Sochi Olympics 2014: Switzerland Roster Analysis

Image courtesy of robthehockeyguy.com.

The eve of the World’s greatest international hockey competition is upon us.  As teams jet into Sochi, make their final preparations, and strategise for the tough road ahead, Ice Nation UK is going to break down each and every roster in attendance.

Keep checking in over the next couple of days as we bring you the very best in analysis, and you might learn a thing or two about how the best hockey nations on the planet stack up against each other “on paper”.

Next up: the ever-improving underdog, Switzerland.

THE ROSTER

Forwards (14):

  • Ambühl, Andres

    Image courtesy of olympics.cbc.ca.

  • Bieber, Matthias
  • Bodenmann, Simon
  • Brunner, Damien
  • Cunti, Luca
  • Gardner, Ryan
  • Hollenstein, Denis
  • Moser, Simon
  • Niederreiter, Nino
  • Plüss, Martin
  • Romy, Kevin
  • Suri, Reto
  • Traschler, Morris
  • Wick, Roman

Defence (8):

  • Blindenbacher, Severin
  • Diaz, Rafael
  • Furrer, Philippe
  • Josi, Roman
  • Seger, Mathias
  • Streit, Mark
  • Vauclair, Julien
  • Weber, Yannick

Goal (3):

  • Berra, Reto
  • Hiller, Jonas
  • Stephan, Tobias

Notable omissions?

Image courtesy of Yahoo Sports.

The only truly notable omission, as far as I’m aware at least, is that of Sven Baertschi.  The 21-year old left winger is one of the country’s brightest hopes for high-level hockey, following a stellar career in the WHL and being drafted 13th overall in 2011 by Calgary.  He had a solid first partial NHL season, and was outstanding in the AHL, but this season has struggled in a big way in both leagues.

Through 26 NHL games this year he has 2 goals and 9 points, as well as just 3 goals and 9 points in 21 AHL games.  It’s still somewhat surprising he wasn’t selected for Switzerland given his obvious talent-level, but the coaches opted for players who are performing now as opposed to those who may or may not perform.

EDIT TO ADD: Further to this, there is actually another notable forward not on the squad: Sven Andrighetto.  The 20-year old winger was only drafted last summer by the Montreal Canadiens, but this followed an outstanding couple of years in the QMJHL, and he is now putting up very encouraging numbers in the AHL.  Probably a little young and inexperienced to make the Olympic squad this time around, but he’s a name to watch for the future.

FORWARDS

Switzerland Forwards Analysis – Scoring Stats

In order to analyse the forward selections, the first port of call is quite obviously their scoring numbers.  Hockey is won by the team that scores more goals, so what better way to evaluate the players whose job it is to do just that?

The following table displays each forward named to Switzerland, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

SUI FWD - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • The Swiss contingent has never been known for its high scoring ways, more typically using a defense-first mentality to grind down the opposition. This squad however does boast several players capable of scoring in a relatively high-profile European league, though beyond Damien Brunner there is no-one truly dominant in that regard on the roster.
  • Brunner had a solid rookie NHL season last year with Detroit and made his way to New Jersey this year.  He’s struggled to score after a good start to the year, but at the end of the day he’s still on pace for close to 20 goals in the best league on the planet, which is more than most of this roster can say.
  • Image courtesy of nhl.com.

    Nino Niederreiter makes up the other half of the NHL duo, the 21-year old winger is finally having something resembling a good season in the NHL after a couple of years spent struggling to adapt to the pro game. His big frame and high-end skill will likely stand out on this roster.

  • Young Luca Cunti is making a name for himself, scoring at close to a point-per-game pace this year in the NLA. The 2007 draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning has established himself as one of Switzerland’s top young forwards, and could be an impact player for this team if paired with one or both of Brunner and Niederreiter.
  • 24-year old Simon Moser is another one to watch, having made his NHL debut this season with the Predators and notching 1 assist in 3 games, along with putting up solid numbers in the AHL.
  • Martin Plüss is the elder statesman of the group, the diminutive forward spending 18 years as a consistently high-performing scorer and defensive forward in the NLA and the SHL.  He has had an outstanding international career, scoring 56 points in 71 international games (excluding WC’s and the Olympics), taking part in 12 World Championships scoring 47 points in 83 games, and representing his country at three Olympic Games scoring 8 points in 15 games.

Switzerland Forwards Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each forward on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — some players are probably unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams — but it does give some indication as to how Switzerland might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

SUI FWD - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • None of the three guys are relied upon in a heavy-minutes capacity, though Brunner does play significant power-play minutes on a team that is happy to share them out.
  • In a few years Niederreiter stands a good chance of moving up the pecking order if his development continues as planned, but even as it stands he is putting up good numbers in limited minutes.

Switzerland Forwards Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Finally, let’s dig a bit deeper and explore these players’ underlying numbers.  Thanks to Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, we can track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on.  The following chart displays this information for the Switzerland forwards.

SUI FWD - PUC

  • The bluer the bubble, the better the player’s Corsi number; the x-axis displays the offensive zone start percentage, and the y-axis is the quality of competition.
  • Niederreiter looks fantastic here, taking full advantage of the heavy push he’s getting in terms of zone-starts, and he’s playing above-average competition too.  This is a player who looks very, very good even as it stands, let alone what his future may hold.
  • Brunner is also driving play nicely in an equally offensive role to Niederreiter.  Neither of these guys play on particularly fantastic teams, so to be able to get results such as these is very encouraging.

The following table displays each forward, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.

SUI FWD - ADV

Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Again we get to see just how good these two have been in terms of puck possession, Niederreiter in particular stands out as out-performing his average team number by a significant margin. He does have a high-ish PDO number, but that’s the result of a high on-ice save percentage as opposed to shooting percentage, so he’s not getting a big boost of shooting luck.

DEFENSE

Switzerland Defense Analysis – Scoring Stats

The following table displays each defender named to Switzerland, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

SUI DEF - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Defense is a surprising strength for the Swiss this year, and not just because of blue-line stalwart Mark Streit.  They boast three full-time NHL defenders, and a 4th who receives regular call-ups for employment.
  • Streit has been a brilliant offensive performer for several years now, and is still capable late into his thirties. His defensive play has often been questioned, and he is certainly a high-risk-high-reward player type, but he has been an integral member of numerous NHL clubs for most of his career and that cannot be overlooked as a testament to his ability.
  • Roman Josi might well be the heir to Streit’s crown as King of the Swiss Defense, seemingly coming out of nowhere in the last two years to the point where he is considered a top-end two-way player in the NHL, and possibly a better defensive player than Streit ever was.
  • Raphael Diaz proved to be a worthwhile pick-up for the Montreal Canadiens, and for some reason they flipped him to Vancouver just a few days ago.  Diaz has blended in seamlessly with the Canucks, notching 2 points in 3 games so far.  His exploits in the Swiss league suggest a better scorer/puckmover than what we’ve seen so far in the NHL, but even without the offense he appears to be able to hold his own in the league.

Switzerland Defense Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each defender on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — players can be unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams or the way in which their coach manages their ice time — but it does give some indication as to how Switzerland might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

SUI DEF - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Diaz’s numbers with Vancouver paint a picture.  In Montreal he was 6th in ES TOI/G (14:55), tied for 4th in PP time (1:13) and 2nd in PK time (2:44).  This is the polar opposite of his usage in BC.
  • This suggests a remarkably versatile player, capable of playing whatever role is asked of him, though it is of course worth remembering he only has 3 games to his name as a Canuck.  Still, he could be a dark horse, and work horse, on this team.
  • Josi and Streit are also clear top pairing players for their teams, Josi in particular playing massive minutes for a Nashville team that just seems to churn out good NHL defenders.

 Switzerland Defense Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Let’s use Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts to track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on.  The following chart displays this information for the Swiss defense.

SUI DEF - PUC

  • Josi and Diaz both look great on here, playing tough minutes and coming out way ahead in terms of shot differential. That is not an easy feat.
  • Streit looks pretty good, but is not the dominant possession player he once was, despite receiving relatively sheltered minutes. He still comes out ahead though, so he’s far from done.
  • Yannick Weber also looks decent in a small sample of games, playing soft competition but with highly unfavourable zone-starts.

The following table displays each blue-liner, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.

SUI DEF - ADV

  • Diaz proves again here just how well he’s played. A positive possession player is always a good thing, and he and Josi show very well in this regard – remember, they are also playing difficult minutes.

GOAL

To evaluate goalies, the number most indicative of actual ability is likely even-strength save percentage. By removing their numbers on the power-play or while shorthanded, we remove the wildly fluctuating numbers, year-to-year, of special teams play and can focus instead on the discipline at which the vast majority of each game is played.

SUI GOAL - SV%

  • Reto Berra has not been the revelation in net many Flames fans hoped for, thanks to an awful .896 SV% this year. He hasn’t even been particularly great in Switzerland previously.
  • It is likely his past service and results with the National Team that got him selected, having appeared in two WJC’s and two World Championships, culminating in a stunning performance last year where the Swiss surprised the hockey world by winning silver, Berra winning 4 out of 4 games played and finishing with a brilliant 1.00 GAA and .967 SV%.
  • Tobias Stephan has put together a very good career for Geneve-Servette in Switzerland, being one of the top goalies in that league (including a Goalie of the Year win in 2009/10).  He also has NHL experience, playing 11 games over the course of two seasons with the Dallas Stars between 2007 and 2009.  A very capable goalie.
  • Perhaps the biggest reason for any success Switzerland may have, Jonas Hiller has proven himself to be a very, very good NHL goalie.  Not elite, but among the top starters in the league for sure. His consistency at even strength is particularly impressive.
  • He’s not without his flaws, but having Hiller in net, particularly behind a defensive group that is actually very good, will give the Swiss a fighting chance every night at the very least.

CONCLUSION

Image courtesy of latimesphoto.wordpress.com.

The Swiss will once again be fighting to earn respect among the world’s true hockey powers, but make no mistake: this Swiss team is developing some top young talent.  It’s happening slowly, but it is happening, and last year’s Silver medal at the WC’s should be an indicator of just how far they’ve come as a program.

They likely won’t stand a chance against the big-name teams, but should be the class of the bottom-tier teams and able to compete with middling teams such as Slovakia. Unfortunately, playing in a group with Sweden and the Czech Republic, this will likely not come to fruition.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Follow Chris on Twitter, and whilst you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk.

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