On the international scene, Switzerland has only achieved a top three finish once since the turn of the century, coming second in the 2013 World Championships. However, with representatives in Team Europe during the World Cup of Hockey this year, they managed to go all the way to the final – before inevitably losing to Team Canada.
According to QuantHockey, there are currently ten active Swiss players in the NHL, with 33 total Swiss players having ever played in the top North American league. So, as you can see, Switzerland hasn’t been a large inhabitant of the NHL over the years, but with a bunch of young talents coming through in recent years, they’re becoming ever more regular in the scoring charts.
Their representative with the most games played, goals, assists, points, penalty minutes and game-winning goals in the NHL is Philadelphia Flyers defenseman, Mark Streit. With 732 appearances, 93 goals, 324 assists, 256 penalty minutes and 12 game winning goals, the 38-year-old, 11-year veteran stands as the highest-ranking Swiss player to ever grace NHL ice.
Now, to go into the current best possible all-Swiss line of active and associated NHL players.
Goaltender: Reto Berra
Drafted in the fourth round, 106th overall, in the 2006 draft by the St. Louis Blues, Reto Berra has never been able to lock down a starting role in the NHL. In the 2013/14 season, his first as an NHL player, Berra claimed nine wins in 29 starts between the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche. After 14 games last season, the Swiss netminder stands at a record of 53 starts, 19 wins, 30 losses and four overtime losses.
Despite his poor record so far, the Florida Panthers signed up the 29-year-old, assigning him to their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, with Roberto Luongo and James Reimer goaltending in the NHL. So far, Reto Berra has impressed. In seven AHL games, he’s kept a 1.72 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. Being only 29, Berra still has time to develop and prove himself in the NHL, and with Luongo approaching the tail end of his career, Berra might be seen as the next backup keeper for the Panthers.
Left Defenseman: Mark Streit
Way back in 2004, Mark Streit was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with the 262nd overall pick. Prior to being drafted, Streit had only spent one season playing hockey in North America, tallying games and points for the Springfield Falcons in the AHL, Utah Grizzlies in the IHL and Tallahassee Tiger Sharks in the ECHL. After that, Streit spent five seasons with the ZSC Lions in the National League A before making the Montreal lines.
In three seasons with the Canadiens, the Swiss defenseman played 205 games, scoring 25 goals 109 points. In his final season as a Hab, Streit ranked third among defenseman on the points chart with 62, only behind Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Gonchar. Then he signed with the New York Islanders as an unrestricted free agent in a deal that made him the second highest paid Swiss sportsman in the world – only behind tennis icon Roger Federer – per SwissInfo.
Over a five-year stint with the Isles – only playing in four due to a season-ending shoulder injury prior to the 2010/11 campaign – he became the first Swiss-born NHL captain along with playing 286 games, scoring 40 goals and 179 points. Then, as an unrestricted free agent again, he joined the Philadelphia Flyers in 2013/14.
Prior to this season, Mark Streit tallied 25 goals and 94 points in 225 games as a Flyer and has recently been tasked with lining up alongside hot defensive prospect Ivan Provorov, to help ease the young Russian’s transition into the NHL.
This is the final year of the Swiss veteran’s contract with the Flyers. Despite his regular and consistent play, and still above-average puck moving ability, this may be his last season in the NHL. However, according to CSN Philly, Streit has stated that he will play on until his body no longer lets him. Barring any injury, that could keep him in the game for another year or two. Depending on the Flyers’ success this season, he may be a valuable trade chip at the deadline, being a very valuable rental for the end of the regular season and post-season.
Right Defenseman: Roman Josi
The player best positioned to overtake Mark Streit’s crown as the best Swiss-born player to play in the NHL. The 2008 draft featured an incredible class of defensemen, with Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson, Swiss-born Luca Sbisa, Michael Del Zotto, John Carlson and Vyacheslav Voynov all being taken before Roman Josi – who the Nashville Predators selected in the second round, 38th overall.
After continuing to impress in Switzerland and then in the AHL, with the Milwaukee Admirals, Roman Josi was called up to the NHL. With two decent seasons under his belt in 2011/12 and 2012/13, the Swiss blue-liner exploded in 2013/14 with 13 goals and 40 points in 72 games, then 55 points in 81 games in 2014/15.
Last season saw Josi advance yet again, making everyone take notice of the defensive talent, clocking in as Nashville’s second highest point scorer with 61 in 81 games – trumping linemate Shea Weber by ten points.
The Nashville Predators have centered their offense around their defensive stars, with Shea Weber being the pivotal piece for years. Now with Subban in place of Weber, Josi helms the blue line. But the Preds are transitioning from the attack focussing on defensemen, with legitimate scoring threats like Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Craig Smith and James Neal taking scoring responsibilities. Roman Josi and Subban are still relied upon to contribute, but the onus isn’t solely on the defenders now.
Roman Josi looks to continue on his upward trajectory as the 26-year-old Swiss defenseman looks to further establish himself as not only Nashville’s top defenseman but one of the best in the NHL.
Left Winger: Nino Niederreiter
With only Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Erik Gudbranson and Ryan Johansen being taken before him, Nino Niederreiter was the fifth overall selection in the 2010 draft – the highest selected Swiss player of all time – but found his struggles with the team that picked him – New York Islanders.
He had a fair start to his NHL career with a goal and an assist in nine games of the 2010/11 season, with a one goal, 55 game season in the next. When the 2012/13 lockout ended, Niederreiter was not invited up from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to training camp, to which the Swiss winger responded to with a trade request. During the ensuing offseason, the New Jersey Devils traded a third round pick and Cal Clutterbuck to bring in Niederreiter.
Since his trade, Nino Niederreiter has improved with every passing campaign. First the Swiss forward put up 14 goals and 36 points in 2013/14 season, then 24 goals and 37 points in the next. Last season, Niederreiter was pivotal in Minnesota’s charge to the playoffs, with him and Jason Pominville on the wings of Erik Haula.
Niederreiter and the Minnesota Wild have started very well this season, with the Swiss set to once again eclipse his season-best point totals.
Right Winger: Sven Baertschi
Drafted 13th overall in 2011, Sven Baetschi struggled to find his way with the team that drafted him, the Calgary Flames. In the same year that he was drafted, the Swiss winger was given a five-game taster, in which he scored three goals.
In the following season he scored three goals and ten points in 20 games, then two goals and 11 points in 26 games and finally, in his last season as a Flame (2014/15), Baetschi could only claim four assists in 15 games. The then 21-year-old requested to be traded, which was fulfilled by the Vancouver Canucks, who gave up a second round draft pick to acquire him. In that same 2014/15 season, the Swiss forward played three games, scoring twice.
In his first season with the Canucks, Sven Baertschi scored 15 goals and 28 points in 69 games. He hasn’t started this season as brightly but is still featuring in the NHL lines, mostly alongside talented young center Bo Horvat. The now 24-year-old Swiss skater will look to improve and try to put up consistent numbers as the Canucks undergo a big rebuild, with some turbulent seasons ahead of them.
Center: Denis Malgin
Coming into this season, Denis Malgin impressed the Florida Panthers in the rookie tournament, scoring six goals and an assist, guiding his team to winning the tournament. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, 102nd overall, the Swiss center spent last season with the ZSC Lions, alongside this year’s first overall pick, Auston Matthews. Malgin and the Lions won the Swiss Cup last season.
Featuring on the lower lines, Malgin’s time on the ice has been quite limited this season, but the 19-year-old Swiss forward has been very impressive, with his points, hits, takeaways, and blocked shots tallies keeping him as a key part of this Panthers team.
With Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau to return to the team, some young Panthers who are currently in the line-up will be moved, but Denis Malgin’s strong performances mean that he should stay in the NHL lines for the rest of the season, despite his young age.
This All-Switzerland line and the future
If this were a line to compete in the NHL, it would likely do better than most would think. The puck moving, veteran presence of Mark Streit would complement the all-around game of Roman Josi, who would be the top scorer in this setup. Nino Niederreiter would play the role of the sniper, whilst facilitating the less experienced Denis Malgin and Sven Baertschi. The real issue would come with the goaltender, Reto Berra, but countryman Jonas Hiller would likely be a more reliable replacement. However, for the purposes of this article, Hiller could not be included because the 34-year-old decided to sign for EHC Biel-Bienne this season, after a 26 games, 3.51 goals against 2015/16 NHL campaign.
Roman Josi has a very real chance of eventually surpassing Mark Streit and become the greatest ever Swiss player to play in the NHL. What’s more is that there are some very talented young Swiss players nearing readiness to play in the NHL. Kevin Fiala spent some time with the Predators this season but has been sent to the minors to further develop his game. Sven Andrighetto, of the Montreal Canadiens, spent 44 games with the Habs last season and has recently been called up to the NHL lines again.
Probably the most exciting of the up and coming Swiss players is the ninth overall pick from the 2015 draft, Timo Meier. If it wasn’t for suffering from mononucleosis prior to the start of the season, the powerful Swiss winger would likely be in the Sharks lines now. He’s been playing games with San Jose Barracuda since recovering from the illness and is expected to be in the NHL as soon as this month.
Though few in number, Switzerland have some top class representatives in the NHL right now, with plenty of top talents ready to break into the top North American league.
Who do you think is the best Swiss-born NHLer in the league right now? Let us know, in the comments section below.