Where are They Now, Switzerland: Part 2

By Joeri Loonen

Where are they now (Switzerland – part 2)

An overview of dfrafted players and undrafted players with an NHL-career currently active in the Swiss league(s).

Apart from the traditional big 5 (Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia) in Europe, Switzerland has made some siginificant progress the past few years and has established themselves as a genuine A-pool country. This upbeat is not only displayed on the national team level but as well in the Swiss Leagues (National Liga A and National Liga B). There are currently around 60 players which are either drafted or have had an NHL career playing in Switzerland, most of them being North-Americans. Where exactly are they playing now and what happened to them after they crossed the pond? An overview per NHL team

Edmonton Oilers:

Michel Riesen
Drafted 1997, 1st rnd, 14th overall
Current team: HC Davos

Riesen’s career looked only better. First he was awarded at the European Junior Championships, then a season later at the World Junior Championships. Also he had a very strong debut season in the NLA. He then moved to North-America and found his way up there as well. A 23-point debuit season with Hamilton in the AHL was followed a 60 point season. Last season he got called up by the Oilers and played 12 games in the NHL without scoring a goal though. The future was looking good for Michel until he was part in the famous deal that saw Doug Weight traded to St.Louis. In St.Louis there was no room for Riesen so he had to dress up in the minors again which he opposed to and therefore returned to Switzerland this season.He moved to HC Davos which benefitted a lot from Riesen’s and Reto von Arx’ (see previous article) arrival which resulted in Davos being on top of the league at the moment.
Riesen clearly is a top player in the Swiss league and his 17 points in 20 games show so.
Despite heaving a deadly accurate shot he’d need to pick up his speed and defensive awareness somewhat to make a return in the NHL sucessful.

Florida Panthers:

Adrian Wichser
Drafted 1998, 9th rnd 231st
Current team: EHC Kloten

Wichser could turn out to be a steal for the Panthers. He might not become a huge scorer at the NHL level but an NHL career or a good minor leaguer is certainly possible, which is more than can be expected from a 9th rnd pick in general. His first two pro seaons in Switzerladn for EHC Kloten went smoothly with 11 and 25 points. His third wasn’t too bad either with 23 points in 33 games. Last season he wasn’t so successful as he wasn’r able to post double figures in both the goals and assists area (9+9), but he did end up a career best +10 in plus/minus. However this season Adrian seems to rebound very well from that season and he’s currently having 12 points (11+12) in 27 games for the mid-table team. He could be ready for a move to the minor league next season

Carolina Hurricanes:

Chris Tancill
Drafted 1989, 1st rnd, 15th overall
Current team: EV Zug

The 31-year old Tancill is one of my personal favourites. Although having never really locked a a spot on a NHL team for a long time he has been very sucessful in the minor leagues and also in Europe where he arrived 4 seasons ago. In 3,5years in Switzerland he almost scored 200 points. Also he’s a well known player to play for Team USA during World Championships where he always gives 100%, something that is not always the case with NHL players playing on the team during the WC that is not regarded very important in North-America. Tancill is currently leading the team in points along with Todd Elik and is leading the team in goals with 17.

Chris Belanger
Drafted 1991, 9th rnd, 185th overall
Current team: GCK Lions

Belanger’s career has mainly taken place in Europe. After his university period he played a few seasons in the ECHL and CoHL and then moved to the Netherlands where he was brought in the squad at Christmas along with Kerry Angus and Steve Chelios with high expectations. However Belanger never could live up expectations and moved on to Austria and Italy where he played for 5 consecutive seasons registerign around a point per game. The last 2 seasons he is playing in the Swiss NLB where, after a sucessful seaosn with HC Ajoie last season, he is currently playing for ZSC Lion’s partner team GCK Lions who are currently sitting on 6th place with a 9-10-2 record.

Robert Petrovicky
Drafted 1992, 1st rnd, 9th overall
Current team: HC Ambrì-Piotta

Petrovicky has spend more time in North-America than in Europe. After being touted as a great prospect in his early years with Slovak team Dukla Trencin by then still playing in the Czechoslovakian league he moved to North-America but never could live up to the high expectations. After serving many years between NHL and minor leagues he last season returned to Europe for a 7 game stint with Swedish giants MoDo where he registered 5 points in 7 games. This season he’s one of the few former Czechoslovakian players ever to have played in Switzerland. He is playing for former top team HC Ambrì-Piotta residing in the Italian part of the country and have a great fan base. After a disapointing season last year this year HC Ambrì-Piotta is doing very well and is currently in 2nd place with a 14-9-5 record. Petrovicky is instrumental for the sure as he’s leading the team in points 29 (in 28 games). For now the odds it’s better to place your money on Ronald Petrovicky to see in the NHL then Robert.

Sylvain Turgeon
Drafted 1983, 1st rnd, 2nd overall
Current team: HC Thurgau

Turning 37 next month but still skating around. After his NHL career Turgeon continued his career in Europe, mainly in Germany where he spend 5 seaons. He also had a very short stint in Italy and has played part of 2 seaons in the NLA. He recently signed a contract with NLB team HC Thurgau which will see him back in the league he started his European career in. Thurgau hope he can bring in some leadership and experience that will see them move up in the table. Currently Thurghau is in 8th spot (10 teams in the league) with a 7-13-1 record.

Los Angeles Kings:

Tomas Vlasak

Drafted 1993, 5th rnd, 120th
Current team: HC Ambrì-Piotta

Vlasak can be placed in the upper echelon of the NHL when it gets to technique and puck control which he displayed with a highlight reel goal during the World Championships 2 seaosns ago vs Slovakia. However unfortunately for him it takes more to succeed in the NHL.He has always been a prolific scorer in Europe but has yet to show his abilities in North America. After his career in the Czech Republic he had 2,5 very sucessful season in Finland but a big bag of Swiss Francs made him move to Alp-country. This year is his first in Switzerland and after a slow start he’s currently starting to score points. Currently he’s 2nd behind Petrovicky in points on the Ambri-Piotta rosterwith 13 goals and 11 assists in 28 games.

Pauli Jaks
Drafted 1991, 5th rnd, 108th
Current team: HC Ambrì-Piotta

Who thought Aebischer has been the only Swiss goaltender in the ever to have played in the NHL is wrong. Pauli Jaks did that already in 94-95 with the Kings although it was just a single game. He never spend more than 2 seasons outside Switzerland and thus after his 2 year spell in Noth-America he returned to his former team Ambri-Piotta which he has served for many years now. In Switzerland he’s a well known goalie and one of the better ones in the league. Also he’s the starting goalie for Ambri and has been for many years and will probably in the near future as well despite promising youngster Lorenzo Barenco coming up from juniors to back him up this season.

Michael Gaul
Drafted 1991, 12th rnd, 262nd overall
Current team: Fribourg-Gottéron

Being a 12th rnd pick didn’t prevent Michael from making to to the NHL. Although the amount of games played there were just limited to 3 as till today. He has always been a productive player however in the top minor leagues. This season is his first in a European elite league, after he had spend one season in the German lower league where he notched 57 points in 45 games for Timmendorfer Strand. This season he’s extremely productive for a defenseman in the NLA as well. He’s leading his team Fribourg in points and is, along with Nummelin, among the topscoring defensemen in the league. Fribourg is having a fairly good seaosn so far being in 4th place with a 14-11-4 record. It won’t surprise me if Gaul won’t be with them anymore next season and one of the expansion teams will give him another chance on the NHL level. Only being 28 he is not too old yet to be written off and his 28 points (9+19) in 28 games with Fribourg confirm that.

Patrick Howald
Drafted 1993, 11th rnd, 276th overall
Current team: Fribourg-Gottéron

Howald is a monument in the Swiss league. He never made it to a career across the pond but has always been a regular scorer in the Swiss league. After having played for HC Lugano and SC Bern he this season dressed up for Fribourg-Gottéron and his 10 goals and 13 assists in 29 games prove he hasn’t forgot how to produce.

Flavien Conne
Drafted 2000, 8th rnd, 250th overall
Current team: HC Lugano

One of the bigger prospects in Switzerland. Scored 17 points in 30 games in the NLB as a 17 year old and improved that the season after when he notched 27 points in 37 games. After having played a single game for Ambri-Piotta, Flavien made his full debut in the NLA with Fribourg-Gottéron and he was a sensation there. In two seasons he had 59 points in 81 games before being acquired by the rich top team HC Lugano. In Lugano he wasn’t the star player anymore and had to settle with less ice time and more competition on the roster. A somewhat disappointing season with ‘only’ 23 points in 42 games were the result. This season Conne seems to be back to old form though. 10 goals and 8 assists in 27 games make the 21 year old still a genuine prospect that can have hope of an NHL career.

Cristobal Huet
Drafted 2001, 7th rnd, 214th overall
Current team: HC Lugano

Huet was hesitant to signa new contract at Lugano at the start of this season as he was in the hunt for an NHL job. However with the plethora of good goaltending in the NHL already, Huet only saw part of his dream fulfilled. That being drafted. The Kings picked the 26 year old French goalie in the 7th round of the 2001 draft.

After being awarded MVP and best goalie in the French league in 1998 he moved to Switzerland in 1999 where he was awarded the best goaltender trophy the past 2 seasons. Huet had hoped to sparkle for Team France during the WC div.1 where he could put himself in the spotlights with NHL scouts. Unfortunately the tournament, held on home ice, became a big deception for the French team that was desperate for promotion after being relegated from the elite pool last season. The team had a miserable tournament despite having several top players available and ended up 2nd with a 3-1-1 record with a loss to Hungary and a draw (equaliser scored 58 seconds before the end) vs The Netherlands.

That game was a nightmare for Huet as his defence left him alone that game. He found 4 pucks behind him in the net with only 15 shots faced. This year Huet and Lugano are looking to take revenge for the lost playoff final (in game 7 overtime vs rivals ZSC Lions in a controversial game) but as of yet Lugano’s season has been a disappoiting one. But with the playoffs still very much in reach anything is possible for this heavy potential loaded team once it gets back to normal form.
As of yet Huet has posted a G.A.A. of 3.04 and has had 2 shut outs.