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Berni could be another late-round gem for Blue Jackets

Swiss defenseman hopes to be next in blue line pipeline from home country

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

There's no better stage in which to measure young hockey players than the IIHF World Junior Championships, and it's a place where Blue Jackets prospect Tim Berni proved his mettle this past winter. 

The defenseman from Switzerland was a key part of his nation's squad, playing in all seven games for the Swiss and posting two assists while being named one of the top three players on the team. 

More importantly, the Blue Jackets' sixth-round pick in the 2018 draft was a key piece of a defensive core that led the Swiss to the semifinals of the U-20 event with a quarterfinal shutout of a Swedish team that featured fellow CBJ draft pick Emil Bemstrom. 

It was a great experience for the now 19-year-old, who hopes to become the next Swiss defenseman to make it to the NHL in a pipeline that features Blue Jackets breakout player Dean Kukan and Nashville star Roman Josi. 

"It was great," Berni said of the World Juniors experience. "We had a great team, a great atmosphere on the team, and Vancouver is a great city. We had fun and also success, when we beat Sweden in the quarterfinal and it was great. I was fortunate to get a leading role and tried to be the best I can." 

Switzerland has become more and more of an NHL pipeline in recent years, with 32 players born in the country having played in the NHL, per Hockey-Reference.com. Of those 32, more than half -- 17 -- have debuted since 2011, showing the Alpen nation is a burgeoning hockey nation.  

The run to the final four of the World Juniors was the nation's first top-four finish since 2011 and another step in the success of Swiss hockey, not to mention a great place for Berni to show off his skills. 

"Even on the small ice surface, it's good for a European guy to prove myself that I can be on the top even though I was against the best juniors my age," he said. 

A native of Männedorf, Berni is a 6-foot-0, 182-pound left-hand shot who projects to be a two-way player as he gets older. He came up through the Dübendorf system in his home country before moving to the ZSC Lions, one of the top club teams in Switzerland with seven league titles in the past two decades. 

He made his debut at Switzerland's top level, the NLA, two seasons ago then became a regular with ZSC this past season. It wasn't the easiest year for the Lions, who saw head coach Serge Aubin -- a former CBJ forward -- let go at midseason, but Berni played in 41 games with a goal and seven assists despite spending the majority of the season at just 18 years old.  

"I think I developed especially personally last season," he said. "We didn't have a good year with the team. We didn't make the playoffs, but for me as a player it was really good to improve myself mentally." 

Berni has been a key part of the junior national teams for Switzerland since joining the U-16 team in 2015-16. He's played in the last two World Juniors and appears targeted for a third this upcoming season, and he played in the noted U-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2017.  

Between his international experience and early debut with the full ZSC team, Berni is an intriguing prospect in a country full of them at this point. He'll return to ZSC this season under new coach Rikard Grönborg, who is thought of as an NHL head man down the road, and hope to keep developing with an eye on his future with the Blue Jackets.  

"I feel like it's a good thing to play against men there and really try to make myself into a top four defenseman on the team," he said. "That's a good way for me to keep improving myself, and I'll try to be better this year."  

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