This year’s German draft class went from bland to interesting in the course of just one U-18 tournament. Hosting this year’s tournament in Dresden and Crimmitschau, Team Germany made some noise with some astounding results, having beaten archrival Switzerland 4-1, losing to bronze medalist Russia 5-4 in the shootout, and taking Canada to the brink in a 4-3 loss after having lead 3-2 entering the last ten minutes of the game. Several unfortunate injuries ultimately contributed to Germany bowing out to Finland in a clear 6-0 playoff loss, but this did not taint the fact that Germany wound up in the playoffs while the likes of Slovakia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic found themselves battling it out in the relegation round.
Heading into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, no less than 11 Germans playing in Europe and two more in North America are ranked in some capacity. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of regular NHLers such as Marco Sturm (WAS), Dennis Seidenberg (BOS), Jochen Hecht (BUF) and Christian Erhoff (VAN), this year’s draft class could end up being a potpourri of sorts as a number of non-ranked German-born players seem to have found their way into the notebooks of NHL scouts, most notably the still unranked Sebastian Uvira. Germany‘s fairly strong performance at various levels in recent years (despite this year’s U-20 squad being a huge disappointment) has led to increased interest in German prospects. Over the past two weeks, ice hockey fans around the country watched closely as Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Erhoff battled for the right to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup. No doubt a few of the young men eligible for this draft watched attentively, dreaming about a day where they’ll be able to do the same.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the top five German prospects entering the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA on June 24th/25th.
1. Pascal Zerressen, D
6’5 194 lbs.
CSS European Rank: 40
NOV 22, 1992
After gathering valuable experience playing a vital playoff role as a 16-year-old for a men’s team in Düsseldorf during the 2008-09 season, Pascal made the jump to Krefeld to join their budding DNL program. He played a key role for Krefeld in his first season there, but absolutely arrived on the scene in a big way in the 2010-11 season, moving steadily up the charts for European prospects. Taking a dominating position as the DNL’s top defenseman, Pascal chimed in for nine goals, 37 assists, 50 penalty minutes and a plus-29 rating over a total of 36 DNL games. After spending most of the preseason with the Krefeld Penguins of the DEL, he managed to suit up for a total of 36 games (including seven playoff matches), playing sparingly and finishing the year with a minus-two rating.
Needing to improve his willingness to play physical and certainly still making many of the mistakes that come with youth, Krefeld’s coaching staff always found reason to praise his work ethic and overall progress. Cool, calm, collective, there’s no real weakness in Pascal’s game, although every aspect will need to undergo continued improvement. Strong at making the initial pass or simply rushing the puck, the offensively-oriented defenseman helped give Krefeld one of the DNL’s most effective power play units this past season. His keen passing and eye for the open man contributed greatly to affording Krefeld the highest scoring line in the league. Zerressen’s experience this past season was enhanced by playing 10 games for Bad Nauheim in Germany’s 3rd Bundesliga, where he collected two assists and continued gathering newfound confidence and experience.
Despite being Germany’s top prospect for this upcoming draft, he didn’t play for his country in either the U-20 (not nominated) or U-18 (too old) tournaments. He was nonetheless instrumental in helping Germany capture gold at the 2010 Division I WC. A big fan of former Krefeld Penguin Christian Erhoff, Zerressen currently has a five-year contract with Krefeld in his pocket. As such, it is felt he’ll continue his career in Germany next season, although he would appear open to an opportunity to play for a CHL club, especially if an NHL team who may draft him this summer would feel that would be the most proper step.
2. Norman Hauner, F
5’11 175 lbs.
CSS European Rank: 60
DEC 4, 1991
A bit of surprise ranking amongst Germans in this year’s draft, the overager spent this past season playing a regular role for the Cologne Sharks of the DEL. Despite wonderful stats during his junior career, including 40 goals in 38 DNL games during the 2008-09 season, Norman had a rough time carrying his offense over to the either the DEL or 2nd Bundesliga, where he split the 2009-10 season. Nonetheless, with Cologne just barely avoiding existential financial problems before this past season, he managed to use this opportunity to garner a regular role with the team and didn’t disappoint. Taking a huge step in development this past season, the winger managed four goals and two assists with a minus-one rating in 23 games. Unfortunately, a mid-WJC hand injury more or less knocked him off track after he had shown such a solid level of progress heading into January.
The aforementioned U-20 tournament is however that which contributed most to his 60thanking in Europe. Playing for a German team that disappointed just about across the board despite one of its best and most accomplished rosters in years, Norman actually managed two goals, an assist and a plus-three rating in just three games. These stats came on the strength of a 13.3 percent shooting percentage. In general, it’s his offensive instinct that allows him to stand out. In addition to a quick playing style, he uses his intelligent on-ice decision making to his advantage and shows a callous nose for the net.
Heading into the draft, Norman’s current contract gives him an option to remain a year with Cologne. Although it remains unclear where he’ll spend next season, a job in the DEL is a certainty should he remain in Germany.
3. Stephan Kronthaler, D
6’1 187 lbs.
CSS European Rank: 62
MAY 2, 1993
Stephan had a busy season in Germany, playing not only a fairly regular role with the Landshut Cannibals of the 2nd Bundesliga, but also a key role in the DNL championship won by the Landshut Young Cannibals. Of good size and featuring a long reach, Kronthaler dressed for 21 games for the men’s team and managed two assists in limited playing time. For the club’s junior team, he dressed for 26 regular season games and accumulated seven goals, 13 assists, 40 penalty minutes and a minus two rating, all of which were a considerate statistical drop from his performance during the 2009-10 season. Nonetheless, his value was unmeasured in aiding the team to an upstart championship, gathering a goal and three assists in nine playoff games. Internationally, he also represented his country at the U-18 tournament, where he had one assist and a minus-three rating in five games.
Considered a player who should be a steadying influence in the future, Kronthaler has shown some pure, raw talent that will take some time to improve and form. Coaching and ice time will be the key to deciding how far he’ll come and how extensive his personal success will be. Further defining itself as one of the best producers and nurturers of talent in Germany, Landshut believes it has a gem of a player here and quickly re-upped his contract for next season, when they hope he’ll be able to step into a full-time role with their men’s team. At the moment, it is hard to tell where and if Stephan might be on the list of one or more NHL teams for the upcoming draft.
4. Christian Kretschmann, F
5’10 176 lbs.
CSS European Rank: 64
MAR 13, 1993
The mid-sized Kretschmann continued his development this past season as a teammate of Pascal Zerressen’s in Krefeld. A member of the DNL’s top line, this key forward proceeded to gather 29 goals, 32 assists, 44 penalty minutes and a plus-44 rating, making him the league’s second leading scorer. In a disappointing first round ouster, Christian had three goals, two assists and a plus one rating in five games. His offense in the course of the season quickly brought him into contention for a spot on the U-18 national team, where he ended the tournament with a minus four rating and no points. Despite a number of capabilities with regards to skating, puck-protection and offensive instincts, his game remains a work in progress and it’s doubtful that he’ll hear or see his name be called at any point at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
5. Sebastian Uvira, F
6’0 176 lbs.
JAN 26, 1993
One of the most interesting risers in this year’s crop of German draft eligibles is Sebastian Uvira, who seemed to arrive on the scene in time for a strong U-18 tourney showing. Yet another talent hailing from Landshut, and now armed with a multi-year contract for the Augsburg Panthers of the DEL starting next season, Uvira was instrumental in his junior team’s march to the DNL championship. During the regular season, Sebastian had 13 goals, 19 assists, 102 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating in 28 games. He topped that off with six goals, three assists, 12 penalty minutes and a plus six rating in nine playoff games. This all took place while playing 28 games for the men’s team in the 2nd Bundesliga where he scored three goals, four points and had 22 penalty minutes.
All this helped garner Sebastian a spot on the U-18 team where he played a strong role, especially in a phase where several key players were lost to injury. A player who likes to get involved physically, he gathered a goal and two points in the tournament while going minus two, also having sat in the sin bin for 16 minutes. This performance and his desire to mix things up didn’t go unnoticed by NHL scouts, many of whom likely had to double-check his last name. Indeed, Sebastian is the son of former Czechoslovakian World Champion (1985) Eduard Uvira, who spent the bulk of his career playing in Germany for Freiburg and Landshut. The combination of size, two-way game and physicality paired with some verifiable genes should have Sebastian in the notebooks of more than just a few NHL teams later this month. When asked, Sebastian is anything but shy to admit that the NHL is indeed his long-term goal.
The remaining five Germans ranked by CSR for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft are:
Nicolas Krammer – F – Shoots: Left – 6’1 185 lbs.
Ingolstadt Panthers (DEL) – 2 0-0-0 0
Landshut Cannibals (2nd League) – 43 5-6-11 57
Landshut Young Cannibals (DNL) – 15 7-13-20 43
CSS European Rank #97
Corey Mapes – D – Shoots: Left – 5’11 183 lbs.
Mannheim Adler (DEL) – 3 0-0-0 0
Heilbronn Falcons (2nd League) – 37 3-6-9 69
Team Germany (U-20) – 6 1-1-2 14
CSS European Rank #102
Max Meirandres – D – Shoots: Left – 6’2 198 lbs.
Starbulls Rosenheim (2nd League) – 35 0-2-2 6
Starbulls Rosenheim (DNL) – 27 6-7-13 40
Team Germany (U-18) – 6 0-2-2 8
CSS European Rank #103
Henry Haase – D – Shoots: Left – 6’3 227 lbs.
Eisbaren Berlin Juniors (DNL) – 16 4-4-8 10
FASS Berlin (3rd League) – 25 4-14-18 50
Team Germany (U-18) – 6 0-1-1 0
CSS European Rank #114
Daniel Fischbuch – F – Shoots: Left – 5’8 150 lbs.
Ratinger Ice Aliens (3rd League) – 13 6-7-13 6
Dusseldorf Youngsters (DNL) – 41 31-32-63 48
Team Germany (U-20) – 6 2-1-2 6
CSS European Rank #124
Following in the footsteps of fellow Landshuter Tom Kuhnhackl, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 4th round in the 2010 draft, and who recently signed an entry-level contract after putting up 68 points in 63 OHL games for the Windsor Spitfires, former teammate Tobias Rieder is the highest ranked German-born player available for this draft. However, he is ranked as a North American, having spent this past season playing with the likes of Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Murphy as a member of the Kitchener Rangers. There he started off strongly with a dozen points in his first eight games, but ultimately finished with 23 goals, 49 points and a plus-nine rating in 65 games. He followed this with two assists in seven playoff games. This drop in points pace production did however result to a degree through the acquisition of Jerry D’Amigo (TOR), whose arrival ultimately led to a decrease in ice and PP time for Reider. He’s currently ranked 73rd in North America after having been thought of as a likely top 45 pick heading into the season. In Germany, it is widely felt that Reider is best offensive talent to come along since Marco Sturm. Before an injury sidelined him, Rieder had been instrumental in leading an upstart Team Germany to the playoff round at the U-18 WC, where he had three goals and a plus-one rating in three games.
The eighth ranked German in the 2010 NHL entry draft was Marcel Noebels, who went undrafted and then took his game to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. There the 6’2 and 205 pound forward started off somewhat slowly, but ultimately wound up being Seattle’s top scorer with 28 goals and 54 points in 66 games, even having had a special four goal night along the way. His entire game developed in leaps and bounds as the season progressed while his role in a leadership capacity became a nice touch. Despite questionable foot speed, it is felt that his size and abilities with the puck, including protecting it from opponents and remaining strong along the boards, will lead him to a certain amount of success as a pro player. All in all, he has gone from being an afterthought to ranked 49th amongst North America prospects within the course of one season. It is widely believed that he will be drafted at some point this summer.
Although not ranked, several young Germans with decent to incredible size had very solid U-18 tournaments after having been successful for the clubs during the winter. One example was Germany’s Rookie of the Year in the 3rd Bundesliga, Leo Pfoderl, who put up five points in six games for Germany after having scored 10 goals and 29 points in 36 games for the Bad Tolz Lions in a men’s pro league (3rd Bundesliga). Other names of note are Alexander Ackermann of the Mannheim Eagles program (four points and 14 PMs at the U-18, 37 points in 36 DNL games), Krefeld defenseman Oliver Mebus (already 6’8" and 231 lbs., two assists at the U-18), as well as Krefeld forwards Lars Grozinger (three points at the U-18, 60 points in 35 DNL games) and Andreas Pauli (DNL top scorer with 64 points in 35 games, injured prior to the U-18 tournament), who along with Christian Kretschmann formed the DNL’s most potent line. The name Yashin Ehliz may also pop up along the way as well. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if one or more of these players winds up being taken in a later round.
DEL = Deutsche Eishockey Liga (German Ice Hockey League)
DNL = Deutsche Nachwuchs Liga (German Junior League)
2nd Bundesliga = Germany’s second highest professional league
3rd Bundesliga = Germany’s third highest professional league