, broke the DEL record for goals scored by a defenseman in the regular season (24). He was then named the league’s top defenseman by the Eishockey News, German ice hockey’s foremost media presence.