EDMONTON, Canada – Last year’s cellar dweller Edmonton Oilers is looking to rebuild its team. Two new additions had their biggest success with the Swiss national team.
The Oilers signed former Swiss national team coach Ralph Krueger as an associate coach.
Krueger led the Swiss for 13 years and was key to helping the nation reach seventh place in the IIHF World Ranking. His best finish was fourth-place at the 1998 World Championship.
His era ended with strong performances and close defeats against Canada and the U.S. at the 2010 Olympics. He also won the 1998 European Champions League with Austria’s VEU Feldkirch after defeating Dynamo Moscow in the final.
Krueger was a scouting consultant for the Carolina Hurricanes, too. Although it seldom happens that a coach, who spent nearly his entire hockey career in Europe lands an NHL job, Krueger’s addition to Edmonton is not a total surprise given his North American connections he intensified following the Olympics.
“Ralph possesses a vast array of hockey knowledge and certainly will be invaluable to our team,” said Oilers’ GM Steve Tambellini. “We know that his motivational skills and positive outlook will be instrumental in the future success of our hockey club.”
Despite the transfer, the name Krueger won’t disappear in Switzerland. His son, who debuted for the German national team at the 2010 World Championship, signed with SC Bern.
Few days after signing Krueger, the Oilers added another well-known face from the Swiss national team to a one-year contract. After one season in Russia with Atlant Mytishchi, 35-year-old goalkeeper Martin Gerber will return to the NHL.
Gerber spent six years in the NHL with Anaheim, Carolina, Ottawa and Toronto. He played 30 KHL games last season and had a 91.4 save percentage before suffering a neck injury in December. It took months until Gerber had his comeback with the Swiss national team in April. He recorded a 93.6 save percentage in five games in Switzerland’s fifth-place finish at the 2010 Worlds.
The signing ended weeks of uncertainty for Gerber as Edmonton wanted to translate several medical documents to ensure he is in good health to be the “insurance goalkeeper” for starter Nikolai Khabibulin.
The Edmonton Oilers didn’t have any Swiss players under contract since 1997 when they used their first-round draft pick on Michel Riesen. Riesen only notched one assist in 12 NHL games in his three years with the Oilers organization before returning to Switzerland.
A record number of Swiss could play in this year’s NHL camps. Jonas Hiller (Anaheim) and Mark Streit (New York Islanders) were star players for their teams last year, while others will have a tougher fight for a roster spot.
Defencemen Luca Sbisa (Anaheim) and Yannick Weber (Montreal) saw only little ice time, but have ongoing contracts, same as minor league goalkeeper Robert Mayer (Montreal). Severin Blindenbacher (Dallas), Roman Josi (Nashville) and Roman Wick (Ottawa) transfer from Europe to the NHL in September while Nino Niederreiter, who was drafted fifth overall by the Islanders this summer, could get a contract too, same as Juraj Simek, who has a qualifying offer to re-sign with Tampa Bay.