Where Are They Now: Part 3?

By Joeri Loonen

An overview of drafted players and undrafted players with an NHL-career currently active in the Swiss league(s).

Apart from the traditional big 5 (Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia) in Europe, Switzerland has made some siginificant progress the past few years and has established themselves as a genuine A-pool country. This upbeat is not only displayed on the national team level but as well in the Swiss Leagues (National Liga A and National Liga B). There are currently around 60 players which are either drafted or have had an NHL career playing in Switzerland, most of them being North-Americans. Where exactly are they playing now and what happened to them after they crossed the pond? An overview per NHL team

Montreal Canadiens:

Paul di Pietro
Drafted 1990, 5th rnd, 102nd overall
Current team: EV Zug

Di Pietro was drafted in the 5th round and he won the Stanley Cup in his 2nd pro season. Not a bad record. Being traded to the Leafs straight from the Habs makes it all a bit more spicy. He never really was able to lock a spot on the Leafs roster though and despite a short 6-game stint with the Kings Di Pietro found himself in the minors again. In the 1997-98 season he came over to Europe and got some good money in Germany where he had a good season and drew attention of the Swiss teams. With Ambri-Piotta he had an excellent season and Di Pietro was getting big money offers from around the league. He decided to move to EV Zug. This season will be his 3rd straight season for the team and despite not having put up the numbers he put up in his first season in Switzerland, Di Pietro is a lock on 50 points per season.

Craig Ferguson
Drafted 1989, 7th rnd, 146th overall
Current team: Fribourg-Gottéron

Ferguson always seemed to be the 5th player on a team’s position in the NHL and started every season hoping on a good camp that would result on a full time NHL-job. Unfortunately for him it never worked out. He played for three different teams in the NHL and in the end was with the Florida Panthers organization before he moved to Switzerland 1,5 year ago.
With Fribourg-Gottéron he’s one of the top players on the team and he dis getting the ice time he didn’t get in the NHL. With 16 points and 22 assists in his first season better things were expected from him this season but after 33 games this season he only picked up 9 goals and 19 assists so far which make Ferguson a solid top player but not a super star in the Swiss league based on points.

Mattia Baldi
Drafted 1996, 8th rnd, 207th overall
Current team: ZSC Lions

Baldi re-enterred the draft and wasn’t taken and his NHL dream is over since then. In Switzerland however he’s a well respected player. 24 year old Baldi is a forward that can chip in the necessary points as well. After moving from Ambri-Piotta to high flying ZSC Lions where het set a career high 13 goals and 24 points in his first season along with a massive 116 PIM. It turned out to be a one season wonder year for Baldi as the following season his numbers were back to ‘normal’ (5+7 in 43 games). This season Baldi is one of the few players that virtually played all of the team’s games this season in an injury riddled season for them. He’s in for a 15+ season and a 90+ PIM season.

Todd Richards
Drafted 1985, 2nd rnd, 33rd overall
Current team: HC Genève-Servette

The 2nd rnd pick from Minnesota played less than 40 NHL games and that’s below what could be expected from a 2nd rnd pick. After serving some years in the AHL he had spent the last 8 seasons in the IHL, 2 in Las Vegas and 6 in Orlando. This season he traded the nice weather in Orlando for a trip to the Swiss mountains with National Liga B team Genève-Servette. The team invested an awful lot of money on players this season in an attempt to gain promotion to the top league. Richards is one of them. So far the plans seem to work. After a bad start Servette has found it’s way up and started winning games while the other teams took point from each other. Whether the 35 year old Richards will see much NLA action is doubtful because of his age though.

Andrei Bashkriov
Drafted 1998, 5th rnd, 132nd overall
Current team: Laussane HC

Bashkirov came from far. Not only in miles, but the Russian went to North-America after having played in the Russian 3rd league. In North-America he worked himself up from the semi-pro leagues to AHL/IHL and got drafted by the Habs where he even managed 30 NHL games. This season he’s making his debut in the Swiss leagues and he’s receiving a lot of praise from the Swiss media who have already tagged him as one of the top-imports in the league this year.When looking at his numbers this season 7 goals and 19 assists in 28 games (he’s currently out injured) one wouldn’t say that’s pretty impressive. However he is putting these numbers up on a recently promoted team (which could closest be compared to an expansion team). Laussane HC is one of the best promoted teams in years and isn’t destined for a relegation battle. Bashkirov is a huge contributor of that success. With Andrei injured the team is having a tough time and is slowly sliding down on the league table. Laussane therefore can’t wait till after new year when Bashkirov is destined to return. His spot is currently taken over by on-loan Slovak forward Rene Pucher.

Nashville Predators:

Martin Höhener
Drafted 2000, 9th rnd, 284th
Current team: EHC Kloten

Höhener is progressing nicely. The ninth round draft pick probably won’t make the NHL, but he’s got all the tools to become a good defenseman in the Swiss league. His points total this season went into the double figures for the first time.

New York Islanders:

Derek Armstrong
Drafted 1992, 6th rnd, 128th overall
Current team: SC Bern

It took Armstong a trip to Ottawa to end up in the MSG from the Island. Being originally drafted by the Isles he played in the NHL for them but the past few seasons he was in the Rangers’’organization where he mainly played for the Wolf Pack. After a career high 101 points in the AHL, but still no lock on the Rangers roster for obvious reasons, Armstrong set his sights on a career in Europe and SC Bern got his signature. In his debut season in Europe Armstrong is having a strong season with 42 points (16 +26) in 33 games.

Rod Hinks
Drafted 1993, 8th rnd, 196th overall
Current team: Sierre

Hinks has been travelling a lot throughout his career. After spending time in the OHL, ECHL and some short stints in the AHL, he moved to Italy where he’d play one full season with SHC Fassa. After that he had another try with the Hershey Bears in the AHL but wasn’t able to stick around long and he finished the season in the CoHL with Muskegon Fury. In Italy they hadn’t forgot about him and HC Gardena acquired him the following season. Yet after that season he moved on again, this time to Austria where he had 2 seasons with EV Wien, one of the top teams in the league by then. Hinks played another half year back in North-America in the WPHL and WCHL but returned to Europe once more halfway the 00-01 season. This time with German lower league team Riessersee. After 29 games and 31 points he moved to Switzerland this season where he’s currently playing for Sierre in the National Liga B.

New York Rangers:

Johan Witehall
Drafted 1998, 8th rnd, 207th overall
EHC Chur

Witehall spend most of his career in his homeland Sweden in the lower leagues, but after his first full season in the Elitserien he was drafted by the Rangers who were hoping to have acquired a player at the age of 26 that could step in right away. But the transition from Europe to North-America and cracking a Rangers line-up as a rookie are two things that isn’t the easiest thing to do. Witehall was moving between Hartford and New York for 3 seasons in a row before he ended up in Montreal. Only 1 goal and 1 assist in 26 games were his numbers in Montreal and he wasn’t likely to extend his NHL career and when he was offered good money from Switzerland took that opportunity. With EHC Chur he’s not having an easy time though. The team is having serious financial problems and is currently dead last in the league. Witehall’s numbers aren’t bad but he can’t turn a bad team around in a good team on his own. So far he has 16 goals and 9 assists in 30 games for EHC Chur.

Martin Bergeron
Drafted 1988, 5th rnd, 99th overall
Current team: HC Ajoie

Bergeron never reached the NHL plateau but instead saw many places most NHL players would never see. After spending 6 years in North-America he spent 4 seasons in the German lower leagues before an incompleted season in Austria with EV Wien followed. The same year he also played semi-pro in Quebec. In 97-98 he played in Japan for a full season with Snow Brand Sapporo where he had 63 points (40+23) in 40 games. That season was followed by two seasons in the Finnish 2nd league before he ended up in Siwtzerland at the start of last season. His first season with HC Ajoie was a big succes and he had a massive 81 points in less than 40 games. The Verdun born forward is looking for an equal succesful season this year.

Kevin Miller
Drafted 1984, 10th rnd, 202nd overall
Current team: HC Davos

This tenth round pick player more NHL games than most of his equivalents. When he was acquired by Davos he was therefore a big name signing. However not his career totals nor his 56 points in 36 games are what he’s known for in Switzerland. It was his hit that ended the career of another North-American playing in Switzerland: Andrew McKim. The league did suspend Miller for some time but McKim was forced to retire and still feels the hit was illegal and done intentionally. Miller and Davos however are doing very well in the meantime. Miller’s averaging over a point per game and his team is leading the league comfortably. But there’s still the tag hanging around his neck.

Christian Dubé
Drafted 1995, 2nd rnd, 39th overall
Current team: HC Lugano

Dubé has played 33 games for the Rangers and with his 24 years of age can still be considered some sort of a prospect. He left for Lugano after the 98-99 season and has been an offensive force in the league ever since. Last season he notched 54 points in 44 games, this season he was extremely hot untill he got injured which caused him to miss a handful of games. Neverthesless he’s still leading the team in points. 12 Goals and 23 assists accumulate for 35 points in 26 games. Christian’s future might be back in North-America if he continues to put up these numbers.

Sven Helfenstein
Drafted 2000, 6th rnd, 175th overall
Current team: SC Bern

Helfenstein is at an important stage of his career. He should make that extra step that takes him out the prospect status. With the WJC coming up, Sven will have to lead his team as being one of the most experienced players on the team. He started his career with EHC Kloten but due to lack of ice time he decided to play for by La Chaux de Fonds who had a very inexperienced roster at the time and were at the bottom of the league and did relegate. However Helfenstein did enoguh to earn himself a new contract with another NLA team: SC Bern. This team is playing around .500 hockey this season and Helfenstein has been put on several lines. As of late he benefitted from being put on the 2nd line and he racked up some points. After 28 games he has equalled his point total from last season (1+9). Helfenstein will never be a huge scorer but could become a solid 3rd or 4th line player, but time is running out.