Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) prospects preview

By Chapin Landvogt





DEL – Deutsche Eishockey Liga

 

The DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) completed its tenth
and probably most successful season of professional play in 2003-04. A league that once seemed somewhat doomed
from the outset, the DEL has grown step by step and the 2003-2004 season was
widely considered the most competitive yet, void of folding franchises and
managerial scandals. There were 14 very
competitive teams with several having fought for the last playoff spot all the
way to the last two weekends of the season. Even more important from a German
standpoint is the ever-continuing reduction of foreigners that dot the line-ups
throughout the league as German talents have continued to show the ability to
step in and play at the high level the DEL has become accustomed to.

 

Of course, for North American fans, the question is
what the DEL resembles and what it can offer in respect to future NHL talents.
As far as the level of play is concerned, the league itself could be favorably
compared to what the IHL was before it was dissolved. Due to the large number of imported players coming mostly from
North America or at least having had North American experience, the DEL has
often been tabbed in the past as a bit of a graveyard league for veterans,
"has-beens" or "never-weres" looking to pull in the odd buck
or two while on their last legs – as was often the case in the IHL. However, this tendency has gone by the
wayside as more and more North American prospects have found homes in the NHL
after tenures in Europe. Now several
young players such as Micki Dupont, Brandon Reid and Mike Green, who still have
NHL aspirations, are coming to Germany to continue their development. In addition, renowned coaches the likes of
Dave King, Pierre Pagé and American Greg Poss (recently donned the head coach
of Team Germany) are heading benches around the DEL and offering continued
professional development to North Americans and Germans alike.

 

With the reduction of one import player license per
season the DEL has also taken steps in making it a goal to provide German talent
with the opportunity to develop at a high level. In addition, more and more DEL franchises are coming to
agreements with clubs in the 2nd and 3rd divisions much
in the same manner as NHL franchises having AHL and ECHL farm team affiliates,
which has proven especially beneficial for German players under the age of 23.

 

Below is a look at each team for 2004-05 and the NHL
prospects who will be playing for them.

 

Eisbären (Polar Bears) Berlin

 

The Polar Bears are Germany’s reigning regular season
powerhouse, but last season lost in the finals. With Coach Pierre Pagé at the helm, Berlin has become the DEL’s
model team in philosophy and game culture.
Pagé has successfully molded together well-known North American players
with an abundance of German youth and his record cannot yet be argued, even if
the Polar Bears have yet to take a title under his tutelage. However, as this season begins, Berlin will
start with what is considered one of the strongest defenses ever in the DEL,
including Micki Dupont and Derrick Walser in front of goalie Oliver Jonas, a
German who attended and played at Harvard, who only just this season is getting
the nod as the team’s No. 1 in net. A
risky move for sure, but the team still has several licenses for foreigners and
will make a move during the season if necessary. Up front, the Polar Bears feature many well-known players as well
as several very promising young Germans including 17-year-old forward Christoph
Gawlik
(currently out with a shoulder injury), who is widely considered the
best German prospect since Jochen Hecht.
As a sidenote, Dany Heatley has a German passport and published rumors
have him finding his way to Berlin.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
The
aforementioned Christoph Gawlik will be watched very closely although his birth
date is 8/10/87. Young goalie Youri
Ziffzer
and winger Florian Busch (see Hockey’s Future interview with
Pierre Pagé from 6/22/04) were both available and skipped in last year’s draft,
but they were among Central Scouting’s European player ranks and are on NHL
maps, especially if they have a breakthrough season this year. The names of
overagers Frank Hordler, Jens Baxmann, Tobias Draxinger, André Rankel, and
Matthias Forster shouldn’t be ignored either. Berlin management is also very high
on 2005 draft eligible Niels Liesegang.

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Oliver Jonas, Levente Szuper
(pending), Shawn Heins, Rob Leask, Ricard Persson, Derrick Walser, Micki
Dupont, Stefan Ustorf, Rob Shearer, Mark Beaufait, Denis Pederson, Kelly
Fairchild, Steve Walker

Current NHL
Prospects:
none

 

 

Düsseldorf Metro Stars

 

The Metro Stars took a step backwards last season and
barely slipped into the playoffs with the eighth seed, just to be easily ousted
by Berlin. Although the team was solid
defensively, goaltender Andrei Trefilov just didn’t provide the dependable
service he had in previous seasons and the team suffered through an incredible
lack of offense despite several forwards having career years. This season the team watched roughly 35
fringe goals leave the team while two established AHLers and established league
icon Andrew Schneider bolster the offense.
Without a doubt, successful German coach Michael Komma has lots of
pressure on his shoulders as not a soul in the German hockey scene seems to
foresee the Metro Stars going anywhere but up this season. Questionable though is whether team leader
and top German DELer Daniel Kreutzer can come close to repeating his wonderful
production (54 26-28-54) from last season?

Players recognizable
to fans from North America:
Andrei Trefilov, Jeff Tory, Eric
Dandenault, Clayton Young, Matt Herr, Matt Davidson, Andrew Schneider

Current NHL
Prospects:
(D) Alexander
Sulzer
(NAS) had an up and down season last year after having been mugged in
an alley during the second week of league action. He ended up participating in 50 of 56 contests and put up less
than thrilling numbers (5 points, 64 PIM), but showed the ability to improve
and the willingness to get his nose dirty.
Considering Dusseldorf lost none of its top 6 defensemen and then added
one more to the top 4, Sulzer isn’t necessary looking at increased playing time
this season and coach Michael Komma is known to take it slow with
youngsters. They must first prove
themselves defensively first, whether forward or defenseman. Sulzer turned 20 this past May.

 

Frankfurt Lions

 

Coach Rich Chernomaz did what few expected him to do
last season and that is – he led the Frankfurt Lions from the DEL’s final spot
in the previous season to its champion spot in 2004. It was a fairy tale season
indeed as a number of factors fell into place at the right time. The Lions were able to ride the euphoria of
Ian Gordon’s timely playoff goaltending feats to American defenseman Peter
Ratchuk’s league leading 22 goals from a pointman to Canadian forward Pat
Lebeau’s league leading 83 points all the way to the championship. After
finishing off Cologne fairly convincingly, the Lions looked doomed after 3
games against the Hamburg Freezers, but shocked expected champion Berlin in the
championship series. Now the team has
remained pretty much intact although center Jesse Belanger has left for
Switzerland. Nonetheless, the Lions have added NHLer Stephane Robidas and on
paper, have appeared to only become stronger. They should continue to be a
force in the 2004-05 season.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on: Michael Hackert
had a
breakthrough season last year and several DEL commentators are of the opinion
that the 23-year-old has all Jochen Hecht’s tools but hasn’t yet found the
toolbox.

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Ian Gordon, Peter Ratchuk,
Stephane Robidas, Francois Bouchard, Patrick Lebeau, Dwayne Norris, Jason
Young, Marc Beaucage, Sean Pronger, Joe
Murphy

Current NHL
Prospects:
None

 

Hamburg Freezers

 

The relocated Freezers have managed to make the
playoffs two years running. Things went
so well last season, it appeared they’d meet their DEL brothers from Berlin
(both are linked to the Anschutz group rooted in Los Angeles) in the final,
before Frankfurt surprisingly knocked the Freezers out. As this is being written, it isn’t quite
certain what the team will look like this season. The goaltending and defense is set and is expected to be coach
Dave King’s bread and butter for the season, but the offense looks a bit weak
and didn’t get any stronger when it let right wing Mark Greig walk last
week. Rumors abound however that the
team looks to add some punch up front, most likely with one or two locked out
players from overseas.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
He may be
going on 21, but big defenseman Martin Walter developed in leaps and
bounds last season and appears to be a future National Team player before
long. The team is placing a great deal
of trust in him and he could eventually prove to be every bit as good as others
from his class like Christian Erhoff and Dennis Seidenberg.

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Boris Rousson, Darren Van
Impe, Paul Manning, Alan Letang, Shane Peacock, Dave Tomlinson, Wayne Hynes,
Brad Purdie, Nils Antons, Craig Johnson, Bobby House, Robert Francz, Brandon
Reid

Current NHL
Prospects:
(F) Brandon Reid of Vancouver

 

Ingolstadt Panthers

 

In their second year of DEL existence, Ron Kennedy’s
Panthers survived a miserable start to get into the playoffs and come back from
a 0-2 deficit to beat the heavily favored Nuremberg Ice Tigers in the
playoffs. It was a very successful
season and the team’s tight defensive system overcame a rather weak offense and
some disappointments in the defensive ranks.
Now, however, the team enters its second season in the new Saturn Arena
and appears ready to take flight. With
the additions of NHLers Andy MacDonald and German icon Marco Sturm, the team
will continue to build on last year’s success and is expected to fight for
home-ice advantage in this year’s playoff race. That attempt will be backed by former NHL back-up Jimmy Waite in
goal, who is currently considered the DEL’s top goaltender.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
Defenseman Peter Baumgartner comes from
the same program that produced Marco Sturm and is held in high esteem. There’s
no telling if the draft-eligible (G) Sebastian Vogl or (F) Felix
Schutz
will work themselves into the spotlight.

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Jimmy Waite, Ken Sutton, Justin
Harney, Phil von Stefenelli, Brad Burym, Chris Armstrong, Jakub Ficenec, Craig
Ferguson, Cameron Mann, Martin Jiranek, Doug Ast, Marco Sturm, Drew Omicioli,
Glen Goodall, Andy MacDonald

Current NHL
Prospects:
None

 

Iserlohn Roosters

 

The team that just refuses to be demoted, the Roosters
will once again walk on a financial tightrope hoping to remain in the league
this season. Iserlohn will once again
feature the lowest payroll in the DEL living almost purely on local
sponsorship. One coup this summer was using US winger Bryan Adams’ Michigan
State connections to pluck Mike York from the expected lockout heap. The Roosters have a solid and respectable
team but are entering this season with the most questionable goaltending, the
newest and most unknown faces on defense and a forward corp rooted deeply in
unknown German quantities. Promise does
abound though and Dutch-Canadian coach Doug Mason has been known to get a lot
out of a little. Remaining in the
league is the team’s goal, but Iserlohn management knows that if all the
hunches on their new players prove fruitful and Mike York can have the expected
offensive impact, the Roosters will also have a word or two to say about the
last few playoff spots.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
None

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Kevin Mitchell, Mike Martin, Brian
White, Erich Goldmann, Ralph Intranuovo, Mike York, Matt Higgins, Bryan Adams,
Rhett Gordon, Brett Lysak.

 

Kölner Haie (Cologne Sharks)

 

When it comes to the DEL, Cologne plays probably the
biggest role in marketing the league nationwide and internationally. Playing in the Kölnarena with the largest
amount of seats under a roof in Europe, the Sharks regularly draw an average of
14,000+ per game. Despite that, Cologne
rarely draws the big stars of the league and professes a "the team is the
star" philosophy. Former National
coach Hans Zach has the full respect of the coaching community and his players,
and has put together another team that has playoffs written all over it.
However, there are some holes in the team which Zach and co. are hoping will be
filled up by the incoming German talent.
Nonetheless, Cologne will be able to throw out four strong lines with a
mission every night and has players at all positions that rank among the DEL’s
elite. In addition, oldie but goodie
Dave McLlwain continues to be one of the most effective and respected leaders
in Germany. The Sharks most certainly have their sights set on the title. NHL draftees Ed Lewandowski and Kai Hospelt
will look to continue to play themselves into their respective team’s plans
upon the end of a lockout.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
Very young forwards Moritz Mueller and Philip
Gogulla
have grabbed some attention in Germany after fantastic seasons in
the German Junior league, DNL. Both will now be coached and tutored by former
National Team coach Hans Zach who is noted for his player development. It is unclear as to what their role will be
this season, but both will get ice time with an affiliate. Both should be eligible for next summer’s
draft.

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Chris Rogles, Thomas Greiss, Dan
Bjornlie, Stéphane Julien, Brad Schlegel, Dennis Seidenberg (if permitted by
the Philadelphia Flyers), Paul Traynor, Jeremy Adduono, Colin Beardsmore, Alex
Hicks, Jean-Yves Roy, Yannic Seidenberg, Dave McLlwain

Current
NHLer:
(D) Dennis Seidenberg

Current NHL
Prospects:
(G) Thomas
Greiss
of San Jose was the only German drafted in the summer of 2004, and
not surprisingly by San Jose who has drafted Germans Marco Sturm, Christian
Erhoff, Marcel Goc, Dmitri Patzold, Pat Ehelechner and Kai Hospelt before
him. However, this will be Greiss’
first season of DEL action and it is planned that he’ll be the backup behind
stalwart Chris Rogles who is expected to start 95 percent of the games. Greiss will most likely also see playing
time in the ‘pocal’ round and in exhibition games. For the Junior Sharks last season, Greiss played 24 games and had
a GAA of 2.61 and save percentage of .910. (F) Kai Hospelt of San Jose was drafted two summers ago and just turned
19 in August. His first full DEL season
was nothing to write home about. Coach
Hans Zach continually force-fed him power play minutes, but he just wasn’t yet
up to the challenge and finished the year with four points in 52 games. Several weeks ago he tore his ACL in
practice and he’ll be out until at least February. In addition, Cologne has a
very deep team, so it shouldn’t be expected that he finds a spot as a regular
any time soon. (F) Eduard Lewandowski
of Phoenix has been a stalwart in the German league for several years now. In addition, he has made his way to being
one of the National Team’s go-to guys.
He just recently turned 24 and was discovered after having been invited
to summer camps by the Los Angeles Kings.
He impressed some scouts and then got drafted by Phoenix in 2003, but
there is no sign of him making the jump overseas anytime soon. However, he put up 17-19-36 and 101 PMs in
57 games last season and does get PK and PP duty.

 

Krefeld Penguins

 

What a difference a year can make. After finishing sixth and then taking the
championship under head coach and Islander legend Butch Goring in 2002-03, the
Krefeld Penguins had probably their most disappointing season in the DEL in
2003-04, having barely escaped the relegation round. Goring was one of three coaches (including former Islander coach
Bill Stewart) who played part in the ineffectiveness of a club that, on paper,
should have been capable of much more. This season looks much different. Although the Caps Robert Mueller
remains the No. 1 in net and the defense has only changed slightly, the forward
ranks have been revamped and the team is heading into the season as an
unexpected quantity. Mueller has
been Germany’s top goalie aside from Olaf Kolzig for some time now. He is no longer considered a prospect at
Hockey’s Future but is worth noting because he shared goaltending duties with
Olaf Kolzig in the recent World Cup of Hockey and Washington’s organization has
raved about him. It shouldn’t be a
surprise if one more solid DEL season lands him in North America by the time
the lockout has been completed. He is
Krefeld’s No. 1 goalie, although out with an injury at the moment.

 

The success of the team will be made and broken with
the results up front. Interestingly
enough, the Penguins have reunited center Vadim Slivchenko and winger Alex
Selivanov (both of whom have many years of North American experience), who
managed to be quite a dynamic duo together in Frankfurt several seasons ago
when Selivanov was a top scorer with 61 points in 58 games. As another oddity,
the team has also signed German-Korean Martin Hyun who played high school
hockey in the US before attending St. Michael’s college. Last season, Hyun played
for Leuven in Belgium.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
None

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Paul Dyck, Justin Kurtz, Guy
Lehoux, Shayne Wright, Scott King, Chris Herperger, Steve Brule, Robert
Guillet, Alexander Selivanov, Vadim Slivchenko

Current NHL
Prospects:
none

 

Mannheim Adler (Eagles)

 

With four championship titles on the shelf, the
Mannheim Eagles have been the DEL’s most successful franchise. This year they look to be as offensively
dominant as any DEL team ever has been.
No less than 15 players have NHL experience, with three being current
NHLers and a total of eight having been regulars at some point. In addition, the team has several of Germany’s
top players lining up. In Frenchman
Cristobal Huet, the Eagles are taking a chance in goal that the lockout will be
their key to top goaltending this season.
The defense could also use some shoring up, especially after having lost
Andy Roach to the St. Louis Blues. No
less, the team looks unrivaled on paper and will surely have a big say in who
is named champion at the end of this season.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
Goalie Danny Aus den Birken is considered
one of Germany’s top prospects and was overlooked in the last draft. He’ll be the No. 2 this season. Forward Marcus
Kink
was overlooked as well last summer although he compares very
comparably to the already drafted Kai Hospelt (SJ) of Cologne. Center Christoph
Ullmann
is already 21 but improved in leaps and bounds last season and has
become part of the National Team. He
could be a late bloomer.

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Cristobal Huet, Andy Delmore,
Sven Butenschon, Sascha Goc, Chris Joseph, Francois Groleau, Jason Podollan,
Eric Healey, Steve Kelly, Devin Edgerton, René Corbet, John Tripp, Jochen
Hecht, Derek Plante

Current NHL
Prospects:
None

 

Nuremberg Ice Tigers

 

American coach Greg Poss has become quite a figure in
the German hockey scene. After starting
as an unknown in the lower leagues, he’s worked his way up to not only a DEL
position, but to the National Team as well.
After German coach Hans Zach took a surprising step down from the
heralded position, German officials ultimately narrowed the search down to the
ambitious American who is fairly fluent in German. For good reason, because Greg Poss’ teams have always been ready
to play and often to overachieve.
Nuremberg came in third last season and had a disappointing
playoffs. It didn’t take long to root
out the problems and on paper, Nuremberg appears as ready as anyone to contend
for the title. With a proper balance of
experience, youth, toughness, offense and defense, the Ice Tigers look to be
among the most balanced teams in hockey.
The one kink could lie in Czech goalie Adam Svoboda who is yet an
unknown commodity in the German league after several solid regular seasons in
Pardubice.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
Goalie Lucas
Lang is German, but his father is Czech and was a goaltending idol for many
years in Germany. Now the 18-year-old
is the designated backup goalie and considered a huge talent with the ‘right’
genes. Also, defeseman Robert Dietrich
has played on assorted German select teams and is considered a decent draft
possibility next June. Up front, the
6’1" Florian Ondruschka could put himself on the scouting map with a
decent introduction in the DEL this season.
As overagers, scouts may still wish to keep last season’s rookie of the
year Felix Petermann in mind, who is expected to take on a great deal more
responsibility this year. Petr Fical,
Bjorn Bombis, Tomas Martinec may also be on the expanded lists of several NHL
scouts.

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Pascal Trepanier, Drew
Bannister, Lubomir Sekeras, Mike Green, Sean Tallaire, Brad Tapper, Greg Leeb,
Yan Stastny.

Current NHL
Prospects:
(D) Stefan
Schauer
of Ottawa spent the 2003-04 season seeing limited ice time for the
Cologne Sharks. He registered 1-1-2 and
45 PMs in 50 games. He was however
mostly used as the seventh defenseman and there were stretches of games where
he saw no ice time at all. This year
he’s being taken under the wing of National Coach Greg Poss and it appears time
will certainly be invested in him, as was the case with last season’s Rookie of
the Year Felix Petermann. Still, at
6’’1 and 185 lbs., he’s still got some filling in to do and Ottawa will take
their time with him. His path to North
America could be very similar to Ottawa’s other pick of a German defenseman,
Christoph Schubert, who is starting his third AHL season this year. For this season though, it appears he’ll be
given the chance to make a huge jump forward in his development.

 

Wolfsburg Grizzly Adams

 

The Grizzly Adams are entering their first year of DEL
existence. Coming from a town that was
little more than a small dot on the map before the Volkswagen car production
factories were established, the Grizzly Adams are sponsored by the Czech
affiliate of Volkswagen, Skoda, and have a very Slavic touch to them, featuring
Slovak coach Stefan Mikes and 6 players from the Czech Republic or Slovakia. Goal number one is to remain in the league,
and judging from the line-up, they should have a much better chance than the
previously promoted team, the Freiburg Wolves (who were demoted in the same
season). There’s youth and almost every
German on the team already has DEL experience.
In addition, many of the players have been playing together for several
years in Wolfsburg. With Petr Smrek and
Ivan Ciernik, the team has signed two guys who were on the cusp of the NHL for
several seasons.

NHL Scouts should
keep an eye on:
5’11, 180-pound youngster Herbert Geisberger
will be given a good opportunity to prove he’s the hidden talent many in
Southern Germany hold him to be. Also,
6’1 190-pound defenseman Sebastian Osterloh is considered a late bloomer
at 20.

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Dale Clarke, Petr Smrek, Ivan
Ciernik, Todd Simon, Xavier Delisle

Current NHL
Prospects:
None

 

Augsburg Panthers

 

The Panthers just missed the playoffs last season,
with the blame going mostly to the goaltending of Swede Magnus Eriksson, whose
highly inconsistent performances that plagued the team all season long. Now the new savior between the pipes is
former Blue Jackets prospect J-F Labbé.
Manager Charlie Fliegauf has one of the DEL’s lowest budgets and much of
the team’s success this season will lie on the shoulders of Labbé. However, Augsburg tends to find diamonds in
the rough year after year and this season may be no different. New to the attack are Francois Methot
(Portland), Marc Brown (Worcester) and Brian Felsner (Sweden and Switzerland),
among others. Still, there’s no doubt that Augsburg’s success will rest not
only on the shoulders of goalie Labbé, but on the continued development and
hopeful impact of German talents Manuel Kofler (6’3, 202 lbs.), Bjorn Barta,
Pascal Appel and Ronny Arendt.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
None

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
J-F Labbé, John Miner, Steve
Bancroft, Mike Pudlick, Duanne Moeser, Francois Fortier, Marc Brown, Shawn
Carter, Rick Girard, Francois Methot, Brian Felsner

Current NHL
Prospects:
None

 

Kassel Huskies

 

Disappointing in Husky country is of course the fact
that US defenseman John-Michael Liles will not be available this season
although the team had come to terms with him in August. However, the Huskies, probably the DEL’s
most successful small-market team over the course of time, are entering this
season rather positively. Coach
McParland came at the end of last season and now has an idea what to expect in
the DEL. Together with manager Joe Gibbs, he has put together a Husky team that
has decent goaltending, a multi-dimensional defense and offense, and that
possesses promise, experience, size, leadership and speed. Depending on how the new players integrate
with each other and in Germany in general, this team really could land anywhere
from first to worst, but shouldn’t have any problem staying in the playoff race
the whole season long. They’ll need to
in order to retain the following of the diehard yet critical fan groups that
have become somewhat spoiled with Kassel’s against-all-odds overachievement
thus far in the DEL.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
None

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Joaquin Gage, Kirk Furey,
Dean Melanson, Christian Laflamme, David Gosselin, Daniel Corso, Ted Drury,
Brian Swanson, Daniel Bousquet, Mark Greig

Current NHL
Prospects:
None

 

Hannover Scorpions

 

After having been a fairly successful family
undertaking, the Scorpions have gotten new ownership, new management, a new
modern arena and a new direction. Long
having been known as a team that ignored German talent and rolled the dice
season after season with 3 strong lines and little depth thereafter, the
Scorpions pretty much hit rock bottom last season. Off-ice problems and interpersonal fiascoes led to a sharp demise
and now the Scorpions seem to be starting anew. Management has scoffed at the goal of reaching the playoffs and
hopes simply to build a fundamentally strong team that provides its fans with
entertaining hockey. However, many
think Hannover just might surprise. The
team has also come full circle in its philosophy concerning Germans and young
talent, having an affiliate and over 16 players 23 or younger in the
organization. In addition, the team
looks not only deep but solid at every position and ready to compensate any
injury from within. Many in the German
hockey scene will be watching the Scorpions and their success very closely this
season – they may be becoming a model for DEL organizations.

NHL Scouts
should keep an eye on:
None

Players
recognizable to fans from North America:
Steve Wilson, Dan Lambert,
Todd Hlushko, Jason Cipolla, Marian Cisar, Len Soccio, Patrik Augusta, Mikhail
Nemirovsky

Current NHL
Prospects:
None