Top 5 Germany prospects for the 2010 NHL draft

By Chapin Landvogt

Looking to follow in the footsteps of regular NHLers such as Marco Sturm (BOS) and Dennis Seidenberg (BOS), Jochen Hecht (BUF) and Christian Erhoff (VAN), this year’s draft class of German-born players features 11  prospects ranked among the top 112 in the CSS’s European skater rankings. This poses the largest German contingent among European draft eligibles in years. Perhaps contributing heavily to this year’s class is the performance of the U20 (Division 1 Group A in France) and U18 (Division 1 Group B in Poland) teams at this past season’s respective tournaments, in which both teams went undefeated in handedly making their way back into the top divisions of their respective class. Now these young men are hoping to be the next in a line that includes recent German draft picks Timo Pielmeier (SJS, 3rd round 07), Dennis Reul (BOS, 5th round 07), Jerome Flaake (TOR, 5th round 08) and Dominik Bielke (SJS, 7th round 09) in hearing – or watching – their names be called at the 2010 NHL draft in Los Angeles.

Here’s a look at the top five German prospects entering the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles, California this weekend.

1. Tom Kuehnhackl, F
– Shoots: Left – 6’2" 172 lbs.
CSS European Rank #8
Jan 21, 1992

Older readers may very well recognize the name Kuehnhackl, which was worn on a German national team jersey for most of the 70s and over the course of 211 games. Erich Kuehnhackl, Germany’s Player of the 20th Century, is indeed the best and most storied player to ever have donned the German Bundesadler (Federal Eagle). His son Tom is now looking to follow the path his father once paved – and take it to new heights. Arguably the most highly-touted German prospect since Marco Sturm, Tom Kuehnhackl has been the talk of the German hockey scene for several years now. This is attention he’s had no choice but to expect and has had to deal with one way or the other for his entire career to date.

This past season saw Kuehnhackl play a good deal of ice hockey, but he was hampered by injuries at almost every point in the season, which technically began last summer when he signed a cooperative contract to split time between the Augsburg Panthers of the DEL and the Landshut Cannibals of the German 2nd Bundesliga. Ultimately, Kuehnhackl only suited up (and went pointless in) four games for Augsburg, spending the bulk of the season in Landshut, where he racked up 12 goals, nine assists and 40 penalty minutes in 44 games. There he built a ‘Young Guns’ line with fellow teenagers Max Forster and Tobias Rieder, who himself is expected to be a possible 2011 first-round NHL draft pick. Kuehnhackl also saw a bit of time for Landshut’s DNL club, getting one goal, three assists and a +4 in two regular-season games and another four goals, four assists, 12 penalty minutes and a +4 in three playoff games. Finally, Kuehnhackl joined the German U18 team in April at the Group B tournament in Poland. Expected by many to be the offensive highlight of the tournament, he ended up with a healthy four goals, two assists and a +8 in five games. Nonetheless, this was only good for 10th in team scoring.

Despite this perceptively busy year, Kuehnhackl himself has mentioned in the press that his decision to spend the 2009-10 season in Germany was a bit of mistake. A 2009 draft pick of the London Knights, his rights were traded to the Windsor Spitfires, for whom German Philipp Grubauer was manning the nets. Windsor went on to have a monumental Memorial Cup season and, due in good part to the NHL’s No. 1 ranked prospect for the 2010 NHL draft, Taylor Hall, was surely the most heavily-scouted junior outfit on the planet. Furthermore, Kuehnhackl’s role in the pro ranks in Germany was limited, seeing him spend a good amount of time on the bench instead of being on the ice in pressure situations and as a part of special-team units. It was also very difficult to make the adjustment from being an extra in Augsburg to a role player in Landshut to a key performer for the German U18 national team. This all played its part in his overall lack of production – if it can be seen as such – especially in tournaments where many of his peers far surpassed him on the scoresheet.     

All this aside, he possesses a great deal of undeniable talent, especially with respect to his above-average technical skills. He’s incredibly adept with the puck and simply sees the ice and reads the game at level rarely seen in Germany, and which is highly comparable to many of the top talents in his draft class. In addition, he is tall and has a frame that will surely fill out well in the years to come. This will be of great benefit, because he already shows a strong ability to protect the puck, whether it’s displayed while he’s in corners or in traffic. Nonetheless, he comes across as being quite young for his age, needing to concentrate more on the big picture rather than getting to wrapped up in little distractions. He also needs to learn to play through small injuries, things that are bound to accompany him as he continues to get that extra dose of attention from his opponents. These are difficulties he’ll have to get past, both physically and mentally. He’ll now get the opportunity to do so in the world’s best junior league, as he has committed to playing in Windsor next season. There he should get to finally put his considerable talents and uncanny scoring sense on display, while also playing with and against players in his age group who can relate to and echo his level of talent.  

2. Mirko Hoefflin, F – Shoots: Left – 6’0" 174 lbs.
CSS European Rank #23
Jun 18, 1992

This past season was Hoefflin’s second with the Mannheim Juniors, where he put up 32 goals, 35 assists, 20 penalty minutes and a +47 rating in only 24 games. These totals included 13 power -play goals. He added another five goals, nine assists and a +6 rating in eight playoff games, the same amount of points he had in the previous season’s playoffs. Hoefflin also had a busy winter representing his country – and getting vital exposure – at both the Division 1 U20 tournament in France (four goals, two assists and a +7 in five games) as well as the Division 1 U18 tournament in Poland (four goals, seven assists and a +12 in five games).

Contributing to Hoefflin’s success against players his age and slightly older is primarily his flat out speed. This attribute may be exactly that which could have him on track to the NHL at some point, should the rest of his game develop as hoped. A bit on the skinny side, but featuring good height in a body bound to continue growing, Hoefflin’s speed is also accompanied by shiftiness and an ability to handle the puck and make plays on the go. His offensive arsenal is multifaceted and he’s able to read the game while keeping an eye out for better-positioned teammates. Furthermore, Hoefflin has shown the ability to be both a playmaker and a sniper. All this ultimately helped him in his 18-game audition for the Heilbronn Falcons in Germany’s 2nd Bundesliga, where he totaled three assists. The team was so impressed with his game at the pro level that he was also dressed for five of their six playoff games.   

3. David Elsner, F
– Shoots: Right – 6’0" 185 lbs.
CSS European Rank #52
Mar 22, 1992

Elsner is a good-sized winger who spent the bulk of this past season playing in Germany’s 2nd Bundesliga for the Landshut Cannibals. There he was a teammate of Kuehnhackl, although he saw most of his action on the third and fourth lines, as his game is more about getting into opponents’ faces and under their skin. Nonetheless, he did handle the physical rigors admirably and put up six goals, three assists and 22 penalty minutes in 35 games. He also spent time with Landshut’s DNL team (primarily in the first half of the season), where he always played a central role, collecting 10 goals, seven assists, 63 penalty minutes and a +9 rating. He rejoined the junior team and added two goals, four assists, 12 penalty minutes and a +6 rating in five playoff games.

Like many of his fellow draft eligibles, Elsner also wore his country’s national team jersey at the Division 1 U18 tournament in Poland, where he totaled four assists, a +7 rating and a team-high 14 penalty minutes in five games. As these totals would indicate, his role with the team was more that of providing an intimidation factor. Good-sized for his age, he can have quite the mean streak and possesses the strength to back it up. He checks hard and well, but is easily provoked and this leads to not only penalty minutes, but inconsistency in other parts of his game. He’s also guilty of taking the odd dip with respect to his invested effort, something that has held him back at times. Possessing a heavy shot to accompany the aforementioned brawn and mean streak, there are plenty of indications that he can grow into a power forward mold that every NHL team cherishes. Still, his development will have to include better decision-making and more consistency. There is definite upside for this prospect, who should continue to grow on all fronts.   

4. Bernhard Keil, F
– Shoots: Left – 6’0" 200 lbs.
CSS European Rank #62
Jan 21, 1992
Another forward, Keil has jumped up the ranks quite a bit, considering he wasn’t even listed among CSS’s top 150 at midseason. He spent this past winter playing his second season with the Mannheim Juniors and what a season it was, seeing Keil almost triple his totals from the previous season. Keil proved to be the team’s top playmaker, putting up 26 goals, 50 assists, 119 penalty minutes and a +45 rating in 34 games. In the playoffs, he added another eight goals, seven assists, 14 penalty minutes and a +7 rating. Of his eight goals, six came on the power play. His pleasant play earned him a ticket to the Division 1 U18 tournament in Poland, where he chipped in four goals, seven assists and a +12 rating in five games, managing to keep out of the penalty box altogether.

Although possessing good size, Keil hasn’t yet learned to use it properly. A number of his penalties were more the result of stickwork than of two-way battles in the corners, where he continues to be a bit too harmless. He generally needs to get more involved and meaner in the corners as well as in front of the net. Nonetheless, he is a kid willing to work on his game and considered by coaches to be easily coachable. This surely played a huge role in jumping from 29 to 76 points within one season, while also seeing him debut in the pro ranks with three games for the Heilbronn Falcons of the German 2nd Bundesliga. Although he generally needs to work on all aspects of his game, he does possess a very hard, quick and accurate wrist shot and reads the game well. He would seem an ideal candidate to spend a season in either the USHL or CHL. 

5. Gal Koren, F
– Shoots: Left – 6’1" 169 lbs.
CSS European Rank #69
Jan 16, 1992

If the name is hardly commemorative of what you may consider to be a typical German name, your senses are right on track. Gal Koren hails from Ljubljana, Slovenia and just completed his first full season, and second in total, with Germany’s top youth program. Playing in 32 games with the Mannheim Juniors, he put up 18 goals, 23 assists, 97 penalty minutes and a +32 rating. He also added four goals, two assists, 10 penalty minutes and a +6 rating in eight playoff games.

The forward’s season wasn’t solely spent on German soil as he also represented his country at the Division 2 Group B U18 tournament in the Ukraine. There, he tied for the team lead in scoring with nine goals, 14 assists and a +21 rating in five games for an undefeated Slovenian team, which was subsequently promoted. A fan of Rocky and Joe Sakic, Koren discovered his interest in ice hockey after having seen it on television. At this point, the offensive-minded Koren is best advised to add weight, but is a player Slovenian officials are looking to as a mainstay on next year’s U20 team as well as a future member of the national team, which joins the top division again for next year’s World Championships in Slovakia.

The remaining six Germans ranked by CSS for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft are:

Corey Mapes, D
– Shoots: Left – 5’11" 183 lbs.
Mannheim Juniors
CSS European Rank #74

Dominik Bittner, D
– 6’0" 176 lbs.
Mannheim Juniors
CSS European Rank #78

Marcel Noebels, F – 6’2" 192 lbs.
Krefeld Juniors
CSS European Rank #100

Norman Hauner, F – 5’11" 176 lbs.
Cologne Sharks (DEL), Bremerhaven (2nd Bundesliga)
CSS European Rank #101

Niklas Clusen, D
– 6’1" 189 lbs.
Dusseldorf Juniors
CSS European Rank #107

Daniel Weiss, F
– 6’3" 196 lbs.
Eisbaren Berlin (DEL), Dresden (2nd Bundesliga)
CSS European Rank #112

Other notables

Technically still 21 until July 7th, 2010, German national team member Marcel Muller has grown in leaps and bounds, having not only put up 26 goals and 35 assists this past season for the Cologne Sharks, but also having made a considerable impact at the recent World Championships held in Germany. There he scored a goal and two points playing on Germany’s first line, but put his body to good use in creating space for his linemates and providing a generally physical presence in all three zones. He also had two assists and 12 penalty minutes in four games at the Winter Olympics. The young man has become a classic power forward and weighs in at 6’3”, 230 pounds.

The CSS eighth-ranked German Marcel Noebels may actually be much higher on a number of NHL teams’ lists. Of very good size, tough on the puck, tricky in one-on-one situations, and having posted great point-per-game totals for Krefeld in the DNL (53 points in 25 games), Noebels enjoyed a Division I tournament for the ages. There he put up nine goals, 10 assists and a +11 rating in only five games. With that, he scored on nearly 43 percent of his shots. This far outweighed the offensive contributions of the higher ranked Bernhard Keil, David Elsner, Mirko Hoefflin and Tom Kuehnhackl. With size and skills already part of the package, the biggest question is whether he’ll be willing to pay the price to pave a road to North America, and hopefully all the way to the NHL.   

German goaltender Philipp Grubauer spent this past winter in the OHL, winning the Memorial Cup while assuming the bulk of the goaltending duties in goal for Taylor Hall’s Windsor Spitfires. He was also the top goaltender at the Division 1 Group A U20 tournament in France, where he won all five starts and put up an outstanding .973 save percentage and 0.64 goals against average. He is currently ranked 15th among North American goalies.

Also of note is German defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser, who spent this past winter playing for Halifax of the QMJHL. His solid debut in North America was accompanied by appearances at the Division 1 U20 tournament in France (four assists and a +9 in five games) and the Division 1 U18 tournament in Poland (where he led all defensemen with two goals, nine assists and a +13 in five games). He is ranked 164th among North American skaters.

DEL = Deutsche Eishockey Liga (German Ice Hockey League)
2nd Bundesliga = Germany’s second highest professional league
DNL = Deutsche Nachwuchs Liga (German Junior League)