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World Junior hockey 2013: Swiss remain longshot for medal

The Swiss have shown a lot of improvement at the junior level in recent years, but remain a longshot for a medal. The team will look to qualify for the quarterfinals again after missing out last year.

Tom Szczerbowski

The Swiss are back in familiar territory, battling for wins without a star prospect to lead them. The past few years have seen players like Nino Niederreiter, Sven Baertschi, Benjamin Conz, Roman Josi and Luca Sbisa lead the team to reach heights they weren't used to.

For the first time, in 2010 and 2011 the Swiss qualified for the quarterfinals in consecutive years. Last year, that came to an end, and the team finished a more familiar 8th in the final standings. This year's team boasts no notable stars, although there are a few interesting players to watch regardless.

Depth Chart- Forwards
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Sven Andrighetto* Tanner Richard* Alessio Bertaggia*
Dario Simion* Christoph Bertschy* Lino Martschini*
Lukas Sieber Jan Neuenschwander Sandro Zangger
Robin Leone Lukas Balmelli Mike Künzle
Vincent Praplan

The top six forwards for the Swiss boasts three junior scorers from the three different Canadian major junior circuits with Andrighetto (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL), Richard (Guelph, OHL), and Bertaggia (Brandon, WHL), as well as three players playing top nine minutes in the top domestic league, the NLA.

Bertschy and Richard are the only NHL drafted players in the group, but there are quite a few future professionals in the group. Head Coach Sean Simpson will lean heavily on this group, who generally performed well at last year's tournament in Alberta.

Beyond the top six, things thin out considerably, but the players fulfill the 'top six/bottom six' split that is more commonly seen in North American rosters.

Key Players: Tanner Richard has only three goals in the OHL this year, but an eyepopping 36 assists. He should be used with Alessio Bertaggia to form a strong scoring duo.

How Simpson mixes up his roster will be interesting, as he has a lot of skilled, but very small forwards. Lino Martschini is all of 5'6", 143 pounds, but he's seventh on his NLA club in scoring, behind mainly top professionals like Henrik Zetterberg, Damien Brunner, Linus Omark and Raphael Diaz.

Depth Chart - Defense
Left Defense Right Defense
Samuel Guerra* Cedric Hächler*
Dean Kukan* Christian Marti*
Mirco Müller Eliot Antonietti
Isacco Dotti

Samuel Guerra missed last year's tournament with injury, but the HC Davos veteran (he's already played 126 regular season games for the famous NLA club) was at the 2011 Tournament in Buffalo, making him an oddity in this tournament.

The Swiss defence corps is probably stronger than their forward group, and has a lot of experience at this level of play. Mirco Müller, meanwhile, might be the closest thing to a 'star' prospect on this team, as he's ranked 7th amongst WHL prospects by NHL Central Scouting.

The big defender is having a strong draft campaign with the Everett Silvertips. It's a diverse group, with a few NLA professionals, some players still stuck in Swiss developmental leagues, a couple of CHLers, and Dean Kukan, a Swiss defender playing in the Swedish Allsvenskan.

Key Player: Christian Marti seems like he could have a lot of roles on the team, but mainly be leaned on as a shutdown defender. He's big (6'3", 209 lbs.) and plays for a top junior club in Quebec (the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada) where he logs big minutes.

Goaltenders
Luca Boltshauser*
Melvin Nyffeler
Robin Kuonen

Boltshauser is a bit of an unheralded young goaltender developing in Sweden in Färjestad's system. He was a backup at last year's tournament, but never saw any action. He has participated at the U18 WJCs, though, and did quite well there two years ago. He should be the workhorse for the Swiss going forward, as neither Melvin Nyffeler or Robin Kuonen have much of a profile either internationally or domestically.

Tournament Outlook

The Swiss have two games that matter in the round robin: Latvia is a must win game to ensure that relegation is unlikely, while the team has a chance to match up against the Czech Republic for the first time since they were last promoted to the top division for 2010. Somehow, the two nations have always avoided each other, which is hard to do when there are only eight teams. The winner of that game will certainly qualify for the quarterfinals.

References:

* The 2013 WJC schedule by team

* IIHF Entry List Roster (pdf file)

* HockeyFans (popular Swiss hockey website, in German)