Ahhh, no matter what league we’re referring to, whether it be the NHL, AHL, CHL, NCAA, the leagues throughout Europe, and all those many leagues in between, there’s always a curiosity for every true fan as to what new faces will establish themselves into household names through the course of the season. Let me get more specific considering that *new faces* can also include older, experienced players that are just new to that respective league. What I’m focusing on are the kids…the rookies…the first year players. Every year there are high expectations for kids who often crumble under the pressure. Then again, every year sees its share of kids that seem to come out of nowhere to become shooting stars. In the international realm, these types of kids often become the targets of NHL scouts who are looking to bolster the depth, and hopefully, the successfulness of their franchise by taking a flyer. This type of exuberance and the joy of discovering talent is something that, for the most part, takes place all over the hockey world, but I’d like to inform y’all about a league where this exuberance and the joy of discovering talent is all the rage at this very moment. Yep folks, there’s the DEL in Germany – a league that has pretty much become a second home for many IHL, AHL and even NHL veterans who have gotten up there in age and are looking for a last hurrah (and a few extra pennies along the way). However, this trend has been changing recently and young German born talent has been getting the chance to prove themselves as good and as profitable as the many North American and European imports coming into the league each new season. This trend, in fact, has turned into the story of the year thus far in Germany.
The 2001-02 season has seen a wealth of talent arrive on the scene. It isn’t simply a case of a few kids making a nifty move every now and again. We’re talking about kids turning into their respective team’s top scorers, reliable defenders and number 1 goalies. This year, like no other in recent memory, has seen a wave a productive youth come through that has the makers and shakers of the German hockey world counting their blessings and licking their chops. Whereas these kids are certainly interesting for league bosses and the organizers of the national team (which finished a very successful 8th in the last WC), the most interesting development will be seeing what kind of a role these guys play at the next NHL draft. A couple may find themselves at the Olympics this winter and then at the WC next Spring in Sweden, which in turn, may lead them right on up to the podium of the NHL’s next draft. I’d now like to use this opportunity to introduce some of these young lads to you:
Dimitri Kotschnew – G Iserlohn Roosters: He’s 20 years old and his hockey career has skyrocketed over the last few months. Coming into this season, the youngster had never played in a league higher than the Oberliga North, which was Germany’s third highest level of hockey and has since disbanded as a result of various financial reasons. Dimitri was intended to simply play the backup role to Finn Timo Kapanen (brother of NHLers Sami and Niko) who was brought in over the summer after backstopping team Finland at last year’s WC. He has however been more than convincing thus far this season and has stolen the starting job from Kapanen. The 5’10” 180 pounder was born in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, and moved to Germany with his family at the age of 10 and has since obtained German citizenship. It is not inconceivable that he’ll be looked at as a prospective national team member in the coming years. For the time being however, Dimitri is looking at his new-found position as a springboard to better things, which it may end up being if he’s able to help carry this underdog team into the playoffs.
Vitali Aab – RW Nuremberg Ice Tigers: Talk about arriving on the scene, Vitali has been the biggest surprise of the DEL this season. After having collected 20 goals and 34 points in 49 games for Wilhelmshaven of the German 2nd League (quite comparable to the ECHL) Vitali has been Nuremberg’s star winger throughout the season and even made his debut for the German national team at the recent Germany Cup, scoring 1 goal and racking up 4 penalty minutes in 3 games. Like Kotschnew, Vitali was also born in Karaganda, Kazakhstan and came to Germany at a young age. His Ice Tigers currently have a record of 15-7-3, good enough for third place in the DEL at this time, and Vitali has played a big role in the ascension of his team. Nuremberg suffered through a plethora of injuries at the beginning of the season and still managed to win on the strength of many goals scored by Aab. The things that stand out the most about his game are his hard shot and the complete lack of fear he displays in front of the net. He also has that indubitable talent of simply being in the right place at the right time – something that can’t always be taught. If his season continues such as it has started, it would be quite difficult for NHL scouts to ignore him, despite him already being 21 years old. It wouldn’t be the first time the NHL found a late bloomer of Eastern European decent in the DEL (see Sergei Berezin and Roman Turek).
Patrick Köppchen – D Munich Barons: Although he’s also already 21 years old, Patrick has jumped into the DEL for his first season after having been the best German defenseman for the Erding Jets of the second Bundesliga last season, and has made the most of the experience. He’s got a good eye, deft instincts and can carry the puck. Munich hasn’t hesitated to give him PP time on the point, especially at the beginning of the season when the Baron defense was ravaged by injuries. The Berlin native has also proven himself a tough customer in the defensive zone, playing a rough style in the corners and not being afraid to take a penalty. As is the case with most kids, he can be caught out of position or taking the silly penalty now and again, but his coach Sean Simpson hasn’t hesitated to give his young warrior a load of minutes and the responsibilities that playing time entails. No stranger to international play, Patrick has played on German national teams at various levels throughout his teens and even spent a year in Canada playing in Nepawal, Manitoba (24 points in 68 games). Like Aab, he was also given some playing time for the national team at the Germany Cup, playing one game and racking up a whopping 12 penalty minutes. Next June could see Patrick follow in Seidenberg, Erhoff, Schubert and Schauer’s footsteps as German defensemen being drafted by an NHL club.
Adrian Grygiel – RW Krefeld Penguins: Expect to see Grygiel playing a key role for the German national team at the upcoming WJC (if Germany qualifies). Adrian, a 5’10” 185 pound 19 year old was able to surprise quite a few people last season by earning some playing time with the Krefeld Penguins and collecting 2-6-8 in 29 games. Born in Poland and having moved to Germany at the age of 5, Adrian spent most of last summer bulking up for this season. Thus far he has played every game and has seen playing time as a regular on the 3rd and 4th lines. His team is characterized by its team concept and Adrian hasn’t seen much if any PP time, which is eaten up by his many older, foreign teammates. In any case, Adrian is a sneaky player who goes to the net and has been learning the finer points of being a responsible player in all ends of the ice. His idol is Jaromir Jagr and he certainly has his eyes set on one day making it to the NHL.
Thomas Greilinger – RW Nuremberg Tigers: Don’t be surprised if you’ve already heard his name before. The 20 year old arrived on the German hockey scene at the age of 18, rising from scoring 50+ goals in Germany’s 3rd highest level, to winning the DEL championship with the Munich Barons and right on up to being Germany’s top scorer at the B-WC in Poland in 2000, which the Germans used to jump back into the A-group. He did all this in, get this, one season! He looked to be the best thing since sliced bread. He then played for the Schwenningen Wild Wings last season (with the Sharks’ Marcel Goc) and came back to earth, only scoring 9-13-22 in more than 50 games and registering a minus in the +/- statistic. He was also pretty much invisible in this year’s WC in Germany. This season hasn’t run much better. He injured himself in the preseason and has just recently gotten back into the Nuremberg lineup. At 5’11” and 193 pounds, Thomas has the size to one day compete for an NHL job. He’s known for being a bit overweight but being quite difficult to move off the puck when he’s got it under control. He’s got a good eye and displays a good amount of hockey sense. Don’t be surprised if you see his name in the late rounds of next June’s draft, such as was the case with German standout goalie Robert Muller, drafted late by the Caps in this year’s draft.
Boris Blank (R/LW) and Eduard Lewandowski (R/LW) – Eisbaeren Berlin:
I don’t feel the need to conduct a separate write-up for these two players. It seems like they’ve been playing together forever. In fact, these two fellas played on the same line with Vitali Aab for the second league Wilhelmshaven club the past few seasons. Boris, yet another player born in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, weighs in at 5’11” 188 pounds and possesses German citizenship. The 23 year old racked up 22-31-53 and 73 penalty minutes in 42 games last season. Eduard, born in Krasnoturinsk, Russia, weighs in at 6’00” 182 pounds and also has German citizenship. His production with Wilhelmshaven last year was a conducive 21-28-49 and 87 penalty minutes in 42 contests. Lewandowski is currently 21 years old. What makes these two players special is their steady and consistent rise to the DEL. Both started off in lower classes and seemed to move steadily step by step to the DEL. This past summer, the Eisbaeren (‘Polar Bears’ for those who are curious) picked up the two second league stars hoping to have found two gems for the their increasingly strict budget. Being that the Eisbaeren are now one of many teams owned by the Phillip Anschutz group (along with the LA Kings, London Nights, Munich Barons and Sparta Prague hockey clubs, as well as a few other teams from other sports) both Boris and Eduard attended a camp held for King’s rookies this past summer, and made pretty good impressions with their quickness and stickhandling, although their more Eastern European (thus, more run and gun) playing style was also quite apparent. Thus far this season, both players have earned themselves solid spots on the roster and Blank has even found himself playing on the first line with ex-IHL stars Steve Larouche and David Roberts. Should their play at the DEL continue to progress, and with their experience in North America this past summer, don’t be surprised to see either one of these youngins being taken late in next summer’s draft – or being signed as free agents shortly thereafter.
Current stats for Blank:
Current stats for Lewandowski:
Feel free to write any comments below or send an e-mail along if you want any extra information. Take care!