Calgary added two more prospects with the Jay Bouwmeester trade yesterday. Like Agostino and Hanowski, neither Reto Berra or Mark Cundari are household names – at least not here in Calgary (Berra may very well be a folk hero in Switzerland). Here’s some background on each guy:
Mark Cundari – 22 years old, D
Undrafted out of junior, Cundari has a somewhat similar resume to Mark Giordano (and he kinda looks like him) – although his results were a little heavier on the PIMs and a little lighter on the scoring, especially in his first three seasons with the Windsor Spitfires. His career best point total in junior topped out at eight goals and 54 points in 63 games on a heavyweight club that included Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler, Ryan Ellis, Adam Henrique and…Greg Nemisz. As mentioned, Cundari was also a consistent triple digit penalty minute guy in the OHL, despite only standing 5’10". I don’t know if that means he’s some sort of human honey badger or just takes a lot of hooking and high-sticking penalties…
Cundari has had a decent if unremarkable career in the AHL since turning pro. He leads the less than potent Peoria Riverman in scoring from the blueline so far this season with seven goals and 25 points in 56 games. When I talked to Corey Pronman about Cundari recently he noted the defender was tough but realtively small guy who can move the puck well. He apparently doesn’t have a high skill set/ceiling however and will probably top out as a third pairing guy if he makes the NHL.
Mark has already joined the Abbotsford Heat and will playing the remaining few games with the club. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets a look with the big team at some point down the stretch as well.
Reto Berra – 26 years old, G
The goaltender is a far bigger wildcard in this deal. Originally drafted in the 4th round back in 2006 (the same year as Leland Irving), Berra has played his entire career in Switzerland, so is a virtual unknown. Feaster has said recently that the Flames scouts identified Berra as "one of the best goalies outside the NHL", but I’m not sure that’s indicative of anything. Flames management has been eager to heap hyperbole on players and additions these last few seasons under Feaster and puckstoppers tend to be voodoo anyways – GMs and scouts misidentify goalie talent more often than probably any other position.
Which means this really could go either way. I find it somewhat suspicious that the team who drafted Berra has never really endeavoured to bring him over the pond despite having some pretty obvious goalie issues (both this season and in years past when they were trading high-end prospects for Jaro Halak and signing flops like Brian Elliot), but maybe the player had no interest in playing in NA at the time.
Goaltending is the one area where you can sometimes pluck a 20/30-something guy out of an obscure league in Europe and actually strike gold. Jonas Hiller, Niklas Backstrom, Viktor Fasth and Tim Thomas are notable recent examples. Of course, there is also flops like Jonas Gustavsson, Henrik Karlsson, Erik Ersberg that have proved that there are no guarantees here.
Berra’s numbers in the NLA (Swiss pro league) are, to be blunt, underwhelming. If you click through the various links above, you’ll notice most of the those guys were posting save rates that would be very good-excellent even in the NHL before they established themselves in the show. That’s not true of Berra who hovers around the .905-.910 SV% in his pro career. This season he is 9th amongst NLA goalies with a .906 SV%, just behind former NHLer Jussi Markanen (.910).
UPDATE – Eliteprospects scout/writer Matias Strozyk had this to say about Berra when I asked him about the newest Flame goaltender today:
He’s one of the better Swiss goalies, but still only 26 years old. A big guy with great athleticism and movement. Had a very good season in 11/12, this year the whole team struggled and only barely missed the playouts. His Biel contract ended and he won’t be staying. Wants to head to North America next, so he would definitely be interested in going over for 13/14.
On why Berra never came over and challenged for a spot on the Blues:
If what I remember is correct, the Blues drafted him in ’06 and were pretty cramped goalie-wise. That was the time Marek Schwarz was there too. I remember talking to him about all the competition and him, Bacashihua, Legace, Sanford, Lalime etc. trying to get games in St. Louis/Peoria. Berra also had a couple of low-profile seasons after his draft year and only became a regular NLA starter in 09/10 after switching from Davos to Biel. Now he’s determined to move on after 4 years there.
Like the Iginla trade, the prospects coming back for Bouwmeester are fairly underwhelming – an undrafted AHL defenseman who might challenge for a third pairing job and a 26 year old pro goaltender who has never played the NA game and probably wasn’t even in the Blues plans moving forward. One or both guys might become something of value down the road (because you just never know) but they really look like the sort of extra pieces that pretty much any organization has floating around at any given time.