Let’s rewind three and a half years into the past: Switzerland had just received the ultimate stamp of approval for their talent development as Nico Hischier became the first overall selection by the New Jersey Devils in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. This capped off an impressive decade where we saw seven Swiss players becoming first-round draft picks. Interestingly enough, all of those seven have ended up impactful at the NHL level.
Sure, it may be a reach to call Mirco Mueller an impactful NHL player, but he has still managed to rack up close to 200 games in the league. However you want to count, there is no denying that the remaining six — Luca Sbisa, Nino Niederreiter, Sven Baertschi, Kevin Fiala, Timo Meier, and Hischier — have had NHL careers ranging from good to great up until this point.
Fast forward to the present day and we have to search with a microscope to find quality talent on the Swiss roster chosen to represent the country in the 2021 World Junior Championships. And the NHL franchises seem to have realized that. In the three drafts that have passed since Hischier went number one overall, only five Swiss players have been selected at all with a grand zero of them being among the first 100 picked. To make matters worse, in 2019, seventh-rounder Valentin Nussbaumer saved the Swiss from an embarrassing zero in the draft column. In 2020, there was no savior left. This year marked the first year since 2009 with not a single Swiss player drafted.
In our WJC preview podcast, Swiss NHL scout Thomas Roost talked about how the lack of efficient junior coaching is stopping both Germany and Switzerland from taking the next steps as hockey nations. Perhaps this is what we’re seeing the results of now? Swiss hockey fans talk about the fact that many of the youngsters aren’t put in favourable positions by their coaches since it’s much more important for the teams to perform well in the National League’s (NL) standings than it is to develop young talent and thus improve the national team.
It will be interesting to keep an eye on both Germany and Switzerland in the upcoming years’ WJC to see whether their recent draft success has been a lucky coincidence or if there are, in fact, new significant hockey talents brewing beyond this generation.
Team Switzerland final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|29||Thibault Fatton||G||U20-Elit||Lugano U20|
|30||Andri Henauer||G||U20-Elit||Bern U20|
|1||Noah Patenaude||G||QMJHL||Saint John Sea Dogs (2021)|
|18||Iñaki Baragano||D||WHL||Kamloops Blazers|
|5||Giancarlo Chanton||D||OHL||Niagara IceDogs (2021)|
|4||Noah Delémont||D||U20-Elit||Biel-Bienne U20|
|23||Cédric Fiedler||D||NCAA||Western Michigan University|
|2||Bastian Guggenheim||D||NL||SCL Tigers|
|24||Noah Meier||D||SL||GC Küsnacht Lions (2021)|
|26||Rocco Pezzullo||D||NL||HC Ambrì-Piotta|
|17||Alessandro Villa||D||U20-Elit||Lugano U20|
|21||Nathan Vouardoux||D||U20-Elit||Lausanne U20|
|12||Dario Allenspach||F||SL||EVZ Academy|
|9||Attilio Biasca||F||U20-Elit||Zug U20 (2021)|
|20||Stefano Bottini||F||BCHL||Penticton Vees|
|14||Lorenzo Canonica||F||QMJHL||Shawinigan Cataractes (2021)|
|15||Ronny Dähler||F||SL||SC Langenthal|
|19||Keanu Derungs||F||WHL||Victoria Royals|
|28||Ray Fust||F||BCHL||Chilliwack Chiefs (2021)|
|13||Valentin Hofer||F||U20-Elit||Zug U20|
|27||Gaétan Jobin||F||U20-Elit||Gottéron U20|
|8||Simon Knak||F||WHL||Portland Winterhawks|
|11||Lionel Marchand||F||J20 Nationell||Timrå IK J20|
|22||Joel Salzgeber||F||U20-Elit||Langnau U20|
|10||Elvis Schläpfer||F||NL||EHC Biel-Bienne|
Player-wise there is really not much to talk about. Switzerland will have to fight Germany and Slovakia for the two remaining quarter-final spots in Group A behind Finland and Canada.
While Slovakia and Germany each have a few highly talented youngsters on their rosters, I want to believe the Swiss team can benefit from having quite a few players who are already dialed in with North American rink sizes as part of either the Canadian junior leagues or the NCAA.
Switzerland has a potential breakthrough candidate in Noah Meier. The defenceman is a smart and mobile player who hopefully can provide some much-needed stability on the back end when he’s on the ice. Since he is a 2021 Draft eligible, he has plenty to gain from a positive performance in the tournament.
The lack of experience. Last year’s roster only had five players — three forwards and two defencemen — born in 2001 or later. Sure, all of those five return this year but this is a very new and inexperienced roster.
A couple of the returners, Simon Knak and Rocco Pezzullo, have developed into regulars in the NL during 2020. But it’s a whole different business to thrive as the expected leaders than it is to play limited minutes in a sheltered role on a roster full of seasoned veterans.
Head coach Marco Bayer will have his hands full trying to put together a team that can compete for 60 minutes against the likes of Tim Stützle. Bayer needs to install a killer underdog mentality in his players’ minds and use his homogenous squad as a positive. Without star power, experience, and expectations going into the tournament, Switzerland has nothing to lose. While Germany will rely on Stützle and John-Jason Peterka and Slovakia will rely on draftees like Samuel Hlavaj and Martin Chromiak, Switzerland’s path to a decent World Juniors is through working as a team. All for one and one for all.
Lorenzo Canonica does not only have a killer name, he is quite the hockey talent as well. Born and raised in the Italian parts of Switzerland, Canonica is a creative center who can drive his line and provide points both as a playmaker and as a finisher.
This year he has held a point-per-game pace in the U20-Elit while waiting for a callback from his QMJHL team in Shawinigan. He made his professional debut last year and played two games with his hometown team Lugano before the pandemic shot down further opportunities to impress.
Together with the aforementioned Meier, he should keep the Swiss draft hiatus from becoming a multiyear blunder. Expect Canonica to be relied upon in a role larger than his age would suggest on a roster that severely lacks offensive punch and power.