It can be easy to forget something – Sven Baertschi turns 22 in the first week of the season. He’s lived in North America for just four years, arriving in the summer of 2010 to join the Portland Winterhawks.
In a bit of a contrast from Max Reinhart, Baertschi’s a flashy player. He’s got immense offensive talent. He’s got, as the kids say, swagger. He’s hit a few stumbling blocks over the past few years, yo-yoing between Calgary and Abbotsford, and at times struggling to stay healthy.
But even though the Calgary Flames have added Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan and Emile Poirier (among others) since Baertschi was drafted in the 2011 Draft, he remains one of the team’s most entertaining and exciting offensive talents.
Is this the season he puts it all together?
A native of Langenthal, Switzerland, Baertschi tore up the Swiss junior leagues and was brought over to the WHL by the Portland Winterhawks as an import. He tore up the WHL with the Winterhawks, alongside countryman Nino Neiderreiter, going to the league finals twice but not winning. (They won the WHL Championship the year Sven left for the pros.)
Baertschi’s pro career has been bizarre. He was brought in for five games on an emergency recall in 2011-12 when Calgary had barely any forwards left on pro deals. He scored three goals in those games and everyone got really, really excited about him – perhaps overwhelmingly so. And, SPECULATION, but because perhaps then-GM Jay Feaster wanted to make his mark on the roster, Baertschi started in the NHL in both of his first two pro seasons and while he posted decent offensive numbers, his play away from the puck left something to be desired by the coaching staff. And after yo-yoing in and out of the line-up due to injury and/or healthy scratches, he was sent down to the American League in both years.
Let’s review that – despite not playing a complete three-zone game, Baertschi still produced well offensively. He’s just that good inside the other team’s zone.
Let’s review, shall we?
- October: Baertschi has 5 points in 11 games in Calgary; he was scratched once.
- November: Baertschi has 4 points in 11 games in Calgary; he was scratched three times.
- December: Baertschi has 2 points in 4 games in Calgary; when Jay Feaster is fired he’s almost immediately demoted to Abbotsford. He had just 1 point in 5 AHL games.
- January: Baertschi has 4 points in 11 AHL games.
- February: Baertschi has 8 points in 11 AHL games.
- March: Baertschi has 9 points in 9 AHL games. He also missed four games due to injury.
- April/May: Baertschi had 7 points in 5 AHL games (granted, 5 of those points came in one game), and then just 1 point in 4 playoff games against Grand Rapids. He was held out of the last two regular season games for precautionary reasons, so potentially his lackluster playoffs could’ve been health-related.
Baertschi was “fine” in the NHL, but played poorly enough that coach Bob Hartley scratched him a bunch. He played mostly third line minutes, both in terms of deployments and sheltering. His dispatching back to the AHL was believed to be primarily to shore up his defensive game. He played primarily with Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan and displayed some good chemistry with them. His possession stats in the NHL were a mixed bag.
In the AHL, he gradually improved, but didn’t click with any linemates until Troy Ward put him with AHL journeyman Corey Locke and rookie Josh Jooris. In the half-season that Baertschi spent in Abbotsford, though, he never really established himself as “the guy” for the Heat the way it was probably hoped he would.
Baertschi is arguably still a work in progress. He’s a dynamite offensive player and arguably the most creative guy with the puck in the organization. He’s played two up-and-down years of pro and was (up until this year) burdened with the expectations of being the future face of the franchise, the saviour of whatever team he’s on, and expected to drive the bus.
Well, guess what. You can probably put Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau and maybe even Emile Poirier ahead of him in the “best player” sweepstakes. Heck, Gaudreau and Poirier will probably be his teammates in the AHL this season. How does he react to that? Does he relax a bit and just play the game once the pressure’s off? Does he tighten up, thinking these guys are gonna steal his spot?
At some point for young hockey players, a switch goes off. I think it goes off for Baertschi this season, at least to a certain respect. He’s still super-young, but I’d wager that he’s starting to figure out the away-from-the-puck stuff and now that he’s not the Flames’ shiny new toy, the pressure to perform (and the resultant stick-squeezing) may be gone.
I’d guess he splits time between Calgary and Adirondack; he probably gets the NHL equivalent of 40 points.