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Spengler Cup Preview: Former NHLers, first-round draft prospects highlight 2019 edition

From former NHLers to future first-round picks, the Spengler Cup features a wide array of talent in the 93rd edition of the world's oldest invitational hockey tournament. Here are at 10 players you need to watch this week.
Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone

Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone

Yeah yeah, the Spengler Cup features a ton of has-beens. Yes, the ice is littered with ads. Yes, the refs dress funny. But that’s the charm of the world’s oldest invitational ice hockey tournament, and the on-ice product is enough to satisfy fans of all six teams each holiday.

Hosted by legendary Swiss club HC Davos, the 2019 tournament is the 93rd edition of the famed event. It consists of six teams – five club teams and a group of Canadian selects, the majority of whom play in Europe with a few NCAA, AHL and ECHL players sprinkled in. A mini-team-by-team breakdown:

  • HC Davos: The hosts are chasing the title for the first time since 2011, but there is momentum after a hot first-half put Davos three points behind ZSC Lions for first in the NLA.
  • HC Ambri-Piotta: First Spengler Cup appearance in franchise history. They have struggled and sit ninth out of 12 teams, but Matt D'Agostini is one of the Swiss League's best forwards this season.
  • Canada: No Spengler Cup participant over the past decade has won more than Canada, which has four tournament titles. Canada is chasing its fifth consecutive final appearance.
  • HC Ocelari Trinec: Currently fifth in the Czech league and coming off of a domestic title. Most of the team's roster got a taste of the tournament last year, so look for Trinec to come out of the gate strong.
  • Salavat Yulaev Ufa: Having a solid year in the KHL. Ufa has a large contingent of former NHLers, so, assuming they play them every night, this could be a team to watch if you're looking for familiar names.
  • TPS: Dead-last in the Finnish league, but if we learned anything from KalPa's participation last year (and subsequent tournament championship), the chance to salvage part of the season will help.

Seriously, if you want a break from the World Junior Championship or just want to see good, even, fast-paced hockey that produces incredible moments each year, this is a tournament to keep an eye on. And there are several players who are most certainly worth watching. Here are 10 players to follow when the tournament takes place in Davos from Dec. 26-31:

Zach Fucale, G (Canada)
Don't let the fact that he's an ECHL goalie distract you from Fucale's track record in international play. He'll always be remembered for his strong play at the 2015 World Junior Championship where he won gold, but with a Spengler Cup title in 2016 and a slew of highlight-reel performances last year, Fucale has historically stepped up his game when wearing the maple leaf. Fucale has good numbers with the ECHL's Solar Bears this season and Orlando is tied with Jacksonville (the IceMen have played three fewer games) for the fewest goals in the league at 69. However, Fucale has surrendered only 80 goals himself and has given his team a fighting chance each night. Fucale will have the edge in net and should get most, if not all, the starts for Canada.

Maxim Noreau, D (Canada)
A rule of thumb: when you watch the Spengler Cup, keep a close eye on Noreau. This will be the defenseman's sixth tournament, and with 15 points in 19 games, Noreau is five points off of Micki DuPont's Canadian defenseman record and eight points behind long-time Davos rearguard Beat Equilino for first among all defenders. Noreau, a former Minnesota Wild prospect, has made his career as a dominant two-way defenseman in Switzerland. His 179 points in 264 games are fifth-most among Swiss League defensemen over the past decade.

Ian Mitchell, D (Canada)
Last year, it was Nashville's Dante Fabbro. Now, Mitchell, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect, will represent the NCAA on the Canadian blueline. Despite being just 20, Mitchell could still play a key role for the Canadians. He has experience on the bigger international ice thanks to appearances at the U-18 World Championship and Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in the past, so it might not take him long to adjust. Currently playing for the University of Denver, Mitchell is two points behind Wisconsin's Wyatt Kalynuk for the most points by a Canadian in the NCAA and it's likely his power-play prowess will carry over to Canada's Spengler Cup efforts.

Mattias Tedenby, LW (Davos)
If the name sounds familiar, yes, this is the former first-round pick. Tedenby, who spent parts of four seasons with New Jersey, didn't have the all-around ability to remain in the NHL, but with a team-leading 13 goals in 26 games, he's been splendid in his first year in the Swiss League. A flashy, skilled forward, Tedenby's skating is still as good as it was when he was a promising prospect. However, his defensive deficiencies remain and chances are he won't get a legit shot in the NHL again. Still, Tedenby has looked good with Enzo Corvi and Fabrice Herzog and that's what Davos needs to chase gold once again.

Benjamin Baumgartner, C (Davos)
Could Baumgartner be a target of NHL teams in the near future? The 19-year-old has been passed over twice, but he caught the eyes of scouts with an 11-point performance earlier this month that led Austria to the top world junior tournament for 2021. In domestic action, Baumgartner sits fifth in team scoring with 18 points despite missing two weeks to play internationally and he's the only U-20 player in the NLA more than 10 points. Per NL Ice Data, Baumgartner has seen his ice time jump from just under eight minutes per game to 13:28 in recent weeks, with his points-per-60 tops on Davos at an impressive 2.88. He's small – only 5-foot-9 – but Baumgartner's skill is undeniable.

Henrik Larsson, D (TPS)
The 2019-20 season has been a breakthrough for Larsson, a 25-year-old defender who stands a mere 5-foot-7. Larsson had a couple of good seasons in Sweden's Allsvenskan, but couldn't play an impact role with Brynas in the main Swedish League. With 23 points in 32 Finnish Liiga contests, however, Larsson sits three points behind Valtteri Kemilainen for the league lead among defensemen. The small but skilled two-way defenseman can run the power play, and while he's not much of a shooter, he's an adept passer. TPS is last in the Finnish League, but Larsson has been a bright spot for the club this season.

Linus Omark, LW (Ufa)
This isn't Omark's first rodeo. He was named to the tournament all-star team with three goals and five points with Jokerit in 2014. On pace to finish close to the 50-point mark this season, Omark leads Ufa in scoring with 34 points and will be the driving force for the team's scoring hopes in Davos, assuming Ufa decides to dress him in all the games. Sure, he didn't produce much in Edmonton or Buffalo, but Omark's speed and skill is suited for the bigger ice. If anyone is going to get Ufa to the final, it's Omark.

Rodion Amirov, LW (Ufa)
Amirov didn't make Russia's world junior roster despite a good showing at the CIBC Canada-Russia Series last month, so the Spengler Cup is the next best thing. Of course, like most Russian youngsters, Amirov isn't used much in important situations in the KHL, but at least he isn't averaging five minutes a night like Vancouver Canucks top prospect Vasily Podkolzin. KHL teams typically like to sit their stars for most of the Spengler Cup, so Amirov could showcase the skills that could make him a first-round selection in June.

Matt D'Agostini, RW (Ambri-Piotta)
This will be D'Agostini's fourth Spengler Cup, but for the first time, it won't be in Canadian red and white. The two-time tournament champion has six points in 12 Spengler Cup games, often playing more of a support role. But with 29 points in his first 29 games this season – one point off of his output in 37 games last year – D'Agostini has been Ambri-Piotta's best player this season. D'Agostini is the only player on this Swiss team's roster to score more than two goals in Champions League play this season, his five goals putting him first in team scoring. If you're looking for a former NHLer to cheer on, D'Agostini, who played 321 games with Montreal, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and New Jersey, is a good choice.

Vladimir Roth, D (Trinec)
Roth has missed half the season due to injury, but when he's been in Trinec's lineup – and on the top pairing – he's been a standout. Roth enters the Spengler Cup with eight points in 13 games, and after a solid effort for Trinec at last year's event, having him healthy and engaged is important. Roth was a minute-muncher for Trinec during the team's domestic championship effort last season and has continued to do the same this year. Roth has a solid frame and can handle himself physically, but moving the puck is his specialty.

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