After three years spent barely hanging on to their place in the Top Division among the world’s elite, Switzerland was finally able to make the playoff round in the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship. They fared well in their quarter-final matchup, outshooting Team USA, but ultimately fell to the eventual champions by a 3-2 scoreline.
They won’t have last year’s team-leading scorer, Nico Hischier, on the roster this time around as he has found a home in the NHL after being selected first overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils. It was his play in the tournament versus his peers that really boosted his stock among scouts, and helped make him the most enticing prospect of the draft class.
The national team will also be without Jonas Siegenthaler, their most productive blue-liner last year, as well as goaltender Joren van Pottelberghe, who played all five games for Switzerland in 2017.
Team Switzerland final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|29||Akira Schmid||G||Elite Jr. A||Langnau U20|
|30||Philip Wüthrich||G||Elite Jr. A||Bern U20|
|8||Davyd Barandun||D||Elite Jr. A||Davos U20|
|12||Tobias Geisser||D||NLA||Zug (WSH)|
|16||Nico Gross||D||OHL||Oshawa Generals|
|4||Simon Le Coultre||D||QMJHL||Moncton Wildcats|
|26||Marco Cavalleri||F||QMJHL||Victoriaville Tigres|
|22||Nando Eggenberger||F||NLA||Davos U20|
|24||André Heim||F||NLA||Bern U20|
|14||Ken Jäger||F||Elite Jr. A||Davos U20|
|23||Philipp Kurashev||F||QMJHL||Quebec Remparts|
|20||Sven Leuenberger||F||NLB||EVZ Academy|
|10||Guillaume Maillard||F||NLA||Genève-Servette U20|
|9||Nicolas Müller||F||SuperElit||Modo J20|
|13||Justin Sigrist||F||WHL||Kamloops Blazers|
|19||Axel Simic||F||NLA||Lausanne U20|
The team does have its two backup netminders from last year on the preliminary roster, as Matteo Ritz and Philip Wüthrich are still with the team in Buffalo. But their experience at the World Juniors has been limited to practice sessions and spectating the games from the bench.
It has been a third goalie, Andrin Seifert, who received the most starts in the preparatory games leading up to the flight to North America. Despite a poor showing in Switzerland’s National League B so far this season, allowing an average of five-and-a-half goals in eight games played, he has taken the crease for four tuneup games and posted a .921 save percentage in those contests. Wüthrich had a .933 save percentage in three pre-tournament matches before facing Canada in the final pre-tournament game.
Switzerland has named 17-year-old goaltender Akira Schmid to their final roster in place of Seifert. The 6’4” teenager has played 17 games in Elite Junior A this season, and had a .901 save percentage in three contests at last season’s U18 world championship.
Whoever ends up getting the role, or if head coach Christian Wohlwend decides to opt for the tandem approach, the team will be relying on an untested goalie to help them repeat last year’s medal-round appearance.
While there is no Hischier to control the offence this year, Switzerland does have a cast of skilled forwards who can share the load.
Several players are scoring near a point-per-game pace in their respective junior leagues this season, including the draft-eligible Phillip Kurashev (8-23—31 in 33 QMJHL games), Sven Leuenberger (8-16—24 in 26 games with Switzerland’s EVZ Academy), and Nicolas Müller (7-11—18 in as many games with the junior club of the SHL’s Modo).
Forward Nando Eggenberger has played just a single game in the Swiss junior league in 2017-18, scoring three goals and adding three assists in the contest. He has spent the rest of the season in the country’s top tier.
Valentin Nussbaumer has five goals in the NLA. He’s the youngest player on the roster, having just turned 17 a few months ago, and is not eligible to be drafted until 2019. He and Axel Simic (six goals in six preliminary games with the team) are scoring options who could complement those more attuned to the playmaking aspects of the game.
On a defence corps containing several 19-year-olds, it may well be the 17-year-old Tim Berni who stands out as the best blue-liner for the Swiss.
He’s been the captain of Switzerland’s under-16 team and has been granted the C for the under-18 team as well, and now may be set to make his debut at the World Juniors. He’s the top-scoring defenceman currently on the roster, with 15 points in 25 games of National League B action. He has also had the chance to add a game of NLA experience to his resume this season.
In a tournament that will have the spotlight shining brightly on a draft-eligible defender from Sweden, Berni will also be one to watch. He will not have the impact of Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin, the projected first overall pick in the 2018 draft, but should Berni be able to carry his league success over to this two-week tournament, it may be the edge Switzerland needs to squeak into the medal round for a second year in a row.