In the past two years, Germany has managed to ice a U18 tournament entry that has competed strongly in finishing a solid sixth on both occasions. Along the way, the team was able to grab the odd unexpected point or push a favorite to the brink of defeat, for example, when it beat Russia 4-2 in 2012 or in its 5-4 and 4-3 losses to Russia and Canada respectively in 2011.
This year’s edition will look to push the big boys even further in contesting for a semi-final berth. Lending credence to the team’s true chances in being successful in this endeavor is the fact that both Leon Draisaitl and Dominik Kahun are expected to be in attendance and playing vital roles in the team’s success. They were not only two of the cogs in last year’s U18 team, where Draisaitl ended up being the team’s top scorer, but they also formed the first line of Germany’s U20 team this past winter in Ufa together with Phoenix Coyotes prospect Tobias Rieder. On the strength of a huge game against Latvia to end the tournament, Draisaitl also ended the U20 as Germany’s top scorer while ensuring a position for the country at the next WJC in Malmo, Sweden.
With those two building the star power on the team, Coach Jim Setters is also bringing along a boatload of players who are coming off a championship with the Mannheim-Heilbronn program, a team that has clearly become the German junior circuit’s powerhouse. No less than nine of that team’s players will don the national team jersey, including two of the three goalies and the top-ranked German player for the upcoming NHL Draft, defenseman Tim Bender, who collected a combined 17 goals, 37 points and +50 rating in 38 total games this past season. He was also the last player to be cut from the U20 team this past winter. The great majority of the players will be seeing their first ever U18 action.
Strengths: On most days, the team comes out of the gates flying, checking and nipping at the bud. It’s an aggressive team that simply makes life difficult for its opponents, becoming very dangerous the longer the game remains close on the scoreboard. This team now has several interesting offensive elements and no lack of foot soldiers ready to get their hands dirty in whatever role is assigned to them. This team also features a number of players whose skating ability is a good bit better than what opponents have been used to in the past.
Weaknesses: In recent years, Germany has been able to throw out a great deal of size, particularly on the blueline, but this year’s entry is looking a bit average in that department. Traditionally, Germany has a hard time coming back from any early deficit in a game and can get itself into penalty trouble. With the international inexperience on this year’s edition, that may become a problem once again. In comparison to the hockey world’s big boys, Germany generally always lacks the proven offensive difference-makers, although this year’s club does boast a few exceptions to that rule.
Key player: Without a doubt, Leon Draisaitl. He’s not only raised eyebrows internationally, but also spent this past season playing for the Prince Albert Raiders where, despite a slow start with the typical adjustments to a new life in North America, the 17-year-old put up 21 goals, 58 points and a whopping +22 rating in 64 games. He followed this with four assists in four playoff games. With a tall 6’1”, 200 pound frame that seems even bigger, Leon has excellent puck-protection skills and on-ice awareness, regularly displaying keen offensive wherewithal, most especially as a playmaker. His goal-scoring prowess picked up considerably in the WHL after the WJC. He will likely also spend some time in this tournament at the point on the power play. Viewers are in for a treat as he’s currently looking like the strongest prospect to come out of Germany in the past 25 years.
Who NHL scouts will be keeping a close eye on: A very strong tournament might just place the smaller-built Dominik Kahun on some team’s map for this upcoming draft. In Sudbury this past season, he scored 13 goals and 40 points in 58 games, adding another six points in nine playoff games. For players coming straight out of Germany, the performances of Markus Eisenschmid (ranked 53rd amongst Europeans), Marco Sedlar (96th), and Erik Gollenbeck (109th) will be given special attention. Eisenschmid recently signed a 3-year deal with the DEL’s Hamburg Freezers, but it is believed that he’ll be heading to the CHL next fall after having collected seven points in 39 games playing professionally in Germany’s second-tier men’s league. If they aren’t already, the names Draisaitl and Tuomie should be in everybody’s notebooks very soon with respect to the 2014 draft class.
Unexpected gem: His role may be somewhat minimized in this tournament, but DNL top scorer Parker Tuomie had one of the best seasons the league has ever witnessed, collecting a combined 33 goals, 85 points and +59 rating in 43 total games. He turned 17 last October and is first eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft. Although it is believed he’ll be heavily sought after by CHL clubs, it looks like this son of a former American NCAA player would like to go the same route as German Frederik Tiffels, who played this past season in the USHL and will attend Western Michigan next fall.