Germany 2013 draft preview

By Chapin Landvogt
Tim Bender - Mannheim

Photo: German defenseman Tim Bender was the top 2013 prospect from that country early in the season, but his rankings have slipped as the season has progressed (courtesy of Chapin Landvogt/HF)

 

The 2012-13 season started off well for a few German prospects with NHL ambitions. But as it has worn on and culminated in a U18 World Championship tournament where Germany only managed to win one game – albeit the decisive class retainer over Slovakia – it seems as if the competition for this NHL Draft coming out of other countries has just become a tad too much for this year's German prospects to handle.

At the beginning of the season, forward Kevin Orendorz started off looking real good in a Krefeld Penguins uniform, only 17 and already garnering fairly regular minutes on a team that was soon to become the lockout home of Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Erhoff. At the same time, the Mannheim Adler junior program was dominating Germany’s top junior circuit, with a handful of players putting up over a point-per-game and featuring bodacious +/- statistics. This had Germany’s top defensive prospect Tim Bender looking quite good heading into the WJC selection camp. However, he was the last cut for that team and found himself a bit swamped by the U18 competition in Sochi this spring.

This year’s draft class of German-born players features 8 prospects, three of which are overagers. Of the true first time draft-eligibles, not a one of them is coming in amongst the top 50 ranked players in Europe.

As is often the case for countries that are hard to get a read on and traditionally produce fewer talents of interest to NHL teams, what a country like Germany achieves at the spring-ending U18 tournament usually goes a long way towards making a final decision on that country’s draft class. This spring’s German performance saw just about every draft-eligible German drop in overall rank. On top of it all, probably the two best German players available for this draft are wingers Dominik Kahun (Sudbury Wolves of the OHL) and Frederik Tiffels (Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL), both of whom spent this past season in North America and are thus considered North American prospects. Kahun will likely return to Sudbury where he put up 40 points in 58 games and another six points in nine playoff games. Tiffels only found the net three time in the USHL, chipping in with another 22 assists in 50 games. He’ll be attending Western Michigan University next fall. Both are smaller, lightweight, left-shooting wingers who each have above-average speed and a strong ability to read the game. Kahun even found himself on the first line for both the WJC and the U18, having contributed in both tournaments including seven points in five U18 games.

Without further ado, here's a look at the top five German prospects out of Germany for the 2013 NHL Draft, which will take place in Newark, NJ on June 30th.

1. Markus Eisenschmid – F – Shoots: Left – 6’0”, 172 lbs.
CSS European Rank #57
Jan 22, 1995

This past season was one that began with a lot of expectations for Eisenschmid. After playing on the 2012 U18 entry’s top line, he managed to put up a decent, but not overwhelming, total of 24 points in 23 DNL level games for his native Kaufbeueren. Still, he did this while also playing 39 games on mostly the 3rd line for his club’s men’s professional team in Germany’s 2nd highest professional league, collecting two goals, seven points and just four penalty minutes along the way.

After getting over an early season injury, and having to deal with the stress involved with the team’s arena being closed due to constructional danger issues (and thus having to play at a variety of arenas in neighboring towns), Eisenschmid was asked to steer the men’s team’s 3rd line in a defensive capacity, which then naturally conflicted with being the junior squad’s go-to guy on offense. Still, he was generally able to handle these duties adequately and grew into the various roles as the season progressed.

Still slight of frame, and featuring a very youthful appearance, Eisenschmid began the U18 tournament as the team’s starting right winger alongside top 2014 prospect Leon Draisaitl and Dominik Kahun. The line did little in preventing a 9-1 beating at the hands of Sweden, after which Markus was moved to the third line. Things didn’t go all that much better there until he was allowed to center that line and some sign of balance was achieved. He also gained a good amount of power-play and penalty-killing time, but was rarely involved in scoring (almost always looking to pass rather than shoot) and Germany’s penalty killing was ultimately nothing to write home about in the course of the tournament, and especially in getting trounced by Russia 8-4 in Germany’s final game.

This stated, Eisenschmid has time and room to grow. He generally possesses a sound understanding of the game and a frame that can and must get bigger as time progresses. Another area he’ll need to improve on is his straightaway speed. Whereas overall skating isn’t a huge weakness, there is a good bit of lethargy that must be overcome. Finding another gear will be crucial as he appears to lumber a bit across the ice and has a rather wide turn radius. His passing skills are on par with his international peers, but he hasn’t been able to set himself apart in that department at international tournaments, desperately needing to a find a way to get more pucks to the net or to peers in good scoring position. His 27 penalty minutes and a few flying post-whistle fists at the recent U18 tournament do attest to an existing feistiness and pride in his game. Eisenschmid's decision-making will have to improve as will his ability to get pucks out of his own zone in a safer and more regular capacity. He finished the tournament with one assist and a -5 rating.

Eisenschmid was awarded a so-called three year promotional contract from the Hamburg Freezers of the DEL. If all goes as planned, he’ll be spending the next season or two in one of the Canadian junior circuits before possibly returning to Germany for further professional development.

2. Tim Bender – D – Shoots: Left – 6'0" 175 lbs.
CSS European Rank #108
Jun 18, 1992

Hailing from the famed Mannheim Adler junior program, Bender was at the crux of his club’s incredible success this past season. The team once again took the championship, their second in a row, and Bender put up 17 goals, 37 points and a whopping +50 rating in 38 total games, accumulating 63 penalty minutes along the way. Being the last cut from Germany’s U20 WJC entry, Bender was in line for a big role head-manning the country’s blueline at the U18 WJC, where he put up two goals, three points and -1 rating in five games.

In hindsight, the country might have been better served in bringing Bender along for the ride in Ufa, as he seemed lost at times in Sochi. Used to playing an almost complete offensive-oriented style in dominating the competition in his home league, Bender was challenged time and time again by international talent, which exposed a number of holes in his game in his own zone.

Looking a bit bigger on the ice than he actually weighs in at the moment, Bender has a good frame for further development and has been molded into an offensive defenseman who loves to make the long, stretch-pass out of his zone, usually after having collected the puck and taken a few steps. It’s a laser and it’s better than just about anything his peers in Germany can put on display. He also has no problem joining the rush as the third or fourth player, often hanging high in the slot, and looks to suggest himself as a passing station with regularity. He can often be found looking to deke out an opponent before sending a pass to one of his teammates, opening up more space in the process. Also, his reading of the game from the blueline in is impressive and he doesn’t necessarily hesitate to unload a slapshot or make a pass after having faked the shot.

At this point in his development, Bender is far from complete in his own zone. It starts with his affinity to join the rush and failure to get back into position in time. He also has his problems identifying who his assignment is and when that assignment starts. Skating isn’t an issue as he has good movement both forwards and backwards, but he simply needs to find a way to keep his feet moving a lot more. He finds himself gliding around too much and this surely has played a role in his draft position having dropped considerably over the course of the season. Once he finds himself in a more demanding environment, he’ll realize that he’s going to have to battle more in his own zone and in front of the net while at least appearing more agile.

Still, Bender has learned a lot in a short period of time and shows the tendency to be coachable. This is a good thing, because he’s got much to learn and soak in if he wants to see his clearly present abilities put to better use at the pro level. Bender was recently drafted by the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL. It is expected that he’ll also be taken by a CHL club in July's CHL Import Draft and thus, it is likely that he’ll be heading to North America for the 2013-14 season.

3. Erik Gollenbeck – F – Shoots: Right – 5'9" 165 lbs.
CSS European Rank #52
May 31, 1995

Small and slight of frame, Gollenbeck possesses a lot of the favorable traits of an offensive player of his size. Quick, agile, smart with the puck, Gollenbeck spent this past winter showing that he has a very good read on his teammates, where to find them and how to get the puck to them at favorable junctures. He is also adept at getting around the ice and avoiding opponents, often with the puck on his stick. Gollenbeck doesn’t necessarily feature an extra gear of note, but he is a player who thinks the game through nicely and keeps himself out of trouble. A teammate of Bender’s in Mannheim, Gollenbeck collected 23 goals, 47 assists, 16 penalty minutes and a +57 rating during the regular season and playoffs, which concluded with Mannheim's second championship in a row.

As a testament to his qualities in a leadership capacity, he was not only named to the U18 team, his 2nd time representing his country internationally, but was also named its captain. He spent the bulk of the tournament manning the right wing side on the second line and looked very attentive in maintaining his position and being where he had to be. He made a few nifty passes along the way, but wasn’t able to be an impact player in any real capacity. In the five games at the tournament, he didn’t manage to collect any points, found his way to the penalty box on two occasions and finished with a -3 rating.

Undoubtedly, he would appear to be a player who could use some seasoning in a North American junior league as his next option in Germany would likely only be in the 2nd or 3rd pro leagues, where he’s unlikely to get a role of considerable responsibility right off the bat. With a smaller frame and a lack of dynamic speed, it’s hard to think any NHL team would be willing to use one of its picks on him at this point in time, although he does possess the type of work ethic and mentality that some teams would cherish of players they look to take in later rounds.

4. Lennart Palausch – F – Shoots: Left – 6'0" 203 lbs.
CSS European Rank #110
Aug 27, 1994

If you so choose to anoint someone as the unexpected shooting star of Germany’s draft class this summer, then Palausch is that guy. He is currently 18, but will be turning 19 this August and, like Bender and Gollenbeck before him, also has spent his young career with Mannheim, having been part of two straight championship teams.

Playing for the DNL club for the third straight year, this was Palausch’s offensive breakout season. He improved considerably over the course of the season and came on strong at the end, leading the team in playoff scoring with 14 points in seven games. In total, he was able to contribute 21 goals, 48 assists, 36 penalty minutes and a +48 rating over the course of the season. Featuring a compact build, he’s a player who doesn’t shy away from the physical aspect of the game and has become good at protecting the puck and finding teammates in prime scoring positions. As opposed to some of his teammates, he already has a body that is more ready for competition against older players.

What’s missing from Palausch’s resume this year is international play. Too old for the U18, he never really came into consideration for the WJC club after having been an assistant captain and having collected three assists for the nation’s U18 team in the Czech Republic in 2012. Now, he’s moving on from junior hockey in Germany and his options have been considered on the pro market at home, but one shouldn’t be surprised to see him with a CHL team to begin next season. Serious about his career and the direction he’s been on the past 14 months, Palausch fully intends to find the best option for his continued development, which would most likely take place outside of Germany.

5. Sven Ziegler – F – Shoots: Right – 6'0" 174 lbs.
CSS European Rank #106
Jul 01, 1994

Sven Ziegler is a right-shooting overager who was ranked second amongst Germans for the 2012 NHL Draft. He spent this past season primarily with FASS Berlin in Germany’s third tier of pro hockey. He had a pretty impressive season in Berlin, assuming a top-six forward role and contributing 21 goals, 25 assists and 14 penalty minutes in 32 total games. An affiliate of the DEL champion Eisbaren Berlin, Ziegler managed to suit up for one game with the parent club at the beginning of the season and then another 18 total games with its DNL junior team, where he had a total of 12 goals, 10 assists, 24 penalty minutes and a +7 rating. Unfortunately, and somewhat unexpectedly, Ziegler didn’t manage to make the WJC team after having been on the 2012 U18 team in the Czech Republic. In fact, Ziegler didn’t represent Germany in any capacity this past winter.

Although Ziegler is of good height, his lightweight size of last season was something that needed to be worked on. Unfortunately, his weight and build haven’t changed all that much this season and, despite strong puck-handling skills, this still allows heavier opponents to physically separate him from the puck. He continues to live on hockey smarts, moves, and goalmouth instincts while he has improved in an offensive capacity, having successfully taken his offensive game to the next level against men.

The Eisbaren Berlin program continues to plan with Ziegler in the future and one would have to expect that he’ll be asked to make more of an impression there next fall. There was some talk about him moving to North America last summer and it didn’t happen. Whether he’d pounce on that opportunity this time around should a junior club grab him in the import draft will first be seen in July. There is reason to believe that another 20 pounds and experience on a smaller rink could go a long way in showing that Ziegler is a bit of a late bloomer.

The remaining three Germans ranked by CSS for the 2013 NHL Draft are:

Kevin Orendorz – F – Shoots: Left – 6'2" 187 lbs.
Krefeld Penguins (DEL) – 32 2-0-2 16
CSS European Rank #109

Patrick Klopper – F – Shoots: Left – 5'10" 165 lbs.
Krefeld Penguins (DEL) – 39 3-1-4 19
CSS European Rank #126

Dennis Shevyrin – F – Shoots: Left – 6'0" 181 lbs.
Krefeld EV 1981 (DNL) – 33 11-25-36 32
CSS European Rank #129

Other notables:

Having just turned 20 on December 30th of 2012, Nuremburg Ice Tigers winger Yasin Ehliz just barely missed out on representing his country at the WJC, where he likely would have been Germany’s best forward. However, he had a monster season in Germany’s top professional league, the DEL, where he ended the year as a top six winger collecting 13 goals, 27 points and a +4 rating in 50 total games. A smaller player measuring in at just about 5’10” and 180 pounds, Ehliz’s game is all about speed, trickiness and agility. His offensive instincts and hands appear to be about the best seen in quite a while from a German player who hasn’t spent any time in North America. Still draft-eligible, there are more than a few who feel he possesses some NHL-level qualities, and with the number of North Americans playing on his team in Nuremberg, surely the scouting community at least has him on the map.

Abbreviations:

AHL = American Hockey League
CHL = Canadian Junior Hockey Leagues
CSS = Central Scouting Service
DEL = Deutsche Eishockey Liga (German Ice Hockey League)
2nd Bundesliga = Germany’s second highest professional league
DNL = Deutsche Nachwuchs Liga (German Junior League)
QMJHL = Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (Canadian junior league)
USHL = United States Hockey League

Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin