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DRAFTPRO – 2021 HLINKA GRETZKY CUP REVIEW – MISERY LOVES COMPANY

By Samuel Dummer

“Misery loves company”.

It’s an old adage around the globe with many different variations in many different languages.

If it wasn’t for being on the wrong end of massive scores, the Swiss and German teams could all but be forgotten about at this year’s tournament. Both teams were very clearly outplayed in every game that wasn’t against each other.

Regularly posting double-digit scores against, can make you wonder what brings them back year after year. What is it that really drives these players and coaching staff to regularly risk the embarrassment of losing games to the degree in which they do? The answer to that is a simple one.

Exposure…and hope.

While the teams may pack their bags for the tournament almost knowing the outcome before it starts, they also know it may be one of their best chances to show Pro scouts exactly what they can do and hope they make an impact. You don’t always have to be on the winning team to impress a scout or two and sometimes, being only one of a small handful of big fish in a smaller pond can make you stand that much more.

On the Switzerland and Germany rosters, there wasn’t enough high-end talent to carry either team out of the basement of the Hlinka Gretzky standings. With an average combined goals-against stat of 29 for Germany and 23 for Switzerland in only 4 games apiece, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the teams did not play well.

There were, however, a few players between the teams that managed to catch the eye of a scout or two. And maybe even a further look down the road.

For Switzerland, forward Jonas Taibel and defenceman Rodwin Dionicio and Lian Bichsel drawing the attention of scouts watching the game. For Germany, it was forwards Moritz Elias and Julian Lutz.

Goaltender Simon Wolf was one that also could garner some talk around the office, albeit it may not all be great…

Jonas Taibel made the best of his situation and was able to play well enough to pique the interest of DraftPro scout Andrew LeBlanc,

“He is a skilled two-way center who excels at keeping the puck under pressure. His excellent ability to drag defenders to him and find open teammates makes him a prospect to keep an eye on this year.”

Taibel made sure to leave an impression. At only 5’11” and 172lbs, Taibel needs to use his quick feet and patience with the puck to move around the opposition. As pointed out by LeBlanc, he does a very good job of just staying collected with the puck and letting the defenders come to him. He wasn’t caught forcing the play as often as some of his teammates and was one of the better players at setting up his linemates for the Swiss. A steady diet and workout plan could see Taibel get some more looks for the pro level. With some weight gain, he could find himself as a low-round pick but have the chance at an NHL contract.

At 6’2” and 203 lbs, size is not an issue for Rodwin Dionicio. As a defender, he loves to make contact. He does a fair job of taking away the space of an oncoming rush, and while he does get beat at times, his physical play makes him fun to watch. Being fun to watch is always a bonus when your team is falling apart around you. Speaking to Leblanc further about players he saw at the tournament, “(Dionicio) is a physical defenceman that is tough to play against. Makes life for the opposition tough on a consistent basis.” Not a bad rep for a guy on a team that had such a poor showing. While he’s not quite the all-star defenceman that will make a heavy impact on a pro team yet, there still may be some room for improvement. Leblanc continued, “Not the most skilled player, but some technical refinement could see him jump into the later rounds of the draft.”

An even bigger defenseman, Lian Bichsel, standing at 6’5” and 212 lbs, showed a ton of composure under pressure as he tried to set things up from his own zone, but with limited options supplied from his teammates was often limited to rimming pucks out of the zone or off the glass to exit the zone.

The sturdy, swift skating big man showed off his strong edgework and crisp passing which had evaluators excited to see as he was quick to transition in the neutral zone and made smart decisions with the puck. He showcased his confidence, willingness to compete and battle physically along the wall as a solid potential high draft pick and future two-way defender.

“Confident in his own end, but sometimes opted to try and do too much, dragging himself out of optimal position without anyone to cover him. These aren’t boneheaded decisions he’s making by any means, but his teammates around him are a little slow to react to making covers as he ventures off to do another man’s job. I see a strong two-way defencemen in Bichsel, reminds me of a prime Alex Edler with his style of play.” Noted DraftPro scout Kai Farenholtz.

Julian Lutz, 6’2” and 179lbs. He is the lean mean German machine. He is a dynamic offensive forward who plays a high-energy game. He is very sturdy on his skates and great on his edges. He regularly looks to carry it into the offensive zone.

“He is a quick forward that can fly down the left-wing and make plays at top speed,” says Leblanc. “He has fast feet and a strong stride. The other really impressive thing about Julian Lutz is the creativity on his shots. I mean, the guy gets shots off from any angles of the ice with nearly pinpoint accuracy.”

Lutz may not be the most skilled forward on the ice, but he still can make a play and carry the puck, although not always at an elite level which can lead to giveaways in the neutral zone. Lutz can be a disrupting player along the boards and on the defensive side of the puck and has no fear of the corners and board-play.

Lutz could work on his leg strength to increase his speed and power in his stride. Lutz proved in the tournament that while some of his teammates may have been out of place, he sure wasn’t. With a little more work on his defensive game, and a protein bar or three, Lutz should find his way into a pro league somewhere, without question. He may even find himself on an NHL contract one day.

Moritz Elias, the firecracker in the back pocket of the German team. Standing at a very large 5’7” and tipping the scale at 161lbs, he was one of the smallest players at the tournaments. With a goal and an assist through 4 games, Elias gave it his all for the German squad. While he plays a larger game than his size would usually dictate, his mighty all just didn’t quite measure up to the rest of the talent scattered throughout the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this year.

“If it weren’t for his small frame, I believe there would be plenty more eyes on Moritz. Just like his brother, Florian, he plays an extremely similar bulldog style” says Farenholtz. “I found him to be really, REALLY strong on the puck, even with much larger defenceman heckling him on the boards. (It) took quite a bit to knock him off of his stride.”

Elias proved to be much more than his size would lead you to believe. His powerful legs and short center of gravity allow him to use his balance to his advantage, digging into the ice and planting his feet when against the boards.

Elias can also play the stereotypical “small” player game and handle the puck through traffic. Farenholtz ensured to continue “He is nifty with the puck on his blade and is a great decision maker… I think he could be in consideration as a late-round project in the upcoming NHL Draft.”

Simon Wolf the goalie for the German team could only do so much with the game played in front of him. His name was fitting, for at times he seemed to be a lone wolf, looking to carry the load of his would-be wolfpack on his own. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough of Wolf to go around. He has the average build of a goalie at 6’2” and 185lbs, he’s even an athletic and flexible goalie. Where Wolf seems to falter is in his technique. Wolf appears to rely heavily on his athletics and reflexes, except even his puck tracking could use a little improvement.

“Looked athletic and flexible, but also unnecessarily flopped around the goal crease, giving up a stoppable goal” observed DraftPro scout Joseph Peters, “(Wolf) sometimes looks like a fish out of water, in a panic, scrambling in an attempt to cover an area of the net.”

Well the flop style worked for many a goalie in an older time, Hasek and Thomas come to mind, it doesn’t tend to hold up as well in the professional games of today. It’ll be interesting to see if Wolf can calm his game down and find a way to climb up the prospect charts.

While the scores may not show it, Germany and Switzerland should still leave the tournament with their heads held high. Germany entered with a weaker than usual team and neither team is usually expected to be a top contender as it is. The biggest accomplishment for the young players was met, get some exposure. Take some attention away from the big-name teams and maybe draw an eye or two to the game they could play. They may just find their name sliding up the list, even just a few names could be all the difference.

Photos: HockeySlovakia and Jan Beneš

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