Vancouver Canucks Jordan Schroeder (left) checks Calgary Flames Sven Baertschi (right) during action at the 2011 Young Stars Tournament held in Penticton on September 12, 2011. The Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets and San Jose Sharks prospects teams participated in the tournament.
Photograph by: Larry Wong, Postmedia News files
ABBOTSFORD – Sven Baertschi is the Swiss who can't miss and he didn't in his American Hockey League debut with the Abbotsford Heat.
The 20-year-old forward from Bern, a 2011 first-round pick of the parent Calgary Flames, collected two goals and two assists and was a plus-2 as the Heat swept the Peoria Rivermen in the AHL's opening weekend of play.
Baertschi is a dynamic offensive talent and considered the top prospect in the Flames' organization. He likely wouldn't even be in Abbotsford were it not for the NHL lockout. He isn't alone, of course.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle are also in the AHL. So are Chris Tanev and Zack Kassian, Sean Couturier, Cody Hodgson, Nino Niederreiter, Jake Gardiner and Nick Leddy. All are either established NHL players or knocking on the door as elite prospects.
Now all are waiting for Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr to figure something out.
“Maybe it was meant to be this way,” Baertschi said Monday after the Heat went through a rigorous practice at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. “I still have a lot to learn. I'm not a finished hockey player yet.”
Baertschi raised more than a few eyebrows last season when he was summoned from the WHL's Portland Winterhawks on an emergency callup. Still a junior, he promptly scored three times in five games. The response from success-starved Flames fans was predictable.
“Expectations went through the roof,” noted Baertschi, a left winger. “Scoring three goals in five games puts a lot of pressure on a 20-year-old kid. I mean, I was still looking forward to the challenge of playing in the NHL and I was really excited about it. At the start of the lockout, I was a little disappointed there wasn't going to be an NHL training camp but life goes on.
“Now I have high expectations here and that's the challenge for me. The first two games went well. It was good.”
Baertschi was an unstoppable force during his two years in junior. He put up 85 points in 66 games as a WHL rookie, then followed that with 94 points in just 47 games last season. His playoff numbers were equally impressive: 61 points in 43 games.
Heat defenceman T.J. Brodie, normally a member of the Flames, was with the big club last season when Baertschi came up from the Winterhawks. He was impressed.
“It was something to see,” Brodie said. “He's an exciting player. He's one of those guys who, every time the puck is on his stick, he's making something happen. Some of the stuff he does and the way he sees the ice is fun to watch. He is going to be a good player.”
Even though Baertschi is Swiss, he never fell for the country's favourite winter sport of skiing. His dad played hockey and his older brother Kevin – nice North American name for a Swiss lad – was a goalie. Hockey was their thing.
“I never went skiing,” said Baertschi. “I only went snowboarding for one week but that was with the school and that was it. I had hockey in the winter and I didn't really care about skiing. I was too scared about being injured and then not being able to play hockey.”
Baertschi isn't particularly big by professional hockey standards and is listed at 5-11 and 189 pounds. His Heat coach, Troy Ward, says it's his hockey sense that makes him special.
“Because Sven is small in nature, his brain functions at such a high level and you never find him in too many traffic situations where people are hanging on to him,” Ward explained. “He seems to always be free. He really understands where to go and how to get the puck and, when he has it, he certainly knows where to put it. He makes other players around him special.”
Baertschi and the Heat next see action on Friday when they'll entertain the Chicago Wolves, the Canucks' farm team. Both teams are off to 2-0 starts. The Wolves play Wednesday against Peoria before flying to Abbotsford.
MORE AHL PLAYERS TO WATCH DURING LOCKOUT
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oklahoma City Barons). First overall pick by Edmonton Oilers in 2011, Burnaby native was held pointless in opening weekend.
Jordan Eberle (Oklahoma City Barons). A 76-point man with Oilers last season, the 22-year-old was also blanked during the opening weekend.
Cody Hodgson (Rochester Americans). Former Canuck and former major junior player of year collected two assists for the Amerks.
Nino Niederreiter (Bridgeport Sound Tigers). Fifth overall pick by Islanders in 2010, Niederreiter is off to hot 2-2-4 start like fellow-Swiss pal Sven Baertschi.
Jake Gardiner (Toronto Marlies). Put up 30 points for Maple Leafs last season. Put up two points for Marlies on opening weekend.
Sean Couturier (Adirondack Phantoms). Flyers first-round pick in 2011, collected one goal and one assist in two weekend games.
Zack Kassian (Chicago Wolves). Future Canuck power forward had one assist and was plus-1 in Wolves' opening weekend sweep of Rockford.
Chris Tanev (Chicago Wolves). Touted to be Canuck regular, Quiet Chris had no points and was even in Rockford sweep.
Nick Leddy (Rockford IceHogs). Already with 44 points in 128 NHL games, slick Blackhawk defenceman had two points in two Hog losses to Heat.
Chris Kreider (Connecticut Whale). Former Boston College star made impressive NHL debut with Rangers during playoffs. Had two assists for Whale in two games.
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