2023 World Junior Championship Preview: Team Switzerland


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Switzerland’s history at the World Junior Championship is fascinating.

After the team won gold at the 2009 Division I tournament only to earn promotion the following year, they narrowly missed out on the bronze medal game after an unlikely heroic performance by Nino Niederreiter. Since then, they have teetered on the border of quarter-finals and relegation, apart from a surprising fourth place in 2019.

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Unfortunately, while Slovakia and Latvia hope to make big strides this year, Switzerland are having a tough time in Group B. They still have a legitimate shot at third place, but it’s a group on which many Swiss fans aren’t too high right now. .

Let’s take a look at the team’s chances this year heading into the tournament:

Goalkeepers

After serving as a starter during the summer, Kevin Pasche is back for his second crack. He struggled with an 0-3-0 record with a .900 save percentage, although it was far from his fault. Pasche has had a tough time with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, one of the league’s worst teams, so he’ll be tested in time for the team’s opener against Finland.

He will be supported by the Mississauga Steelheads goaltender Alessio Beglieri and Davos Mathieu Croce. Beglieri was Switzerland’s U-18 guy last year, while Croce already has experience with the U-20 squad. Beglieri has a lot more playing time, but Croce has experience against the men in the second-tier Swiss league.

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Either way, it’s a major weak point for the Swiss. If anyone can stand out, great, but that’s where things could fall flat.

Defenders

After having had bad relations in recent months, the Swiss federation and the best defensive prospect Lian Bichsel are finally friends again. And that’s a good thing, because the 6-foot-5 Dallas Stars prospect is easily one of the best defensemen to leave the country in quite some time. He has spent most of the season in Sweden’s top league, with the ice time varying from night to night. Still, that experience is important regardless of the results, and its true value will be to bring energy and hate to every shift. He will be the busiest defender on this list this year, and one of all Stars fans will be watching closely.

He will be joined by the only other prospect drafted in the NHL, Brian Zanetti. Philadelphia’s fourth-rounder has had little offensive impact with Peterborough this season, but it moves the puck well and is reliable defensively. When paired with a stronger offensive threat, Zanetti can be the defensive backbone the team needs, and they will need it in Moncton.

Dario Sidler is a notable returnee who will fit right into the top four. A substitute with the team during the summer. Sidler is a quick and skilled 5-foot-7 defender who is currently in his first full season in the top national league on home soil. He proved last year with EVZ Academy in the second-tier league that he can cause damage when given the chance, which he didn’t have much with Lausanne. However, playing against his age group, he should do just fine.

Another returning player is Maximilien Streule, who doesn’t have a ton of numbers to show despite being a key part of Switzerland’s blue line at various levels since 2018. He is currently with the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada after leaving Winnipeg Ice of the WHL, but the Armada has been completely dismal this season. Streule isn’t a great defender, but he has an advantage over him and it’s usually difficult to play against him.

Switzerland’s blue line will be very busy in Group B, and it will have to be the most important position. With a soft ply, Switzerland’s defensive core will need to establish an identity, which could be physical.

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Cheeky

Without a marquee goalscorer on this list, the opportunities abound. Attilio Biasca, who led the team with four goals this summer and is making his third tournament appearance, had a strong season as captain with the Halifax Mooseheads, scoring just under a point per game. He will still do a lot of heavy stuff this year, and he can surely handle the pressure,

Jonas Taibel, currently in his second year with the QMJHL Wildcats, will call Moncton home. Taibel had a good WJC summer and generally played well with the U-20 team, even in a small sample. He played on the first line against Canada in pre-tournament action and will likely remain high in the roster.

There is a lot of Swiss talent in the QMJHL – it helps that Quebec and Switzerland have deep French ties – and Louis Robin is yet another. He had a solid season between Val-d’Or and Shawinigan and he brings speed and skill to Switzerland’s top six. Despite the Swiss shutout against Canada, Robin got some looks. He will have to score a few goals here if Switzerland are to have a chance.

From there, the Kusnacht Lions get strong representation on the second line. Joel Henry is a household name for fans of the national team programme, having played big roles with the nation since 2018. After a decent short stint in the Swiss U-20 league, he spent the rest of the year in the second-tier league where he established himself as a solid fitter. Livio Curdin Truog was more of a goalscorer in the same team, and he even has some experience with Zurich’s top team. Nicholas Baechler is the third notable voice with Kusnacht, but he brings a little more strength to the band.

NHL Draft Watch

Switzerland don’t have a single eligible first-year prospect, Biasca, the team’s top forward, has had a good enough season that some scouts are talking about the double overshoot. His top speed has improved over the past two years and his consistency has come with age, but he likely wouldn’t be picked in the first half of the draft if picked.

Projection

It will be a difficult year for Switzerland, which has not made much progress over the past half-decade. They have a pair of NHL prospects, but both are still draft players and not the impact skaters they need. Switzerland’s game against Latvia on December 27 will be key to avoiding relegation, and if that goes well, the December 31 encounter against Slovakia could give them a higher spot heading into the quarter-finals. Losing one, or both, could be detrimental, with the bottom half of Group B looking stronger than usual.

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Program

Dec. 26 vs. Finland – 11:00 a.m. ET
Dec. 27 vs. Latvia – 4:00 p.m. ET
Dec. 29 vs. USA – 4:00 p.m. ET
Dec. 31 vs. Slovakia – 11:00 a.m. ET


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