2014-15 Switzerland Prospect Preview: Rod, Merzlikins best of National League A prospects

By Rafik Soliman
Fabrice Herzog - Quebec Remparts

Photo: EV Zug forward and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Fabrice Herzog spent most of the 2013-14 season with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

 

This past season, Switzerland witnessed a start-to-finish victory by the powerhouse ZSC Lions Zürich with most of the nation’s experts agreeing that the team, coached by former NHL head coach Marc Crawford, will most likely be able to repeat it’s championship run in 2014-15.

 

Zürich’s success is due to a deep lineup made possible by that organization’s youth movement, which is systematically developing young players in the National League B. So it is no surprise that the three top Swiss draft-eligible players for the 2015 NHL Draft, forward Denis Malgin and defensemen Roger Karrer and Jonas Siegenthaler, have developed their game in the ZSC Lions organization. All three should see some ice time in the National League A (NLA), but will most likely play most of the season with the Lions’ farm team of GC Küsnacht in the National League B (NLB). Both Malgin and Karrer have tremendous potential, but will have to prove that they can overcome their smallish stature in the NLB, while Siegenthaler benefits from an already big and men’s hockey-ready frame and could start the season in the NLA. There is some talk that Malgin may move to the QMJHL‘s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies later in the season, but he will begin the season in Switzerland.

 

The Swiss League has four NHL prospects worth watching in 2014-15 that have recently been drafted by NHL teams, with San Jose Sharks‘ 2014 second round pick Noah Rod headlining that quartet of prospects. Rod is penciled in to see regular ice time on Geneva-Servette’s third line, with the team hoping to see his agitating and feisty playing style. Geneva was hit hard in the off-season, seeing marquee core players like Mathew Lombardi (signed with the New York Rangers), Cody Almond (signed with the Minnesota Wild), Kaspars Daugavins (signed with the KHL’s Dynamo Moskva) and Denis Hollenstein (signed with the Kloten Flyers) saying goodbye to the team and leaving huge holes in the line-up. These holes will have to be filled with young players like Rod, who should see his ice-time and role with the team increased.

 

The other 2014 draft choice out of the Swiss League is goaltender Elvis Merzlikins of HC Lugano. The Latvian netminder, who was chosen in the third round by the Columbus Blue Jackets, is looking to earn more playing time while sharing the net with former Carolina Hurricanes draft choice, Daniel Manzato. The two will probably start as 1A and 1B and will be battling for more playing time as the season progresses. While Manzato is the more experienced goaltender, Merzlikins is the more talented and athletic of the two. If he is able to avoid a so-called sophomore slump, he should be the full-time starter for Lugano by the end of the 2014-15 season.

 

Fabrice Herzog is perhaps the most intriguing player from the 2013 NHL Draft who is playing in Switzerland. After the Toronto Maple Leafs chose Herzog in the fifth round, he quickly decided that same summer to continue his development with the QMJHL’s Québec Remparts in 2013-14. A solid season with an early exit in the playoffs allowed him to finish the season on an amateur tryout with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. Despite the promising in-roads made in North America, Herzog decided to return to Switzerland to play with EV Zug in the NLA, the team which he was drafted from. It is still unclear if it was his choice to pursue his career in Switzerland to make more money, or if the Maple Leafs let him return to Switzerland to save some spots on their reserve list for free agent signings.

 

EV Zug is holding another NHL prospect on their NLA roster, the New York Rangers’ 2012 fourth round draft pick, Calle Andersson. The Swedish defenseman, the son of HC Lugano Associate Coach Peter Andersson, chose to play in Switzerland instead of Sweden, although somewhat surprisingly deciding to play for Zug instead of HC Lugano, his father’s team. Andersson signed a contract with Zug which included an NHL-out clause, which was employed a couple of days later to sign his entry-level contract with the Rangers. New York then re-assigned Calle Andersson back to the Swiss team. EV Zug has bolstered their lineup for this season, featuring an interesting mix of veteran and rookie players who should be able to play deep into the NLA’s playoffs.

 

Overlooked draft prospects like returnees from North America Vincent Praplan and Edson Harlacher will suit up with the Kloten Flyers, who were the runner-up in last year’s championship and are trying to surpass that success this season. Former Rouyn-Noranda center Jason Fuchs, who is trying to make some noise to attract the attention of NHL teams, will play for HC Ambri-Piotta in 2014-15. Luca Hischier of SC Bern and Gauthier Descloux of Geneva-Servette have been reassigned by their respective teams to the National League B to see more ice time than they would have in the NLA.

 

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