One year after Nino Niederreiter left his native Switzerland to make a splash in North American junior hockey, one of his countrymen closely followed in his footsteps.
Sven Bartschi (or Baertschi, depending on who you ask) is the latest Swiss import to record a highly-productive first season with Portland of the Western Hockey League, recording 85 points (34g, 51a) in 66 games. That performance has him ranked in a similar range as Niederreiter, his teammate in Portland, who the New York Islanders took with the fifth overall pick in 2010.
Despite the significant similarities in origin, current club and first-year output, the two are hardly twins. First, Niederreiter, a power forward, has much better size than the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Bartschi, but not the point of concern.
“I think when you look around the league, there’s room for shorter players but they need to be strong, and Bartschi seems to have that,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “I don’t think size is an issue with him.
"He’s much shorter than Niederreiter (who checked in at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds on draft day), but he’s a fairly thick kid.”
As such, they also have very different styles of play. As his goals-to-assists ratio might indicate, Bartschi is more of a playmaker known for his vision and hockey sense. While he lacks nothing in determination – his coach talks of having to pull him on the ice well after practice has wrapped up for the day - he’s much more of a finesse player than his compatriot who came before him.
“Bartschi is a creator,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes’ chief amateur scout. “He’s highly-skilled, smart and competes hard.”
Bartschi’s squad in Portland was one of the best in all of Canadian junior hockey, featuring Niederreiter and two other players taken early in the 2010 draft in Ryan Johansen (fourth overall) and Brad Ross (43rd). This year, he’s one of four players that the NHL’s Central Scouting service has ranked among the top 40 North American-based skaters.
Hurricanes scouts take that favorable setup into consideration when evaluating point totals, but are in this case convinced that the numbers don’t lie.
“It can be blown out of proportion sometimes,” said Karmanos. “I think you do need to keep it in mind when comparing levels of production, and certainly he benefited on the power play and other situations, but Bartschi by himself is a highly-skilled prospect.”
Portland narrowly missed its chance to contend for the Memorial Cup when it was defeated in five games by Kootenay in the WHL finals. However, Bartschi certainly held his own, finishing tied for second in playoff scoring with 27 points (10g, 17a) in 21 games - a total that equaled Niederreiter and trailed Johansen by one. As was the case in the regular season, no other rookie came near his totals.
“Their team probably underachieved at the end, but I wouldn’t say anything negative about his playoff performance,” said Karmanos.
Like Niederreiter, Bartschi likely did himself a favor by coming to North America to play junior hockey rather than play his draft-eligible season back home.
“You like the desire that’s shown in his willingness to leave home and put himself in unfamiliar surroundings,” said Karmanos. “He had an extremely good first year.”