|Philadelphia Phantoms forward Andreas Nodl is the first Austrian-born player ever drafted by the Flyers, and aims to be the next Thomas Vanek. (Pedro Cancel)
The leading exporters of hockey players from Europe are Russia, Sweden and Finland. Far down the list is Austria.
Thomas Vanek is the only player of note from the country to play in the NHL last season, but that number could double if Philadelphia Flyers prospect Andreas Nodl continues his rapid climb up the organization's ladder.
The Flyers have high hopes for the 2006 second-round pick (No. 36), who signed with the club in the spring after his second collegiate season at St. Cloud State University.
Nodl had back-to-back 18-goal seasons in college, which told him he was ready to make the jump to professional hockey. He had one goal in three regular-season games with the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms, and added one goal in 10 playoff games.
"He's got unbelievable ability," Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, who coached the Phantoms last season, told NHL.com. "He played for us last year in the playoffs and he was very good. It was like he played there all year. He's got great hands, good instincts, composure with the puck, great skater. He can kind of do it all. He's a solid player all-around."
The same is said about Vanek, who Nodl admits paved the path on which he is traveling.
"He's an idol in Austria," Nodl said to NHL.com. "You want to use him and see someone from Austria that did it. He was the reason I came over here (from Austria). He hooked me up with a tryout in the USHL and he kept in touch the first year to see how things were going."
So far, they've been going very well.
Nodl's journey started with the Sioux Falls Stampede -- where Vanek spent three seasons -- of the United States Hockey League. In two seasons with Sioux Falls, Nodl had 36 goals and 75 points, including totaling 29 goals and 59 points in 58 games in 2005-06. That caught the Flyers' attention.
After his USHL time, Vanek went to the University of Minnesota, where he was MVP of the 2003 Frozen Four as he led the Gophers to the national title. Nodl's college path took him to St. Cloud, where he had 36 goals and 90 points in two seasons.
"Andreas is just scratching the surface of what he's capable of," St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko told the Flyers' web site. "He has really developed into a much better all-around player, and I think he's going to be a dangerous offensive weapon in the pros."
The Flyers believe Nodl is ready to unleash those weapons full-time at the professional level.
"Andreas has the ability to do a lot of things at high speed," Philadelphia General Manager Paul Holmgren told NHL.com. "He's an excellent skater, he's got very good hands, he can go out and make plays, shoot the puck in stride. He's physically already filled out.
"We talked to him about turning pro last year at this time, but he wanted to go back and improve on a lot of things in his game, and we watched him a lot over the course of the season and I think he did that. When we approached him at the end of the year about where he was at, he wanted to turn pro. We were happy to have him."
He's an excellent skater, he's got very good hands, he can go out and make plays [and] shoot the puck in stride." - Paul Holmgren on Andreas Nodl
Nodl's offseason work should make the club even happier. He spent the summer working on his conditioning, and he felt it helped his on-ice performance at the club's rookie development camp in late July.
"I think it's all about conditioning," Nodl said. "They really emphasize being in good condition. I worked out a lot, I ran a lot, which I hadn't done in the past. A lot of running, a lot of biking, all that stuff, to get in the best shape possible."
Nodl also brought with him the experience gained from his short time in pro hockey.
"You know what to expect," he said. "I played playoff hockey for 10 games, and it was just unbelievable. It was so helpful. Next year I'll be ready to go."
The Flyers are stocked with young talent at the forward spot -- Joffrey Lupul, Scottie Upshall, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Steve Downie and Claude Giroux
all are younger than 25 -- but don't count the 21-year-old Nodl out of an NHL job just yet.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he played game with the Flyers this year," said Holmgren. "Youth brings enthusiasm. If you have good skills and you can skate and you're competitive, it's not out of the question. Andreas can skate, he's got good skills. The games he played at the end of the year for the Phantoms, he showed a competitive edge. He's a very smart hockey player."