German prospect Christian Ehrhoff, one of San Jose’s fourth round picks in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, continued his development during the 2002-03 season, readying himself to challenge for a spot on the San Jose Sharks in September.
Ehrhoff’s season began with the exhibition Mercure Cup tournament in Nürnberg. In three games Ehrhoff scored a power play goal against Lugano of the Swiss Nationalliga A and the game-tying goal and an assist in Krefeld’s 4-4 tie of Cologne. The 6’2” 194-pound Ehrhoff played in Krefeld’s first two DEL regular season games, tallying an assist the Penguins opener against Hamburg. San Jose was Ehrhoff’s next stop, as the defenseman was to attend a second Sharks training camp. While in San Jose, Ehrhoff played in two exhibition games, before returning to Krefeld, missing four DEL games.
In Krefeld’s next twelve games before the Deutschland Cup, Ehrhoff tallied four goals and five assists, including the game-winning penalty shot goal against Nürnberg Oct. 27 and a three-assist performance Nov. 3 against Mannheim in a 5-2 victory. Ehrhoff played in only one of the Deutschland Cup games for Team Germany, tallying an assist in Germany’s 5-2 victory over Switzerland. The Penguins then embarked on a 25-game stretch with no breaks for tournaments, wherein Ehrhoff managed four goals and nine assists.
The DEL All-Star Game was next on Ehrhoff’s slate, as Ehrhoff’s German national team defeated the DEL All-Stars (comprised mostly of foreign born players in the DEL) 6-4. Ehrhoff did not tally in the game, but did manage to score a goal against Switzerland in the Swiss Cup, a four-nation tournament also including Slovakia and Canada, which was simultaneously fielding a team in the Sweden Hockey Games tournament between Sweden, Finland, Russia, and Canada.
After the Swiss Cup, Ehrhoff finished out Krefeld’s remaining nine games with two goals and two assists, finishing with ten goals and 17 assists in 48 games. Ehrhoff finished first on Krefeld among defensemen in goals, and fourth in the DEL in defenseman goal-scoring. The 27 points Ehrhoff managed placed the Moers native fifth overall on Krefeld in scoring, and 14th among all DEL defenseman. Always a threat on the power play, Ehrhoff’s five power play goals was fourth-best on Krefeld, and many of Ehrhoff’s 157 shots, second on Krefeld, were also blasts on the power play. In fact, Ehrhoff’s blast of 88.2 miles per hour was tops in the DEL All-Star Skills Competition.
Ehrhoff’s entire game is not offense however. Steady defensively, and willing to play physical, Ehrhoff led Krefeld in plus/minus with a +14 rating, good for 16th overall in the DEL. Teammate and fellow national team defenseman Daniel Kunce was second on Krefeld at +8.
Krefeld’s record of 20 wins, eight shoot-out wins, 22 losses, and two shoot-out losses placed the Penguins in sixth with 78 points, ahead of the Kassel Huskies on a tie-breaker (Kassel had 19 wins) and one point ahead of Hamburg Freezers, and only three points ahead of the Iserlohn Roosters, who missed the playoffs. Despite squeeking into the playoffs, Krefeld played strong, defeating the DEG Metro Stars 4-1 in the best-of-seven series. Ehrhoff was key, with a power play goal and four assists, two on the power play, in the series. Krefeld’s 5-2 victory over DEG in Game 4 saw Ehrhoff tally a power play goal, and two assists. Krefeld also handled the Berlin Polar Bears easily, winning the series 3-1, with Ehrhoff scoring a goal in Game 1. In the DEL Finals the Penguins faced the Cologne Sharks, and defeated the Sharks 3-2, as Ehrhoff had two assists in Krefeld’s 5-2 victory in Game 1, and an assist in the Penguins’ 3-2 victory in Game 2. In helping Krefeld to its first DEL championship since the teams founding in 1952, Ehrhoff finished with three goals and six assists in 14 games. Leading all Krefeld defensemen in scoring, and second behind Cologne’s Mirko Lüdemann in DEL defenseman-scoring in the playoffs, was also first on Krefeld with a +4 rating. Fourth in goals, assists, and points on Krefeld in the playoffs, Ehrhoff finished tenth in DEL playoff scoring.
Just a few days after his DEL Championship, Ehrhoff was representing Germany again, this time at the World Championships. Germany had a strong showing, finishing eighth in the 16-team tournament, but Ehrhoff did not manage to tally a point, after finishing fourth in defensive scoring at the World Championships in 2002. However, Ehrhoff’s contributions this year came in the form of defense this year, paired with Kunce for most of the tournament, leading Germany in ice-time at 19:22 per game. In classic Ehrhoff-style, the young German did manage 21 shots in seven games. Of some note, Ehrhoff logged 21:31 of ice-time against Canada, as Germany took the eventual champions to overtime, but falling 3-2.
After pairing with former NHL defenseman Darryl Shannon for nearly the entire season, Ehrhoff now appears to be ready for the world’s top hockey league himself. A strong skater, with a hard shot that’s useful on the power play, and solid defensive skills, Ehrhoff’s well-rounded game will place him in competition with two 24-year olds for a spot on the Sharks: Tom Preissing and Doug Murray. Restricted free agent Rob Davison, also 24, could also compete for a spot on the Sharks if re-signed. Ehrhoff turns 21 in July and is the favorite to nab the sixth defenseman spot on the Sharks because of his strong overall game, tried and proven in the DEL (laden with former NHL, IHL, and AHLers), the Olympics in 2002, and the World Championships, competition Preissing and Murray have not equaled. Davison has played in the NHL, but only appears to be a short-term seventh defenseman solution, and is not a long-term threat to Ehrhoff.
However, if for any reason Ehrhoff does not play in North America next season, the young defenseman has signed with the Eagles of Mannheim in the DEL, which should be home to San Jose prospect goalie Dimitri Pätzold, and also Marcel Goc if he remains in Germany instead of signing with the Sharks. Recently hired general manager Doug Wilson has said he wants players who want to be in San Jose and will give 100 percent. Ehrhoff has the work ethic, maturity, and enthusiasm to meet these expectations. At the least, Ehrhoff should tear up the AHL for the Cleveland Barons, but more likely, Ehrhoff will follow fellow-Shark Marco Sturm in jumping immediately to the NHL.
|Christian Ehrhoff 2002-03|