An overview of the Swiss National League A (NLA). How strong are the teams? What about prospects? These are the main questions I asked myself.
The whole league will me much more balanced, than it was last season, but there are still teams who could dominate this season
Teams in alphabetic order:
Pauli Jaks, drafted by the Los Angeles Kings and the first ever Swiss player to play an NHL game, was the best goalie in last year’s regular season, but struggled in the playoffs. This year there will be a lot of pressure on him with the team not being strong up front. If the team is to succeed he will have to hold them in most games and if he does he will be one of the top goalies this season. Back-up Peter Martin is one of the best backup goaltenders in the league.
Last season Ambri had one of the best defenses in the league and they shouldn’t be much worse this season. The defense corps is strong, and the injuries that hurt them last year shouldn’t crop up this time with prospects Andreas Hänni and John Gobbi around. Swedish native, and one time Vancouver Canuck, Leif Rohlin was the best defensive defenseman in the league last season, but the team is relying on him to put up better offensive numbers this time around.
Oleg Petrov is gone to try his luck with the Montreal Canadiens! That not only hurts Ambri, but the whole Swiss league because quite simply he was the most attractive player to watch on the ice. Ambri also lost its other foreign forward. The new foreign forward duo is being manned by the Lebeau brothers, Stephan and Pat.
Pat played a few games for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, while Stephane was the best player in the Swiss National League B. Both are good hockey players, but they will not be able to replace Petrov and Paul DiPietro.
A lot of pressure will be on the Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder, Luca Cereda, he has to prove that he is able to lead his team. Other prospects like Paolo Duca, Vitaly Lakhmatov and Cornel Prinz are ready to play. At least Duca will have a regular spot in the team.
Ambri can still be one of the top teams this season.
Renato Tosio is one of the best Swiss players of all time. He is strong in important games, but a little lazy overall. He will have to man the nets alone because Bern has only inexperienced junior backups in Martin Kilchör and Andreas Schweizer.
Pettri Liimatainen can be one of the top defensemen in the league. He has a hard shot, but in the pre-season he often took too much time to shoot. He played in the German Elite League last season, but the Swiss league is a lot faster, so let’s give him a bit more time to adapt.
Martin Steinegger is one of the best, and hardest playing defensemen in the league. The performance of “the diva” Marc Leuenberger will be closely watched. The best Swiss junior defenseman David Jobin will play a very important role too. The problem will be how the 3rd defensive line performs, Martin Rauch slowed a lot last year and whoever takes over the 6th spot will not be experienced enough to be a good linemate for him.
Young and fast, that’s Bern’s offense. In Jackson Penney they have a superb sniper, but Dave McLlwain will have to work hard defensively because Penney will shy away from the own zone. Bern could have one of the better Power Play corps this season, if Coach Rautakallio finds the right combination of players. How about Liimatainen/Jobin on the blueline, Marc Weber (one of the most underrated players in the league) as playmaker, Patrick Howald (former Los Angeles draftee) in front of the net and Penney to score off of rebounds?
Bern could surprise the whole league this year.
Petter Rönnquist is able to be the top goalie. A motivated leader is exactly what Davos needs in the net, but will he fulfill the expectations? He is definitely better than the last year’s goalie (Stephane Beauregard)= but will need to shine if Davos is to succeed. Backup Marco Wegmüller has one more year on his shoulders, but with very few games played he is still not experienced enough to lead an NLA-team.
The loss of Marc Streit to the Utah Grizzlies of the IHL hurts a lot and couldn’t be compensated. Petteri Nummelin is probably the best offensive defenseman in the league. Jan VonArx will have to prove that he can be a top defenseman this season. The rest of the defense is nothing but average. Timo Helbling the 1999 Nashville 6th round pick wants to make it to “Music City” and this season he has a chance to become the best rookie. His role will be very defensive, like it is for every rookie defenseman, but if he can contribute some offence it will be a bonus. Michael Kress has to show us his talent this season and prove that everyone underrates him.
There are few prospects who wait in the wings. Defencemen like René Back, Ruedi Forster and Joel Froehlicher are the best of an average lot.
Defense will be a huge problem for Davos.
With Frederik Lindquist (1998/99 in Hamilton/AHL), Kai Nurminen, who played for Davos last season, and the addition of national team forwards Patrick Fischer and Frederic Rothen the team is a lot stronger up front. Both still have some talent left, and both are expected to be top scorers this season. In Reto VonArx, Sandy Jeannin and Sandro Rizzi, the team has three other national team forwards. VonArx is a top goal scorer and Jeannin a good forward who is effective on all forward positions. Sandro Rizzi is one of the top defensive forwards in the league. Rene Muller is an underrated forward.
Prospect Marc Heberlein will fight for the top Swiss 2000 NHL draft spot against Kloten’s Sven Helfenstein 96 that motivates. Claudio Neff who has to have a great season to get recognized by NHL scouts.
Lindquist, Rothen, VonArx, Jeannin, Muller, Rizzi 96 six player who can score a lot of goals. Others who are only waiting to get= recognized. The offense is attractive and good, but the forwards have to work defensively, so not all of them will be allowed to show the full offensive potential.
Davos has a goaltender who should be able to win games behind an average defense. As the offense is able to score lots of goals, Davos will be able to win high scoring games and could be a top team if Rönnquist fulfills expectations.
Thomas Ostlund will not be allowed to play an average season again. He= must be a solid goalie or Fribourg will have a ton of problems. Alain= Sansonnens is not ready for NLA hockey, so Ostlund will have to play until his legs fall off. Also don’t forget that Fribourg still has Colorado’s David Aebischer under contract, but it is very unlikely that he will be here to help the team.
If Mika Stromberg, the best non-NHL defenseman a few years ago, gets back into that form this season, then Fribourg has a top foreign defenseman. Otherwise they are nowhere with an inexperienced defense. The only other defenseman with any experience is national team player Philippe Marquis.
Rolf Ziegler, Fabien Guinard, Livio Fazio and Romain Fleury are talented, but not experienced enough to be above average defensemen. Goran Bezina, the 1999 Phoenix 8th rounder could become a factor in Fribourg’s defense.
Robert Burakovsky is able to score a lot of goals, when he likes to. Last season I also saw “the other” Burakovsy in a few games ,but he won’t be allowed to play that way again this season or he will get a lot of problem with fanatic Gotteron fans.
Flavien Conne wasn’t known before the last season, but came up and led his team in scoring, and will be called upon to have another great season. In Gil Montandon and Colin Muller, Fribourg gained some experienced forwards. Montandon can play another good season, but how about Muller?
Mario Rottaris, the team captain, has to have a high scoring season. Pascal Schaller scores in important moments. Young Rene Furler is ready to score too.
A line with Montandon, Conne and Burakovsky can rock. But Fribourg still has an average team. Playoffs may be the goal, but not much farther.
Reto Pavoni is there in important games, but has to prove he is able to lead a young team over a whole season. Backup Gianni Cavegn left the team for personal reasons. But he even would have had been an “alibi backup”, because the real one is playing in the NLB-team Thurgau (Marco Bührer).
Oldie Samuel Balmer regained his self confidence under coach Wladimir Jursinov The other leader in Kloten’s defense is national team player Benjamin Winkler.
Arne Ramholt has to prove what he can play, but defensively he’s steady. Martin Bruderer is experienced, but has slowed with age.
An underrated defenseman is Oskar Szczepaniec, he has a lot of potential and under this great coach he will be able to show his talent. Marco Klöti and prospects Mathias Wüst and Martin Höhener will fight for ice time. German Robin Breitbach will play junior hockey.
All players who will not make the NHL roster during the camps attention!!! Kloten is looking for another foreign center.
In Tomas Strandberg, Kloten has the top defensive forward in the league. He can make the plays and score a few goals too, but his No. 1 job is defense. Sniper Andrew McKim is able to score a lot of points. After a few years in the NLB and the German Elite League, it is his first NLA-season.
Martin Plüss is another top defensive forward. During the pre-season Sven Lindemann showed that he wants to be a leader. Veteran Felix Hollenstein is the leader on and off the ice. He won’t score much, but is still important for his team.
Matthias Schenkel scares opponents with a rugged style, but tends to take too many penalties. As the special teams still don’t look good, he could be a negative factor. Andre Rufener can play along the boards, but should score more goals with his talent.
The Florida draftee Adrian Wichser will play an important role in Kloten. He didn’t play half of the pre-season because of a back injury. If he wants to get invited to Florida’s camp for the 2000/2001-season, he has to lead the team and score more goals than he did in 98/99.
Last year he was overlooked in the draft, cause he doesn’t play that physical. He seemed to be stronger in the pre-season though and with his talent he could play an important role on the team.
Sven Helfenstein has played nothing but great during this pre-season, he gained a spot on the team for the opening night, but has to prove he can play consistently over the whole season.
Well, as Kloten starts the season with only two foreign players every forward will be afraid of losing ice time when the 3rd foreign forward arrives.
The team is too inexperienced, and the only goal can be to make the playoffs and that won’t be easy. A lot depends on the 3rd foreign player.
Martin Gerber will fight for a national team spot, and in the pre-season he seemed to be better than last year. Adrian Hunziker is a junior backup, and not ready for NLA-hockey.
Erik Kakko is an underrated foreign defenceman and will be the most important player on the team. Antoine Descloux is the only other experienced defenseman.
Markus Wuethrich, Bjoern Schneider and Pascal Mueller are very talented. Prove what you can do guys! Bjoern Schneider can be a good defenseman when he wants to be. Hopefully for Langnau he wants to.
Steve Hirschi outplayed Bern’s David Jobin in the pre-season “Industie-Cup”-tournament finals and plays in all situations, but he is not as talented as David is.
Daniel Gauthier plays the point on the power play situations, and is a steady defensive forward, who can score a few goals too. Ex-Boston Bruin Todd Elik WOW! Not the undisciplined player anymore? At least during the pre-season he looked motivated and disciplined. Will he play like this for the whole season? I don’t believe so. A top scorer!
John Fust is the best Swiss forward in the team. A real scorer, but very slow. Also Bruno Brechbuehl should play an important role over the whole season. Another underrated player is Benoit Pont. Like Fust he is slow, but scores some goals.
A surprise during the pre-season was Bjoern Guazzini. Coming out of the juniors he is able to score goals during the season too.
The rest of the team has problems to play on NLA-level.
Langnau will try to fight for the playoffs. Their chances are slim, but if Todd Elik plays superb in all games, then a lot is possible.
Cristobal Huet, the French national team goalie, was the most valuable player during the 98/99-playoffs, but doesn’t seem consistent enough to play a whole season. Chicago draftee Lars Weibel is the back-up. Hmmm, can this man be called a backup? Lugano has two No. 1 goalies and both will accept their fate when they are benched. The goaltenders won’t be a problem this season.
Peter Andersson. Called “the best slow defenseman in the world” by Swiss hockey journalist Klaus Zaugg. I absolutely agree, Andersson is a great defenseman. This man had up to 40 minutes of ice time last season. Very smart. He didn’t score many points last season, but may be able to put up bigger numbers.
Mark Astley, Sandro Bertaggia, Gaeton Voisard, Olivier Keller, Julien Vauclair are all top defensemen. Keller and Vauclair are national team defenders. Ex-Buffalo Sabre Astley is one of the best defensive defensemen in the league.
Behind these guys, there is still Rick Tschumi ready to outplay the top forwards on the boards and prospect Mark-Pierre Tschudy only waits to get some ice time, but won=92t get too much behind this top 7.
Yesterday, one day before the league starts, Igor Fedulov became Swiss!! So, he can play in all games. Frenchman Phillipe Bozon is still a great player and Swiss hockey is happy to have him back in the leagues.
Christian Dube, who played a few games for the Rangers last season, counts as a Swiss too. Years ago, when his father Normand Dube used to play in Switzerland he= played as a junior. Also he played 1 game in the NLB before going to North American junior leagues and pros. Now we have him back! He will be one of the most attractive players to watch. Lugano wants him to be a leader on and off the ice.
Andre Doll is a steady defensive forward who plays a very rugged game. Also a rugged player, who is hated by all opponent’s fans, is Misko Antisin. Jean-Jaques Aeschlimann is also an important defensive forward, but with more offensive qualities than Doll.
Regis Fuchs scores in important moments. I call him the Swiss Claude Lemieux, because he performs much better in the playoffs than he does in the regular season.
Marcel Jenni and Gian-Marco Crameri build a very attractive duo. Jenni can be one of the best non-NHL players on good days and Crameri is the ideal linemate for him. Another superb scorer is Trevor Meier, but this is still not= enough! There is Geoffrey Vauclair.
At last but not least, there are two hard working defensive forwards in Andy Näser and Keith Fair. And behind all of them waits last years junior top scorer Gilbert Flueler to get ice time. He is able to score on NLA-level.
Lugano has a deep team. No-one can stop this team from defending last year’s championship.
Claudio Bayer performs well in important games, but is overrated Remo Wehrli is a capable backup.
Magnus Svensson is back in Switzerland and is the most important player on the team. Will play double shifts the whole season. Very important offensively as well as defensively. He is still strong, but has gotten slow.
Dominic Meier is an underrated defensive defenseman. As well as Marco Capaul is underrated offensively. The Sigg brothers, Daniel and Roger are playing another season in Rapperswil. Both are more defensive than offensive forces.
Jörg Reber has to prove that he can put up bigger numbers. A great talent in defense is Alain Reist, but also a defensive defenseman.
Mike Richard has just extended his contract for the 2000/01-season. He his able to be a top scorer this upcoming season. He brought his friend Paul Ysebaert and ex-Tampa Bay Lightning to Rapperswil. This duo has to score the important goals.
Bernhard Schuemperli will be an important scorer too. He must hold the last year’s point production in the pre-season he showed that his able to do that. Mark Ouimet has to lead the= 2nd offensive line.
Markus Buetler, Frank Monnier, Oliver Hoffmann and René Friedli are all better defensively. At least Buetler does this job very well.
Vjeran Ivankovic has to finally prove what he can do. Prospects Loic Burkhalter (top Swiss scorer in NLB last season), Sandro Haeberlin and Marcel Sommer will have to play important roles too.
Rapperswil played a good pre-season. They won’t be able to beat the top teams, but can be top behind them.
Ari Sulander is called one of the best goalies outside of the NHL. Struggled in last year’s playoffs and World Championships, and has to prove that he is the top foreign goaltender in Switzerland. Thomas Papp is a capable backup.
The only team with two foreign defensemen, ex-Vancouver Canuck Adrian Plavsic and Kari Martikainen, are both steady offensively and work good in the own zone. Martikainen will lead the Lions Power Play.
Andreas Zehnder is feared by the opponents and good offensively. Martin Kout is a good defensive force. Edgar Salis is the most feared defenseman in the league and will play the most important defensive role. Mattias Seger is a very talented offensive defenseman, but sometimes struggles defensively.
Dan Hodgson is one of the best playmakers in the league and will set up Peter Jaks for a pile of goals who was the top scoring Swiss player in 98/99. Laurent Mueller, Claudio Micheli, Michel Zeiter, Christian Weber and Patric DellaRossa are all able to score. The ZSC Lions will have two good Swiss scoring lines.
At defensive forwards there are Patrizio Morger, Montreal draftee Mattia Baldi, Rolf Schrepfer, Reto Stirnimann and Robin Bauer. Behind Lugano they are the second deepest team in the league.
The ZSC Lions are the only team with a real farm team. If a player gets= injured there are still good backups in the NLB.
If the team doesn’t play successful coach Kent Ruhnke will be fired. A lot of pressure is on this team, because the fanatic fans want to see them winning. This team is stronger than last year and should be able to play for the championship.
Ronnie Rueger will share goaltending duties with Patrick Schöpf. The one who plays better is automatically a national team candidate. Over the last to seasons Ruegger was the No. 1. Both are good goalies but not superior.
The loss of Thomas Künzi to Ambri hurts. Patrick Sutter will have to lead the defense and score a lot from the blueline. Marc Bayer is able to score lots of assists, but has to get better in the own zone.
Also the oldies Dino Kessler and and Andre Kuenzi will have to score, but both of them will concentrate more on defense. Jakub Horak is an underrated defensive defenseman.
The rest of the defense are prospects. After many years in the NLB Patrick Fischer gets finally his chance in the highest league. Reto Kobach was injured during the summer and you saw that he needs= time during the pre-season. Raphael Berger has to prove that he is one of the most talented defensemen.
In Paul DiPietro and Chris Tancill, Zug get a superb scoring duo. Wes Walz was expected to be the 3rd foreign forward, but broke his contract and left for the NHL to try to grab a spot. The new 3rd man is ex-Canuck Dave Roberts. These three player will be spectacular. In Andre Roetheli, Stefan Grogg, Anaheim draftee Rene Stuessi and Daniel Meier, Zug has other players that are able to score. Patrick Oppliger, Sascha Schneider and Christophe Brown make a very good defensive line, if they play together. Behind them there prospects filling up the roster. Stefan Niggli played not bad in 98/99 and Samuel Villiger and Claudio Bitzi are very talented. Not to forget a player who isn’t on the roster is Thomas Nüssli.
Zug will make the playoffs, but the team seems not to be deep enough to be on top.
My 1999/2000 regular season ranking: