Last year, Austria unceremoniously went 0-4 in World Junior Round Robin play. This year, they are back via a get-out-of-jail-free card, that being a relegation freeze due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. Despite this, their stay in this year’s tournament is also expected to be a brief one. 2020 No. 9 overall pick Marco Rossi is now off to the AHL, and even with him last year, Austria was abysmal. In their four Round Robin games, they scored just one goal and had a minus 28 goal differential.
Furthermore, Austria is one of a few teams yet to completely finalize their roster. New head coach Marco Pewal potentially needs to still trim down his roster. Pewal will also have the opportunity to feel his team out with a pair of exhibition games this week against Slovakia and Sweden as well. When it then comes to being situated in Group A, Austria has an uphill battle. Being grouped with Canada, Finland, Germany, and the Czechs may be a bridge too far. Returnees like Marco Kasper, Lukas Necesany, and Sebastian Wraneschitz are going to be leaned on heavily to lead the way.
Make sure to check out all of our other IIHF World Juniors Previews.
Kasper is a near-lock to be Austria’s top center this year. His SHL stats with Rögle BK don’t wow you, but Kasper did end up having a great run in the Champions League. Kasper was also on this World Juniors’ squad last year, putting up just one assist in four games. For Vinzenz Rohrer, this tournament is a big step. At just 17 years old, he gets the chance to show what he can do against more experienced players out of his age group.
Seena Peeters joins Kasper as two of the four forward returns for Austria. He accounts for 100 percent of Austria’s goal production from a year ago. Seeing Peeters had just one goal, hopefully, that isn’t the case this year as well. Currently, he is on a 3-10-13 year for the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL. A centerman who is having a big year production-wise entering these World Juniors for Austria is 18-year-old Janick Wernicke. Currently one of the Austrian Junior League’s top players, he hopes to some of his 2.33 point per game production onto the world stage.
Next up are a trio of former Red Bull Hockey Juniors teammates in the AlpsHL, starting with Luca Auer. Despite moving up to the ICEHL recently, he still leads the Alps league with a plus/minus of plus 29. Next is former team captain Oskar Maier, who has also moved up, getting 20 points in 21 games before moving doing so. That then brings us to Maximilian Hengelmüller, who can hopefully make up for his lack of point production with physicality. He is 6’2″ and 194 pounds at 19 years old. Last year Austria stuck with 14 forwards, so look for a similar number this year as well.
A team-low one player returns for Austria on the blue line this year, that being the aforementioned Necesany. Of U20 defensemen in the Alps, he ranks sixth in total points and tied for second in plus/minus. Nescesany will have another young blueliner with him most likely in Martin Urbanek. The 19-year-old ranks No. 1 in points of any Austrian U20 defender in the league, and has the most goals period. The pair will have their hands full with the likes of Canada and Finland to deal with, but pressure makes diamonds. Hopefully, Necesany and Urbanek are up to the task.
Typically you don’t hear of 17-year-old hockey players standing at 6’3″, luckily for Austria, they have one at their disposal in Luca Erne. He currently has 17 points in 21 games of action in the Premier Division of the USPHL as well. Rolling on with the youth movement is David Reinbacher, another 17-year-old residing in the Swiss League currently. He leads U20 defenseman in the league by a wide margin in plus/minus at plus-10 and ranks third in points.
Overall, the goal for Austria should be to get most of these defenders the experience of a World Juniors. Yes, the chance of relegation is high, but most of these players will most likely be back for at least next year, if not the next two. Getting a blue line unit some big-time minutes against the world’s elite is of the utmost importance. You should expect eight total defensemen to make the final cut here for Austria.
The netminder who will once again most likely be ‘the guy’ for Austria in Wraneschitz. Last year he was more or less hung out to dry, facing nearly 65 shots per game in three starts. Very few goalies on the planet could have succeeded in those circumstances, so it’s hard to blame Wraneschitz for last year. He did however have an unceremonious stint in the WHL, just lasting two games with the Victoria Royals.
If Austria does opt to go elsewhere in net, their first option is Leon Sommer, who rode the bench all of last year in the World Juniors. He very recently got the call up to ICEHL but has yet to make a start. Previously Sommer was with the Steel Wings Linz in the AlpsHL. He went 6-6-0 with a 3.28 goals against with a .912 save percentage. Option No. 2 would then be Lukas Moser, who has had a less than ideal year on loan in the AlpsHL but is only 19 years old.
Player to Keep an Eye On
Marco Kasper, 17, Center, Rögle BK (SHL)/2022 NHL Draft Eligible
These next few weeks could be astronomical for Kasper as he likely will be on his way to being a first-round pick next year. As of now, he is a consensus first-rounder but sits more in the back half. Kasper will not have a better chance to get good tape on himself than he will at the World Juniors.
Kasper fits into the ‘power forward’ mold and has the ability to dish the rock so to speak. His plus/minus un the SHL so far can be held against him, however, he has been a net positive in international play. Kasper is not Rossi, but he does not have to be either. His ability to play physically can only help him, and potentially his teammates as well. Look for the 17-year-old to come up big for Austria, even if it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.
The outlook for Austria doesn’t look great in the long run this year. Only reason they’re even here is due to the relegation/promotion freeze put in by the IIHF. In Group A they will draw against Canada, Finland, Germany, and the Czech Republic, all of which appear to be tough outs. With relegation likely, this Austrian team’s goal should be establishing a team identity with a number of players likely being mainstays for a few more years here. Additionally, the hope should be that they do enough to make it back to this spot down the road with more experienced players. However, given the skill gap between them and their Group A adversaries, Austria’s 2022 stay is likely to be brief.
Prediction for Austria: Relegation
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images