Most players who shift from playing in Europe to North America need time to make the adjustment. For Guelph Storm center Tanner Richard, the move was akin to coming home after a long trip.
The 6-foot, 182-pound center was born in Markham, Ont., but moved to Switzerland with his family at an early age and learned to play hockey in the Rapperswil organization. After being passed over in the 2011 NHL Draft, he returned to play in the Ontario Hockey League in 2011-12.
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"I don't know what you want to call it," Richard told NHL.com. "I grew up here, I grew up there. The only difference is I never played hockey here, so I guess that does make me a European."
Richard and his family relocated to Switzerland when his father, Mike Richard, made playing in the country his full-time career. After playing seven games in two seasons with the Washington Capitals in 1987-88 and 1989-90, he spent most of the last 20 years playing professionally in Switzerland, mostly with Rapperswil.
Tanner Richard grew up following in his father's footsteps, and made his debut in the top Swiss league with Rapperswil last season, going scoreless in four games. He also excelled against players his own age; he had 43 points in 28 games for Rapperswil's under-20 team as well as four goals in six games for Switzerland at the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
However, he was passed over in the draft, and he believes one reason could have been because he was playing in Switzerland, which is growing as a hockey talent producer but isn't quite there yet. So when Guelph made him the 28th pick of the 2011 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, he didn't need long to make the decision to come "home."
"My thought was everyone wants to play in the NHL someday," Richard said. "Coming over here gives me the best opportunity and also help me develop the most as a player."
The move worked, as Richard had 13 goals and 35 assists in 43 games with the Storm. Playing for Switzerland at the 2012 World Junior Championship, he had two goals in six games, with one of them coming in overtime against Denmark in the relegation round to keep Switzerland at the top level for the 2013 WJC. All that earned him the No. 41 spot on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft.
"He's a high-energy guy, up and down [the ice]," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "Very responsible defensively, as most guys are nowadays. He skates well. He's got a very good skill set. He's a solid prospect."
Easing Richard's return was the fact that the family kept a home in Sarnia, Ont., and would come home in the summers until about four years ago. He said he also has family in Sarnia and Toronto.
"It just helps smooth the adaption," he said. "I had people coming to all the games supporting me, so it wasn't like other Europeans where they came and had nothing. I had a bit to fall back on."
He also had his father, who Richard credited for his success.
"I honestly have to give him all the credit in the world," Richard said of his father, who now coaches Rapperswil's under-20 team. "Even when I was a little kid, seeing how dedicated he was, how much he had to sacrifice, the will he had to do everything to be successful. It doesn’t come alone. You have to work hard for success. That's the first thing he taught me, without even saying anything. Just seeing the way he acted on game days, and on days before games, just the way he would eat, sleep and just zone out and everything, that really helped me."
"I can play the skill type of game. I can also play the power forward. I can be the guy that can get in your face, play a shut-down role, play power play, penalty kill. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty. I kind of play with an edge, too." -- 2012 NHL Draft prospect Tanner Richard
Richard said there are some similarities in their games, but said he has more of a power game than his father.
"I think I have a few different sides to my game," he said. "I can play the skill type of game. I can also play the power forward. I can be the guy that can get in your face, play a shut-down role, play power play, penalty kill. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty. I kind of play with an edge, too."
To keep being able to play with that edge, he said he's been adding weight, while at the same time making sure the extra weight doesn't affect his skating.
"I've put on 13 pounds from last summer to the start [of the 2011-12 season]," he said, "and now I've put on 4-5 pounds, and hopefully there'll be another 10 pounds coming. … It's not like I'm carrying around extra weight now. I feel like you train with that all summer, you're training on the ice all summer, so it's not anything new when you bring it into the season because you're already used to it."
Now that he's got another year in Canada under his belt, he's used to the nuances of the North American game he never got to appreciate while developing in Switzerland.
"For me it was just like every other European," he said. "Growing up, I didn't know the hockey over here. Then I just played my game. I felt like my game was more of a European style and I came over here and it's helped me adapt pretty well."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK