It has been a strong season for Swiss hockey. Not only did they reach the quarterfinals at both the junior and senior levels, but they even managed, for the first time in almost a century, to be the runner-up for the senior World Championship title. But this recent and unexpected success does not mean that everything in the junior development system is rosy, and that Switzerland will produce NHL-caliber prospects for the next decade.
Thanks to a solid school and sports system, Switzerland can hold up with the top European nations until the under-16 level. While the other nations are making big progress for the next couple of years towards professionalism, Switzerland is not able to hold up that pace and is letting that gap between the top nations and top talents grow and grow.
Despite having Mirco Müller and Sven Andrighetto knocking on the door at this year at the NHL Draft, it looks like, for the first time since 2009 when not one single Swiss player was drafted, there could be no player who played last season in Switzerland being chosen by an NHL team.
Still, it is time to take a look at the top 10 Swiss players who stayed in Europe and tried their luck…
1. Jason Fuchs, C – HC La Chaux-de-Fonds
DoB: 14-09-1995, Size: 5’09 – 159lbs, Shoots: L
Despite his small, 5-foot-9 and 159-pounds stature, Jason Fuchs plays a big offensive game. Fuchs has been a dominating forward on a struggling La Chaux-de-Fonds Junior Elite A team. A very good skater with great acceleration, Jason Fuchs is also blessed with a decent hockey IQ, which might come from his hockey bloodlines, as his father, Regis Fuchs, was a legend in Switzerland. Clearly, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Thanks to his small size, Fuchs has a low point of gravity and is a very shifty forward who is able to make quick turns or dekes. He does not shy away from physical play and will go to the corners to battle hard for the puck. With his skating abilities and his solid puck-control he is able to take the puck with an end-to-end rush into the offensive zone. Fuchs can play in all situations, where he can use his good hockey sense and vision to be a threat when on the ice. His play at the face-off point needs to improve, as it is his main weakness if he wants to continue to play the pivotal position as a center. Fuchs made his National League B debut at mid-season and didn’t look out of place playing a bottom-6 role with that team. The rumor is out that Fuchs will attend the CHL Import Draft and is pursuing a career in North America.
2. Fabio Högger, W – Kloten Flyers
DoB: 28-06-1995, Size: 6’0 – 165lbs, Shoots: R
Fabio Högger finished an injury plagued season strong, as he made it with his Kloten Flyers Junior Elite A team to the semi-finals and was a solid contributor for Switzerland at the Under-18 WJC. The 6-foot-1 Högger has respectable size for a forward is a decent skater with average speed. He plays the game of an offensive forward, but has to work on his consistency as he can show flashes of brilliance in one shift and disappear the next one. Högger and his family decided last summer against a season in North America so he could finish his apprenticeship in Switzerland. The right-shooting wing has soft hands and is able to undress opposing defensemen with slick moves with limited space available. Högger lacks strength in his legs and can easily be pushed off the puck as he plays overall a more soft game. He suffered a concussion at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial that took him out until January, but returned fully recovered and is knocking at the National League A’s door for next season.
3. Dean Kukan, D – Sweden
DoB: 07-08-1993, Size: 6’2 – 198lbs, Shoots: L
Dean Kukan is already in his second season with Luleå in Sweden and continues to make big progress in his development. With his ability to move the puck up the ice, Kukan was among the leaders on a surprising Swiss Under-20 team that qualified themselves for the Quarterfinals for the first time in two years, and is slightly knocking on the senior National team’s door. At the beginning of the season, Kukan got the chance to prove himself in the Allsvenskan and did not disappoint. With his solid play, Kukan earned a call-up to the Eliteserien to finish the season with Luleå.
4. Sandro Zangger, W – GCK Lions
DoB: 27-08-1994, Size: 6’0 – 185lbs, Shoots: R
This season was the breakthrough season for Sandro Zangger as he was among the team-leaders in goals scored for the National League B GCK Lions and earned an 11-game cup of coffee with the ZSC Lions of the National League A. Zangger plays the game of goal-scoring forward and over the years has developed a solid physical game and will go to the hot areas in order to score goals. Power Skating lessons would suit him well, as his skating needs to improve if he wants to play at the big show. Zangger finished the season with the GCK Lions of the Junior Elite A and helped them win the Junior Championship, scoring the most goals in the playoffs.
5. Samuel Guerra, D – HC Davos
DoB: 05-11-1993, Size: 6’0 – 185lbs, Shoots: L
At the age of 20, Samuel Guerra already completed his third full season in the National League A with Davos and when you’re watching him, you easily forget that he is still that young. The 6-foot defender has gained valuable experience over the years and stays calm and patient even during pressured game situations. A reliable defensive defenseman with an untapped offensive game, Guerra was invited to the preliminary camp of the senior National team, earning his nomination with rock solid play at the Under-20 WJC.
6. Luca Hischier, C – SC Bern
DoB: 16-02-1995, Size: 6’1 – 190lbs, Shoots: L
A two-way forward who at 14 made the jump from his hometown of Visp to the Swiss capital city, Bern. Thanks to his size and strength, Hischier knows how to battle along the boards for loose pucks and is not afraid to go into the hot areas. He is a powerful skater, but needs to work on his acceleration. Hischier possesses a solid skill-set and could transform nicely into a power forward. He participated for Switzerland at the Under-18 World Junior Championship, playing a bottom-6 role in a sixth place finish.
7. Dario Simion, W – HC Lugano
DoB: 05-22-1994, Size: 6’1 – 187lbs, Shoots: R
Dario Simion has completed his second season with HC Lugano in the National League A and also participated in his second Under-20 World Junior Championship. Playing a reliable two-way game, Simion is a decent skater with good foot speed. He has a nice frame with his 6-foot-1 and 187-pounds, but is still figuring out how to use it to his advantage. For the next season he will look to his third complete NLA season and his third Under-20 World Juniors.
8. Vincent Praplan, W – Kloten Flyers
DoB: 06-10-1994, Size: 5’11 – 181lbs, Shoots: R
This was the year, that Vincent Praplan has started to make some noise as the led the Junior Elite A League in goals scored, most points and most points in the playoffs to help his team, the Kloten Flyers, to a semi-final finish. An offensive forward with a nose for the net and a soft set of hands, the right-shooting winger is a power-play specialist. Praplan lacks strength as he can easily be pushed off the puck. He was set to play for Switzerland at the Under-20 World Junior Championship, when he got injured in the last exhibition game and had to make the trip back home. The rumor is out that Praplan is trying to take his career to the next level and is looking for a team in North America for next season.
9. Lukas Sieber, W – HC Davos
DoB: 02-20-1994, Size: 6’0 – 176lbs, Shoots: L
Lukas Sieber is starting to find his role as an energy player with some untapped offensive abilities. Sieber plays a high tempo game and does not shy away from hits and physical play. He will do everything the coach is asking from him, even the dirty stuff. Sieber has average size and needs to bulk up if he wants to continue to grow in this role. Sieber is looking at a second Under-20 World Junior Championship and a good year with the HC Davos next season
10. Lukas Frick, D – Kloten Flyers
DoB: 09-15-1994, Size: 6’2 – 183lbs, Shoots: L
For the last two seasons, Lukas Frick totally dominated the Junior Elite B Championship in Switzerland as he scored 30 goals and added 23 assists as a defenseman. He then made the jump to the Junior Elite A level and even made his National League A-Debut with the Kloten Flyers. With his solid skating and good puck control, Frick is able to move the puck up the ice into the offensive zone. He can also guide the power-play with his poise and very good vision. You could call him a “poor-man’s” version of Roman Josi. Frick was a late cut from the Under-20 World Junior Championship team and is looking at his first Championship next year.
Overall we are looking at a solid group of players out of Switzerland, but they are just too far away from being North American caliber. With the current NHL-CBA rule, that a European player’s rights are held by the NHL team that has drafted the player for the next two years, rules out any projected late-round picks. It was extreme so see the difference at Switzerland’s Under-18 preliminary camp between obvious Top-50 talent Mirco Müller and the rest of the group. This just showed once again, how big the gap is.