2014 NHL Draft Preview: Swiss prospects lack high-end talent of recent draft classes

By Rafik Soliman

Luca Hischier - Team Switzerland

Photo: SC Bern forward and 2014 prospect Luca Hischier is the top Swiss prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft playing in Switzerland (courtesy of Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

The 2013-14 season was one where Switzerland made less noise than the year before, as it seemed like everything turned back to normal for Swiss Ice Hockey.

The season started with a splash, with a record 10 Swiss players having been selected at the 2013 CHL Import Draft – the most ever, doubling the previous high. The Swiss are filling the void left by the Russians and the Swedes, who more and more are deciding to stay at home and develop in their native leagues.

Draft-eligible shutdown defenseman Phil Baltisberger and two-way pivot Pius Sutter made headlines in Switzerland by coming one victory short with the OHL's Guelph Storm of winning the ultimate prize in junior hockey, the Memorial Cup. Those two Cup finalists, late-95 born Yannick Rathgeb of the Plymouth Whalers, the Kamloops Blazers' Edson Harlacher and Jason Fuchs of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies have a very slight chance of being chosen at the 2014 NHL Draft. The names to focus on, though, are still back home playing in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe.

1. Kevin Fiala, LW – Dob: 22-07-1996, Size: 5'10, 181 lbs., Shoots: L – HV71/SWE

Highly touted in Switzerland since the age of 13, this is finally the year where the flashy Kevin Fiala was making noise internationally. His draft stock improved from a top-100 prospect to a possible early first round selection after he made his debut in the Swedish Hockey League. He became only the third player in IIHF history to play in the U18, U20 and senior World Championship in the same season when after he was selected to the Swiss national men's team. The slick forward didn't look out of place playing on the big stage, showcasing his already well known puck-skills and offensive creativity. In his first year in the Swedish Elite League, Fiala took one huge step forward maturity-wise, from being a run-around kid on the ice to a responsible young man. If his progress continues as it has this season, the sky is the limit for Fiala.

2. Luca Hischier, C/RW – DoB: 16-02-1995, Size: 6'02, 192 lbs., Shoots: L – SC Bern

Luca Hischier flew under the radar this season. Despite the struggles of his team, SC Bern, over the course of the season, where they missed the playoffs as defending Swiss Champion, Hischier made his debut in the Swiss National League A playing four games in a limited role. A power forward in the making, Hischier is a decent skater who moves well for his size. Combined with his skills, it's not wrong to compare Hischier with Nino Niederreiter of the Minnesota Wild, although there is still hard work and some steps to go in his development to get near the player Niederreiter is, but the potential is definitely there. Hischier signed his first pro contract this spring and is looking at his first full season in the National League A with SC Bern.

3. Noah Rod, C/W – DoB: 07-06-1996, Size: 6'0, 192 lbs., Shoots: L – Genève-Servette HC

Noah Rod was certainly the most improved player in Switzerland this season. He started the season with an outside chance of making the Geneva's men's team. He then got the chance and made his debut, off his natural position on the wing and saw only limited ice time. He then grew into his role and at the end of the season, including the playoffs, Rod centered the third line and saw a regular shift with the team. A responsible two-way forward, Rod displays good acceleration and a solid skill set, although he needs to work on his athleticism to improve his mobility and become a more effective forward. Rod's progress of Rod earned him a contract with the pro team for the upcoming season.

4. Lukas Frick, D – DoB: 15-09-1994, Size: 6'02, 194 lbs., Shoots: L – Kloten Flyers

Lukas Frick finished his first full season with the Kloten Flyers,reaching the playoff finals with that team. The two-way defenseman is full of potential and has finally finished his apprenticeship, which he did along with being a semi-pro hockey player, and should now start to make even bigger progress than he already has so far. The smooth-skating reaguard played in his first World Junior Championship and was overwhelmed at the beginning of the tournament from the speed of play, but adapted well to the playing level. The solid puck-moving defenseman should see his role with the Kloten Flyers increase for the upcoming season, with Frick being a strong candidate for a breakthrough year in Switzerland.

5. Dario Simion, LW/RW – DoB: 22-05-1994, Size: 6'03, 192 lbs., Shots: R – HC Lugano

Despite completing his third full season in the National League A with HC Lugano, the two-way forward started struggling under the new coaching staff and just wasn't able to take the next step in his development. That's one of the reasons why Simion decided to open a new chapter in his young hockey career and will move to HC Davos to re-ignite his development. The forward has an impressive frame, but has to learn how to use it to his advantage while playing a grinding game and creating free space for his teammates. Simion has untapped offensive potential and, due to his being a right-shooting forward, he could be a valuable option on the power play. Last summer, he was invited by the Chicago Blackhawks to their development camp.

6. Lukas Sieber, LW/RW – DoB: 20-02-1994, Size: 6'00, 187 lbs., Shoots: L – HC Davos

A typical energy player, Lukas Sieber plays a classic run-and-gun game and tries to hit an opponent every time he's on the ice. His club, HC Davos, is currently in a rebuilding process and is adding more and more young players to their roster. Sieber has definitely benefited from that current situation and is seeing his responsibilities increase each season. Only average in size, Sieber needs to add more bulk to his frame in order to make his hits more punishing while also making him more able to handle the bigger defensemen when playing his grinding game along the boards or going to the hot areas in front of the net.

7. Simon Kindschi, D – DoB: 11-05-1996, Size: 6'03, 216 lbs., Shoots: L – HC Davos

Simon Kindschi has great strength and an imposing body. While he is a decent skater, Kindschi lacks foot speed and takes too long to accelerate and gain speed. He is a tough customer along the boards, when he's battling for loose pucks and using his long reach and strength. The stay-at-home defenseman just completed his first season in the Swiss Elite A Junior League and even got a 1-game call-up with the HC Davos men's team. Kindschi will continue developing in juniors and should continue seeing action in the National League A or B with their partner-team, HC Thurgau.

8. Gauthier Descloux, G – DoB: 23-07-1996, Size: 5-11, 161 lbs., Catches: L – Genève-Servette HC

After finishing his second season with the Elite A Junior team of Genève-Servette HC, Gauthier Descloux also got the call to be the starting goaltender for the Swiss U18 team, backstopping them to a quarterfinal berth and even an upset in the qualification round over eventual champion USA. Descloux is an athletic butterfly-goaltender with quick reflexes. Only average sized, he is a fast skater, which allows him to cut the angles on rushing forwards and quickly return to his standard position. He tends to overplay certain situations, but will learn how to adapt his play as he gains more experience. Descloux will see part-time action next season in the National League B with Red Ice Martigny while continuing playing for Geneva's junior team.

9. Sämi Kreis, D – DoB: 04-04-1994, Size: 5-11, 184 lbs., Shoots: L – SC Bern

In his final junior year, Samuel Kreis not only earned a roster spot on the Swiss U20 junior team to play in his first World Junior Championship, but he also established himself as a National League A defenseman at midseason after playing the first half in the NLB with the Basel Sharks. Kreis keeps his game simple and, combined with his stellar two-way play, it makes him a reliable defender. Kreis received his first pro contract with SC Bern and is looking at his first full season with the team.

10. Gilles Senn, G – DoB: 01-03-1996, Size: 6'05, 192 lbs., Catches: R – HC Davos

Gilles Senn has a rare combination of size and athleticism, and those atributes combined with his being a right-catching goaltender makes him an unpredictable in the net. He was the undisputed number one for the HC Davos junior team and started all but three games over the whole season. Senn moves well laterally, but needs to work on his consistency as he had troubles holding the pace when starting back-to-back nights. He could get some taste of playing in the National League A with Davos next season as the team is preparing to replace their current starter, Leonardo Genoni, for the future.

With two goaltenders already among the top 10 draft prospects for Switzerland, it is a decent class to backstop them for the next couple of seasons.

There are also some other names who should have the honor to be mentioned with this list. One is Ludovic Waeber of HC Fribourg-Gotteron, who blew his knee out while preparing for this season and missed all but the last month. He was the backup for last year's U18 World Championship team and, despite his injury, was invited to the preliminary camp for this year's tournament. Due to having missed playing time, Waeber was a late cut. The 6-foot-4 goaltender plays a calm game in his net and has potential if he can get himself back into game shape.

The other honorable-mention is Latvian-born Elvis Merzlikins of HC Lugano, who took the league by storm helping a struggling team with shaky goaltending getting back on track with his solid play. A good-sized butterfly goaltender with very good athletic and quick reflexes, Merzlikins is also a decent puck-handler who likes to get involved in the play and make long outlet-passes. He moved to Switzerland at the age of 13 and has played in the Swiss junior league since his arrival. He is by far the top draftable goaltender out of Switzerland and is looking at his first full season in the National League A with Lugano, were he will share the starting role with former NHL prospect, Daniel Manzato.

This could be one of the best years at the NHL Draft for Switzerland, but it depends on how much NHL general managers are willing to gamble with a Swiss project. A recent example is Toronto Maple Leafs draftee Fabrice Herzog, who left North America and returned to Switzerland after one year in the QMJHL, probably with a better valued deal than an NHL entry-level contract, which raises question marks about the Swiss committing to a NHL life and could hold some GMs back. Hopefully this will stay a one-time thing, because Switzerland is awaiting the 97-class, combined with the late 96-born players, to form probably one of the deepest group of potential pro players. This is more proof that Switzerland's junior movement is moving forward and is producing stellar talent. Still, there is plenty of room to improve and get even better as a hockey nation.

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