Where are they now: Part 4?

By Joeri Loonen

An overview of drafted 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

Philadelphia Flyers:

Partik Juhlin
Drafted 1989, 2nd rnd, 34th overall
Current team: SC Bern

Juhlin enterred the NHL as a 25 year old after he was doing very well in the Swedish league. Owever 3 seasons later and 56 NHL games and 101 AHL games later he decided to return to Europe and went to Finland. After 2,5 good seasons with Jokerit Helsinki he moved to Switzerland in the 99-00 season. In Switzerland Juhlin is one of the top forwards in the league. In his first season he registerred 31 points in 37 games and that was followed by a 43 point saeson. This season Juhlin has already equalled that total and that after only 33 games.

Phoenix Coyotes:

Severin Blindenbacher
Drafted 2001, 9th rnd, 254th overall
Current team: EHC Kloten

Blindenbacher is one of het latest exponents of the Swiss upbeat. The young defenseman was drafted in the 9th round by the Coyotes last season and they hope he will turn out to be a steal. Blindenbacher will never be a top 4 defenseman but could turn out to become a 5th or 6th defenseman. This season is his first full pro season. Last season he plaeyd 27 games in the NLA. Blindenbacher isn’t going to score a lot of points nor register a lot of penalty minutes. For now his future remains somewhat unclear and his 2nd full pro season will have to show whether he is improving or not. Blindenbacher will play for Team Switzerland at the upcoming WJC

Beat Forster
Drafted 2001, 3th rnd, 78th overall
Current team: HC Davos

Along with Blindenbacher, Forster is another promising young defenseman that will play for Team Switzerland at the WJC. Also Forster was drafted last year by the Coyotes and they think highly of him as they spend a 3rd rnd pick on him. Forster plays a physical game and as well as Blindenbacher is not a Norris Trophy candidate. After playing in the NLB last season this is his first full season in the NLA where he scored his first goal at the highest level. The Coyotes’ scouts will watch him closely during the WJC to see if he’s a candidate for next years’ camp.

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Daniel Gauthier
Drafted 1988, 3rd rnd, 62nd overall
Current team: SC Langnau Tigers

Despite performing very well in the QMJHL and the IHL he never managed more than a mere 5 NHL games with the Blackhawks. After the 95-96 season he went to try his luck in Europe. He played 10 games there for 2 different teams before moving to Austria. Being a top performer in the Austrian league for 3 consecutive seasons, SC Langnau attracted his interest and Gauthier moved to the neighbouring country. With Langnau Gauthier has been in the top 3 in scoring for the team every season. Despite scoring 45 points in 39 games Langnau almost relegated to the NLB last season but Langnau saved their spot after winning their promotion/relegation series. This season Langnau wants to offload one of their high priced imports. Brian Bonin was the likely guy to be loaned out, but after a deal to Finland collapsed, Gauthier was rumoured to be loaned out to NLB side EHC Visp. However with Visp ahving loaned Dean Seymour for the remainder of the season, Gauthier seems to stay on the Langnau roster. Gauthier is having a decent season with 9 goals and 11 assists in 26 games for the team that is standing low in the league.

Brian Bonin
Drafted 1992, 9th rnd, 211th overall
Current team: SC Langnau Tigers

As written above, Bonin was the expandable player on the Langnau roster after they had acquired former NHL’er Dixon Ward. Just as Gauthier Bonin isn’t performing badly. The Minnesota born forward has picked up 20 points in 28 games this season, which is his first in Europe. Bonin had his first taste of NHL action last season with the Wild and it won’t be unlikely to see him move back to North-America after the season as the new Langnau coach prefers to play with the imports Ward-Gauthier-Hämäläinen isntead of with Bonin.

Quebec Nordiques:

Josef Marha
Drafted 1994, 2nd rnd, 35th overall
Current team: HC Davos

Drafted in the 2nd round great things were expected from this Czech, but he failed to live up to expectations. After failing to crach the Avs line up for 3 consecutive seasons he was dealt to Anaheim for Warren Rychel and future considerations. But his stay at the Mighty Ducks organization didn’t last long. The next season he was dealt to the Blackhawks. He had a career season in 99-00 with 10 goals and 22 assists and it looked as if he was finally breaking through. Last season however Marha only played 15 games with the strugglnig Hawks in which he registerred 3 points, the rest of the season he spent in the AHL with Norfolk. With league leaders HC Davos Marha is picking it up after a slow start. Currently he has notched 13 goals and 10 assists in 33 games and he will play a big part in Davos’ push for the league title.

Morgan Samuelsson
Drafted 1986, 6th rnd, 123rd overall
Current team: ZSC Lions

After being elected best forward at the European Juniro Championships in 1986, Samuelsson was drafted by the Nordiques. He played one more season for Bodens in the Swedish 2nd division before moving up to the Elitserien wher he had some time with Luleå, Södertälje and AIK Stockholm with whom he relegated to the 2nd division. However after 1,5 year in the 2nd division and notching over 100 points during that period Samuelsson played 2 more seasons with AIK in the Elitserien. He then moved to German team Kölner Haie where he was having a hard time living up to the expectations. After 1,5 year he moved to Kassel Huskies where he had a great first half year but the 2nd season was bad from his side and he went on to paly 2 seasons in the German lower leagues before moving to Switzerland. He started with HC Thurgau in the Swiss NLB and was a top player in that league. He was loaned out to HC Thurgau by Swiss giants ZSC Lions who didn’t have room for him since there’s an import limit of 3. Samuelsson’s role with the ZSC Lions seemed over untill something surprisng happened last season. Due to some injuries on the roster Samuelsson was brought over to the big club and played some good games in the final phase of the season and was rewarded a spot on the playoff roster. In the playoffs he became one of the most important players, if not the most important player. With 3 goals and 7 assists in 7 games he wasn’t just high in the top scorers list, he also scored the all important GWG goal in game 7 in overtime of the playoff final vs their huge rivals HC Lugano. The goal, scored in Lugano, made him from zero to hero in no time. The huge crowd trouble right after the game couldn’t wipe that out. This season however Samuelsson is not a lock on the ZSC Lions roster, again because of the import limit. However with 21 points in 21 games he can’t be blamed for performing under par.

Mika Strömberg
Drafted 1990, 11th rnd, 211th overall
Current team: EHC Chur

Strömberg was voted best player on the Finnish 1990 WJC team in the same year he was drafted. However he has never played in North-America at all. Strömberg served Jokerit Helsinki for over 10 years (with a few loan trips away) and always has been a good defenseman in the Finnish SM-Liiga. 20-30 points per season were no exceptuion for him. At the start of the 99-00 season he moved over to Switzerland to play one season with Fribourg-Gottéron. Last season he started to play for EHC Chur and he scored 21 points in 37 games. This season he’s still with EHC Chur and is battling hard to survive with the team in the NLA. The team that is on the bottom is simply the weakest team in the league and even Strömberg’s 3 goals and 17 assists in 30 games can’t help it.

San Jose Sharks:

Fredrik Nilsson
Drafted 1991, 6th rnd, 11th overall
Current team: EHC Kloten

Nilsson had two difficult seasons in the IHL with Kansas City before having a 56 point break out season. However the former Västerås player returned to Europe after that season so we’ll never know how he would have fared in North-America. After 2 seasons with Luleå and 1,5 season with Finnish giants Jokerit Helsinki, Nilsson signed a contract with EHC Kloten. With Kloten he’s improving his point total each year so far. After 19 points in his first season he notched 32 in his 2nd and this season he’s destined to top that with already having collected 26 points (14+12) in 32 games.

Petri Varis
Drafted 1993, 6th rnd, 132nd overall
Current team: ZSC Lions

Varis can hand you a pretty impressive resumé which will look like this:

* Rookie of the Year (SM-liiga 91-92)
* All Rookie Team (SM-liiga 91-92)
* SM-liiga Player of the Month (Sep 94, Feb 96)
* Best +/- (SM-liiga 95-96)
* Best Player (SM-liiga playoffs 95-96)
* All-Star Team (SM-liiga 95-96, 96-97; EC 95-96)
* New Goal Record (SM-liiga playoffs 95-96)
* Most goals (EC 95-96 [with Nurminen]; SM-liiga 96-97)
* Top Scorer (SM-liiga 96-97, 00-01)
* Most assists (SM-liiga 00-01)

He can also say he has played in the same league as Gretzky and Lemieux, although it was just a single appearance with the Blackhawks. The remainder of the season he spent with Indianapolis in the IHL. Varis spent the majority of his career in Finland. Only a single season in Germany and the year in North-America interrupted that sequence. This season he tried his luck abroad again and it turned out to be a nightmare. With ZSC Lions having a very disappointing season (currently ranked mid table, struggling to qualify for the playoffs as reigning champs) there is a lot of pressure on the imports. Varis suffers from the inconsistency as well and has been playing far below expectations as well and has been mainly scratched in favour of other imports this season. He was even loaned out for a short spell to NLB team GCK Lions and also had a 6 game loan spell with his former Finnish team Jokerit Helsinki. However with only 10 games played this season Varis won’t stay for long in Switzerland as things stand now.