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World Junior hockey 2012: Germany just wants a win or two

Germany is a large nation with a lot of hockey players, but have struggled to piece together a strong national development program. Can they stick with the big boys?

Germany last appeared at the top level of the IIHF World Junior Championships at Buffalo in 2011.
Germany last appeared at the top level of the IIHF World Junior Championships at Buffalo in 2011.
Tom Szczerbowski

Germany has always been a land of great promise for the growth of the sport of ice hockey, but the famous sporting nation has only occasionally flirted with the idea of challenging the traditional hockey powers of the world.

Germany boasts a large hockey playing population, with over 16,000 registered junior/minor hockey players (seventh largest in the world), but struggles to keep up with smaller nations like Switzerland and Slovakia. In fact, Germany's present company tends to be nations with considerably smaller populations like Denmark, Latvia, and Norway.

Placed in the group of death with Russia, Canada, the United States and Slovakia, Germany's goal isn't about causing a surprise and making the quarterfinals, but just getting a win against somebody and avoiding relegation to Division 1. Slovakia is the realistic early opportunity, but Latvia is the more likely target come the relegation round.

Here's a look at the state of Germany's national junior team for 2013:

Depth Chart - Forwards
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Leon Draisaitl Andreas Pauli* Tobias Rieder* (inj.)
Dominik Kahun Nikolas Latta* Sebastian Uvira*
Leo Pföderl* Christian Krestchman Daniel Fischbuch
Frederik Tiffels Alexander Ackermann Huba Sekesi
John Koslowski Feodor Boiarchinov Florin Ketterer/Dennis Reimer

Germany's chances largely depend on Tobias Rieder's health. It's uncertain, but what is known is he has been out of the Kitchener Rangers lineup since Nov. 30 with a foot injury, and Germany is hoping he'll be good enough to play starting next week. Rieder is an Edmonton Oilers draft pick who scored 42 goals last year in the OHL and was around a point per game this year before the injury (and heating up).

Germany doesn't have a strong junior circuit in their country despite having a fairly successful professional league, so their top forward prospects tend to find better success when they come to North America. Players like 2013 Draft eligible winger Dominik Kahun (Sudbury, OHL), centre Nikolas Latta (Sarnia, OHL), winter Frederik Tiffels (Muskegon, USHL), and forward Huba Sekesi (Jamestown, NAHL) are currently playing.

They're at a higher level of competition than the German junior leagues and getting a lot more icetime than they would if they were playing professionally back home, and probably receiving better coaching as well.

The prize for Germany, though, is left winger Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL). Draisaitl is just 17 years old, and won't be eligible for the NHL Draft until 2014. He's got an unfortunate nickname, the German Gretzky, and is already playing near a point per game in one of the toughest junior leagues on the planet.

A probably more appropriate comparison for Draisaitl would be Latvia's Zegmus Girgensons, a rare first round caliber talent for Germany that could play a big role for their national junior team at such a young age. Draisaitl will be one of the tournament's youngest players.

Key Players: The younger CHLers will be important, but returning players like Andreas Pauli, Sebastian Ulvira, and Leo Pfördel are also going to have to have solid tournaments for Germany to avoid relegation. That being said, if Rieder isn't at 10 percent, the Germans will definitely be in tough.

Germany still has a few cuts to make, and they have traditionally gone with a twelve forward, eight defensemen roster.

Depth Chart - Defense
Left Defense Right Defense
Henry Hasse* Kilian Keller*
Oliver Mebus Stephan Kronthaler*
Tim Bender Maximilian Faber
Max Meirandres Steven Bär
Janik Möser Alexander Winkler

Germany has a very tall defensive corps, headlined by the 6'9 behemoth that is Oliver Mebus, who looks like he'll be the tournament's largest player. Germany has three players from last year's team that won promotion, and have a draft hopeful in Tim Bender who can be sheltered a bit on the team's 3rd or 4th pairing should he make the cut.

Bender has caught the attention of Central Scouting, with some praise in the NHL.com's feature on Germany for his skating and offensive skills. Unlike Germany's best forwards, all of these defensemen are being trained by German clubs. Three of the players (Hasse, Keller, and Faber) have seen some time in Germany's top professional league this year, while other players that have also played at that level didn't get invited to camp.

Janik Möser is the youngest of this crew, just missing out on the 2013 Draft by being born less than two weeks too late. He has some ability to play forward, as does Steven Bär, so if the Germans get some injury trouble up front either of those players could come in handy.

Key Players: Other than Mebus' size, this is a pretty unspectacular group outside of the young Bender. Max Meirandres looks like he could be a bit of a sleeper player for the team outside of their returning trio of players, although to be honest it's tough to get a read on where these players are exactly in their development. Keller and Hasse definitely look to be the go-to defenders for the Germans.

Goaltenders
Marvin Cüpper
Philip Lehr
Elmar Trautmann

Marvin Cüpper is an undersized goaltender, and a QMJHL starter for the defending Memorial Cup champion Shawinigan Cataractes. The Cataractes completely gutted their team going for the championship last year and are struggling big time, so like Oscar Dansk for Sweden, Cüpper is seeing a lot of pucks this year.

He'll be seeing a lot more at the World Juniors, as the difference in talent between the top QMJHL teams and the worst is nothing compared to the difference between Canada, Russia, and the USA to Germany at this tournament, and that's saying a lot. Cüpper is Germany's only chance at avoiding outright blowouts and their main hope against Slovakia and Latvia when facing relegation. Lehr and Trautmann might see time in net to give Cüpper a rest when games get out of hand in the round robin for Germany.

Tournament Outlook

It's not hard to picture it all coming down to the final game for Germany against Latvia to avoid relegation, but Germany has a legitimate chance to beat Slovakia in the round robin as well. At the 2011 World Juniors, Germany far from embarrassed themselves against stronger hockey nations like Switzerland, Finland and Slovakia but couldn't come up with a win.

They aren't as far behind as their continual yo-yo between Division 1 and this level suggests, and they should be the nation that benefits most from the IIHF only having one team be relgated from the tournament as opposed to the two that were relegated up to 2011.

Germany is going to look for one, maybe two wins to book their tickets to Mälmo next year, and continue to battle with the best in the world.

References

* WJC schedule by team

* IIHF Preliminary Roster (.pdf)

* Official Website for German U20 Team (in German)