There’s been a lot of debate as to who the top prospect on this list was going to be, and a lot of it has to do with the ambiguity of our requirements. Let me rephrase that – Bo Horvat is both younger than Sven Baertschi and has fewer games played in the NHL. Yet, he’s not not on the list, and Baertschi is at the top.
What makes Baertschi a prospect? Well, he’s still quite young at twenty-two years old, and with a career high of 26 games played, hasn’t really become an NHL regular, like the aforementioned Horvat did in his rookie year. With that established, what makes Baertschi the best prospect in the organization? Well, let’s talk about that.
Let’s open this up by taking a look back at what drove the Calgary Flames to draft him with the 13th overall pick in 2011. This, of course, being the extremely impressive point totals he put up with the Portland Winterhawks in his draft year, coincidentally his first in North America. After four years of solid performances in the U17, U18, and U20 ranks in Switzerland, he crossed international borders in pursuit of a bigger spotlight, and definitely made one for himself by scoring 34 goals and 51 assists in just 66 games in 2011.
This was good enough to rank him second in team scoring, which was impressive given the supporting cast he had. Just ahead of him was current Blue Jackets star Ryan Johansen, who was in his Draft+1 season. Also in their draft+1’s were Brad Ross and Nino Niederreiter, himself a fellow Swiss prospect who has successfully transitioned into the NHL.
What impressed scouts the most with Baertschi was his pure passion for scoring goals. Whether he had to hit a second gear with his skates, muscle out a man with his body, or outsmart a man with his high hockey IQ, he always found a way to be close to the puck, and conversely, put that puck in the back of the net. The Flames were instantly sold on him.
Initially, the momentum continued. He impressed in training camp, and once he went back to Portland, he blew his prior numbers out of the water, scoring 33 goals and adding an insane 61 assists in just 47 games, trailing only Ty Rattie in team scoring and leading the dominant Winterhawks in points-per-game. Come playoff time, he put up a further 34 points in 22 games, leading the team all the way to Game 7 of the WHL finals. Amongst all of this, injury troubles allowed for the Flames to call him up on an emergency basis, at which point he scored three goals in five games.
A talented offensive forward who exhibits the creativity and determination to “will the puck to the back of the net”. Possesses immense hockey-sense. Can generate scoring chances through creating and directing plays, or acting as the beneficiary, or goal scorer; displays a tantalizing, versatile and refined skillset which needs to be utilized more often. “Manufactures goals”. Needs to work on simplifying his game, awareness and responsibility defensively, and becoming more consistent in his efforts. -Elite Prospects
From there, the Flames struggled to handle him correctly, frequently bouncing him back and forth between the big club and the Abbotsford Heat. This didn’t initially hamper his numbers; he scored at nearly a point per game clip with the Heat and produced at about half that through twenty games with the flames. But his minutes were limited, and a neck injury slowed him down a bit before he had his first extended cup of coffee with the Flames.
The following year, however, things really began to fall apart between the two sides. While he had a reputation for solid two-way play at the WHL level, Flames management and staff began to question whether he cared about defensive play at the professional level, and as such, forced him into a bottom-six role (read: played with Brian McGrattan) as a self-establishment mission. Needless to say, his production fell, he was assigned to the Heat again, and from that point on, he didn’t seem quite in it.
But alas, this story doesn’t end in tragedy. With both sides ready to cut ties with each other, Canucks GM Jim Benning pounced on the opportunity to acquire a young player with a lot of potential room to grow, and offered up a second round pick in exchange for the left winger. The surprise deadline deal went through without a hitch, and from there, the reclamation project began.
Baertschi made an immediate impact on the Utica Comets, putting up his best AHL numbers to date with seven goals and eight assists in fifteen games. It was enough to get him a brief callup with the Canucks, where he scored these two goals against the Oilers:
That was as far as his production went, though he did get two playoff games in against his former team. From there, he headed back to the Comets, where his 15 points in 21 games were good enough for second in team scoring as they pushed their way to the Calder Cup Finals.
This brings us to today. One can only assume that the Canucks are going to want to find a permanent place for him where he can fully get back up to speed, and it’s very likely that place will be in the NHL, presumably with Brandon Sutter and Alexandre Burrows on the second line. With increased minutes, some powerplay time, and a coach in Willie Desjardins who has seen what he’s capable of when put in the right situation, patience, and opportunity will be granted virtues.
Baerstchi is a good two-way player with high-end offensive talent. The playmaking winger has really improved his skating explosiveness while learning to change speed to throw off the defender. Since being drafted in 2011, he has really improved his vision and hockey sense as well as his overall game. The first rounder clearly projects as a top line forward. His work ethic, passion, desire and attitude to be the best are top notch. -Hockey’s Future
After years of not having that, you have to imagine Baertschi will be both pleased and motivated to succeed. Is it enough to turn him into a first line NHL forward? That remains to be seen. But for the first time in years, that window of opportunity appears to be wide open for him once again.