2011 prospects: Sven Bartschi adapting smoothly to North American hockey

By Holly Gunning

Switzerland has another potential first-round draft pick this year in Sven Bartschi.

This season he made the transition to North America, playing for the WHL Portland Winterhawks, the same team as countryman Nino Niederreiter (NYI). On a line with 2011-eligible Ty Rattie and Ryan Johansen (CLB), Bartschi has been tearing up the score sheet, with 21 goals and 26 assists in 36 games. He’s the top rookie scorer in the league, and 11th overall. But the skill is his. With speed and good hands, Bartschi has everything necessary for success in the NHL. Only his 5’10 stature could hold him back.

Hockey’s Future spoke to Bartschi in Buffalo at the World Junior Championships:

HF: How did you find the adjustment to the WHL physically?

SB: I played last year with the B league and they’re all men, and it wasn’t a big difference with physical play. But I think it’s a lot faster over here because the rink is smaller.

HF: You’re playing a lot more games in the season, is that hard?

SB: Yeah, sure. This season now is maybe halfway over and I’ve played 36 games. It’s always hard when you go on a road trip. We had a two-week road trip with a 24-hour ride back. I’ve
never had that before – so long on a bus. That was pretty hard, but it’s all professional. You have a lot of rest. You can recover.

HF: What do you feel like you’ve improved on since joining the WHL?

SB: The game here is different. Back home you’re with the same guys for a long time and you play for skill, not very physical. When I came over it was a little like ‘wow’ – the play is so physical. They’re just 18, 19, but they’re so big. I learned the game pretty fast. When you play with guys with so much talent you get better every day if you work hard in practice.

HF: Did being the leading rookie scorer surprise you?

SB: I have a little bit of a scoring touch, but it was a pretty good start to the season. I have a good linemate in Ty [Rattie]. We do well together I think.

HF: Are you guys and Ryan Johansen friends off the ice too?

SB: Yeah, sure, sure. We always do something together, hang out, go to a movie.

HF: Do you live with another player?

SB: I lived with Spencer Bennett (CAL), but he got traded now. I feel a little bit bad – I can’t see him before he goes to Vancouver. I think it’s now [Craig] Cunningham (BOS) who will live with me.

HF: Do you think the trade will be good for the team?

SB: I think Craig is a great player and he can help the team a lot. Spence was also a great player and Teal Burns too. It’s always hard to say if it will be better.

HF: Do you think your line will change?

SB: I think they’ll maybe go back to last year – Nino and Johansen and (Brad) Ross. They were doing well last year. I saw that Rattie has played with Cunningham. I think we go with Cunningham, me and Rattie.

HF: Do you always play left wing?

SB: I’m more on the left side. When I have to I can play center or right wing.

HF: You were running the power play from the half wall at practice today. Do you do that in Portland as well?

SB: No, I’m more in the slot. Johansen’s a great passer. I just have to look for room. He plays the puck to me and I can shoot from the slot every time. I’ve got a couple goals like that – most of them. Power-play goals are from the slot area.

HF: Have any NHL teams talked to you yet?

SB: There were a couple guys that talked to me. There are a lot at the games. A couple guys went for a practice. I don’t worry about that, actually. It’s a long season to go. We’ll see.

HF: How do you feel like the tournament is going so far?

SB: For the team, we had a win in the first game, against Germany. It was important to get the points. Then against Finland, it wasn’t our best game. Now it’s an important game against Slovakia. I think everyone’s ready. It’s so important that we get the points. For me personally, I didn’t play my best games. I have to look more for the puck and do my old stuff more, use my skills, my skating. I didn’t do that the last two games. I have to go hard today. I feel like today will be a much better game.

Note: Hours after this interview, Bartschi had a goal and an assist, his only points so far in five games in the tournament.