While comparisons between fellow countrymen Nino Niederreiter
and Sven Baertschi are intriguing; truth of the matter is one is literally banging on the NHL door while the other is, well, close.
But all that won't mean much from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 when Niederreiter and Baertschi team up for one goal at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. There are few, if any, similarities between the two Swiss-born stars, teammates for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.
"Niederreiter stays more on the boards and bangs more to get the puck," NHL Central Scouting's Blair MacDonald told NHL.com. "Baertschi is a finesse player. He has very quick hands and is a deft puckhandler. His radar vision probably makes him the best in the WHL at distributing the puck."
The fact Baertschi has been given an opportunity to study the work habits of Niederreiter, the New York Islanders' first-round choice (No. 5) last June, has been invaluable.
But the question remains, is the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Baertschi the next Niederreiter, who stands 6-2 and 205 pounds?
"I don't know," Baertschi told NHL.com. "Nino is a great player and different than me. I watch him and you can just see he looks professional. The best thing I can learn from him is the physical side to the game. I'm not very big but can play physical and he told me stuff about physical play.
"Am I the next Nino? I guess we'll see."
Even before Baertschi joined Portland for his inaugural season in 2010-11, he was privy to Niederreiter's tremendous skill set. The two were teammates on the 2009 Swiss World Under-18 team.
"Sven is definitely a different player than I am," Niederreiter told The Portland Tribune. "He's way more skilled and really fast. He's a great guy off the ice, too."
It was Niederreiter's performance for Switzerland at last year's World Junior Championship that ultimately placed him in the cross-hairs of every scout and coach leading up to the 2010 Draft. He had 10 points in seven games, including the game-tying and overtime game-winner in the quarterfinals against Russia and was named to the tournament All-Star team. He would become the highest-drafted Swiss hockey player in NHL history. He currently has 13 goals, 26 points and a plus-8 rating in 23 games with Portland.
Perhaps this will be Baertschi's chance to shine. He is rated No. 2 among skaters in the WHL, according to NHL Central Scouting's preliminary ratings.
"I was pretty surprised but it's the first ranking and it's early in the season," Baertschi said. "I don't think about draft right now because I'm just focused on helping our team in Portland."
Baertschi is first on the Winterhawks with 47 points this season -- first overall among rookies in the WHL. He leads all WHL first-year players in goals (21), assists (26), power play goals (9) and plus-minus (plus-9) rating in 36 contests.
"He's unreal out there," Portland right wing Ty Rattie, rated No. 3 by Central Scouting, told NHL.com. "He knows how to put the puck in the net. He's got a great shot and is one of the hardest workers I've ever met. He works hard off the ice. He's one of the best practice players I know and that's going to be huge in his career … and he has a good one ahead of him."
Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston is accustomed to Baertschi's practice habits.
"I don't think anyone can stay on the ice as long as he does," Johnston said. "We have to tell him to get off the ice 45 minutes after practice ends … he stays out there forever to work on his game. He works on inside-outside moves, quick shots and little foot movement."
Portland selected Baertschi with the No. 7 pick in the 2010 CHL Import Draft.
He split the 2009-10 season between the Zug Under-20 team in the Swiss Elite Junior A League and Langenthal with the Swiss National League. He produced 10 goals and 23 points in just nine games for Zug and totaled 6 goals and 11 points in 37 games with Langenthal. Most impressive, perhaps, was the fact Baertschi played 37 games for the Langenthal U-20 team as a 16-year-old in 2008-09, registering an impressive 21 goals and 53 points in 37 contests.
"I saw it as a great opportunity," Baertschi said. "I had a chance to play there and you can't lose. It helped me in my maturation to play with the A team and I was the youngest guy. I learned a lot about physical play with the older guys. That helped me a lot in my first year in Portland because I knew it would be physical. The rinks are smaller, so I wasn't surprised with the physical play."
Portland defenseman Joe Morrow, rated No. 5 in the WHL by Central Scouting, feels Baertschi has his own unique style.
"Sven is a great hockey player, he's got phenomenal hands," Morrow said. "He and Nino have similarities, but they do play their own style of game. Nino is a little more physical and a little bit bigger. I think if Sven adds a few pounds, he can turn into a pretty good power forward, if not a finesse player like he is now."