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Capitals prospect showing fellow countrymen the ropes

Jonas Siegenthaler, in third development camp, helping ease transition for Washington's other Swiss players

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In terms of NHL development camps, Jonas Siegenthaler is a veteran now.

This week, the 20-year-old defenseman has been participating in his third development camp with the Washington Capitals since they selected him in the second round (No. 57) of the 2015 NHL Draft.

"I know how everything works, so that means I'm an older guy and I've got to show the younger guys how it works," Siegenthaler said. "I've tried to do that by leading by example."

Among those following Siegenthaler's lead have been left wing Damien Riat, a 2016 fourth-round draft pick (No. 117), and defenseman Tobias Geisser, a 2017 fourth-round pick (No. 120). All three are from Switzerland and played professionally there this season; Siegenthaler with Zurich SC, Riat with Geneve Servette, and Geisser with Zug EV.

"It's really cool," Riat said. "It's guys I see during the season as well and know through the national team. It's been fun to have guys you know [at development camp]."

It's been a big month for Swiss hockey in the NHL. First, there were four Swiss-born players on the rosters of the two Stanley Cup Finalists, Nashville Predators defensemen Roman Josi and Yannick Weber and injured left wing Kevin Fiala, and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mark Streit.

Then, last weekend in Chicago, the New Jersey Devils made center Nico Hischier the first Swiss-born player to be selected with the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft.

"It's pretty huge," Siegenthaler said. "It's great for Swiss hockey. Everybody in Switzerland is freaking out because of that."

Siegenthaler and Riat know Hischier well from having played with him at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. Geisser was one of the final cuts from the Swiss world junior team.

Switzerland surprised some by winning two of its four games in group play before pushing the United States, the eventual gold medalists, in a 3-2 loss in the quarterfinals. Siegenthaler (one goal, five assists) and Riat (one goal, five assists) each had six points in the tournament to tie for second on the Swiss team behind Hischier, who had seven points (four goals, three assists).

"Swiss hockey grows every year," Siegenthaler said. "We've put more money in our junior programs to get better and have [held] a lot of tournaments. I think in a few years there's going to be a decent amount of Swiss players in North America. There have been more the last two or three years in North America, but I think it's going to get bigger."

Siegenthaler plans to be among the Swiss players playing in North America next season. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Zurich native was slated to begin this season with the Capitals' American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey before a family issue led him to return to Switzerland, with the Capitals' blessing, after training camp.

In 28 regular-season games with Zurich SC, Siegenthaler had seven points (one goal, six assists). He also played in six playoff games with Zurich SC (no points) before finishing the AHL season with Hershey, playing in 12 total games, including the playoffs (no points).

"I just wasn't comfortable to stay here with the family issue I had back home, so I decided to go back for one more year," Siegenthaler said. "Now I'm focused on North America and I'm just going to try my best and hopefully make the team."

With Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk expected to leave as unrestricted free agents and Nate Schmidt being claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft, the Capitals have multiple openings on their defense.

Siegenthaler hopes to be part of the training camp competition, but is down the Capitals defensive depth chart behind Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Tyler Lewington, who each have at least two seasons of AHL experience, and 2016 first-round pick (No. 28) Lucas Johansen.

"I think it's going to be a hard battle in the main camp for every [defenseman] and the guy who works harder and shows he's more willing will make the team," Siegenthaler said. "It's going to be hard, but it's going to be a fun time, too."

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