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PRO CALIBRE

A year in Switzerland helped NHL Draft prospect Brennan Othmann take his game to the next level

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

The rolling hills and emerald lakes, twisting rivers and sugary mountains.  

The sublime, Swiss Alps are like something out of a postcard.

An unthinkable setting, in a most challenging year.

"It was definitely a fun, yet a hard decision to make, being that far away from your home and your family," said NHL draft prospect Brennan Othmann. "My dad (Gery) played over there; my uncle (Robert) played over there, so I kind of knew what to expect.

"They told me stories and showed me pictures.

"I was really excited.

"Looking back on it now, it did not disappoint."

Othmann - the eighth-ranked North-American skater by NHL Central Scouting - was one of a handful who found work in Europe after the OHL cancelled its season last year.

The move was made possible because Othmann is a dual citizen in Canada and Switzerland. Others, such as fellow prospect Mason McTavish of the Peterborough Petes, needed to be 18 before they could apply for a work visa. That delayed the process by several months. And in McTavish's case, even stranded him at the Montreal airport before boarding his initial, overseas flight.

"They wouldn't let me on the plane," McTavish chuckled. "I had to wait until I was 18, got my work visa, and then the next day, I flew out."

The two forwards happened to share the same agent and are good friends away from the rink, so once the paperwork was ironed out and McTavish made the long haul east, they roomed together in Olten - a small town about a 30-minute train ride from downtown Zurich.

And with that, their draft seasons were given new life.

"I was very fortunate to play in Switzerland and at the (World) Under-18s and be successful in both," Othmann said. "But honestly, I feel bad for my peers. I had lots of buddies that I've played with and against and they (couldn't) showcase themselves. That's disappointing for them and for me to hear that. We've worked our whole lives to get drafted in the National Hockey League and with the draft coming up, I'm excited, we're all excited, but I wish that some of my peers got the opportunity to showcase themselves and to be able to play the game like I did.

"I'm very thankful.

"Very lucky."

The 6-foot-0, 175-lb. left-winger made the most of his opportunity, scoring seven goals and 15 points with EHC Olten, finishing seventh in team scoring despite playing 12 fewer games. He returned to North America in the spring to compete in the U18s and had a phenomenal showing, putting up six points (3G, 3A) in seven games to help Canada win a gold medal.

It may not have been the path he envisioned when skating as a rookie with the Flint Firebirds in 2019, but his rapid ascension into the pro ranks - on a bigger surface, no less - accelerated his development faster than even he imagined at the outset.

"I learned a lot playing with the older guys there and learned a lot from the different coaches that we had on the team," Othmann said. "I think it's really going to benefit me as a person and a player. I can't wait to show that at the next level. I know that it's going to take hard work and that it's going to be a grind to play at the next level and to be in a top-six role, but what I learned in Switzerland is really going to help with that and make the transition a lot easier."

In fact, it's already happening.

Othmann was widely considered one of the best wingers at the U18s. He's a dynamic, offensive weapon that skates well in all three zones and has one of the most lethal shots in the class. The way he gets his body into a shooting position, loads energy and allows the puck to pop off his blade is already pro calibre.

But as much as he takes pride in that part of the game, he says his defensive effort doesn't get near enough attention.

That was a big focus for him as he plied his trade across the pond.

"That hasn't been talked about at all, actually," Othmann said of his 200-foot game. "I think I'm a good defensive player - a good, two-way forward.

"I can play well in the D zone, I block shots. People don't really see that, but I like blocking shots. You get that tap on the bench from the boys, they recognize that, the coaches recognize that, and it's one of those things in my game that's developed over the years."

In addition to his offensive skills and defensive devotion, Othmann is something of a honeybadger.

His work ethic is unmatched and he thrives when the games get physical, grinding away in the trenches and battling for loose pucks.

That, too, required some seasoning on the bigger, European ice.

But like everything else in his game, the steps he took this year were massive and have prepared him well for the next level.

Already.

"That's pretty cliche when you go over to Europe and say that you have to get used to the bigger ice surface, but it's honestly the truth," he laughed. "If you're the type of player like myself that's very physical and very offensive, likes to take the puck away from opponents, it's going to be challenging on that bigger ice surface.

"But with my hockey IQ, I thought I handled that well. A lot of the guys taught me how to maintain my energy, and maintain my speed and my shot over there.

"My shot got better. My IQ got better. It was a lot to take in, but I love learning and doing extra."

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