Saturday, May 28, 2011

Third times a charm?

As the 2011 Draft is approaching there are still many discussions going on about who the Oilers will be taking with their 1st overall pick? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larrsson, Gabriel Landeskog, and Sean Couturier are all potential 1st overall picks and no one knows who'll be picked 1st besides the Oilers.

While all this discussion is going on, there's a prospect who is about to go through his third NHL draft. That prospect is Switzerland's 5'10 goalie Benjamin Conz. Conz has been passed up in the past two NHL drafts and is hoping he doesn't get passed up for the third straight time. The 5'10 goalie was first noticed during the 2010 World Juniors where he was phenomenal in the tournament. Conz and Nino Niederreiter led the Swiss to their second best finish in their U20 WJC history finishing 4th overall (first was being in 1999 when David Aebischer led the Swiss to Bronze medal, their only medal in the U20 level). Conz finished with a 3-4 record in the tournament, having three All-Star performances in the tournament. The first being when he stopped 39 of 40 shots to defeat the Slovaks 4-1, his second was a heart break loss to the USA 3-0, Conz faced 49 shots and stopped 46. His third all-star performance (the better of the three easily) was against Russia, the winner would move on to play against Canada. Benjamin Conz was playing like a goalie who was on a mission, Conz faced 52 shots and only gave up 2 goals! The game went to overtime where El Nino popped the game winner home past Igor Bobkov to win the game 3-2 in overtime. It was one of the biggest upsets in World Junior history, and all thanks to King Conz and El Nino.

- Conz had this to say after the win "No one would bet on us before the game. Especially with those two defensemen out." (The Hockey News, Ryan Kennedy). Conz was talking about Roman Josi and Luca Sbisa who were the two best defensemen on the team, who were both out with injuries.

 - Bob Mckenzie had a few words to say about Conz after he and the Swiss had beat the Russians "Benjamin Conz has been exceptional in this tournament, he was exceptional in the game against the Russians. 52 shots on goal and this is the guy that can steal a game. He's a big guy, doesn't seem like he has to move particularly well. Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire have talked a lot about his similarity to Jean-Sebastien Giguere from the Francois Allaire school of goaltending. He is a big guy who gets down, takes away the bottom of the net, if your going to beat him you got to beat him upstairs."

Benjamin Conz biggest save of the tournament during the Russia game

Despite losing the next two games 6-1 to Canada and 11-4 in the Bronze medal game to Sweden, Conz was voted the best goalie of the tournament and was also named on the U20 World Junior All-Star team

Benjamin Conz takes a sigh of relieve and celebrates after upsetting the Russians 3-2 in OT stopping 50 of 52 shots

Seven months after Conz was named best goalie in the 2010 World Juniors, the draft arrived. Conz was going through his 2nd draft and this time around, scouts had Conz being picked late at the draft because of his performance at the world juniors. While others said he wouldn't be picked because of his lack in size. In the end Conz would go undrafted for the second straight year. Some were surprised while, others weren't. Although he did get drafted in the KHL 2010 draft by SKA. St. Petersburg in the 7th round (185th overall).

This year (2010-2011) was probably his best year to date in his short career. One again Geneve-Servette HC loaned Benjamin to the SCL Tigers. Conz played 46 games in his first year as a starter in the Swiss National League A with SCL Tigers. He went 19-26 with a .906 save percentage and had 4 shutouts, but don't let stats deceive you. Conz was playing in front of one of the worst defensive team in the league. Yet he still managed to be one of the top goalies in the league and  he was the main reason why the SCL Tigers made the playoffs finishing in 6th place. It was also the first time in the clubs history that they've made the playoffs. Benjamin Conz and his team ended up getting swept against the defending champions SC Bern in the first round. Conz finished with a .907 save percentage in the playoffs.

Benjamin Conz also played in his final year of the U20 World Juniors this year (2011). Before the tournament, many scouts and analyst were wondering if Conz could repeat the tournament he had last year. The answer was yes. Conz was just spectacular once again, he finished the World Juniors with better stats then last year. Conz went 3-3, and posted a .917 save percentage with a 2.97 goals against average. He also faced the most shots in the tournament for the second straight year in a row with 220 shots and allowed 18 goals in 6 games. Conz always seems to bring his "A" game when he plays against top teams, and he did so this year against USA and Canada, easily his best games of the tournament. Switzerland was playing against USA in the last game of the preliminary round, if Switzerland won they would finish second in their group and the States would finish in 3rd. Although, a USA win would give them 1st in the division. Conz would stop 40 of 42 shots against USA and lose a tough one 2-1 in regulation to finish 3rd in their division. Switzerland would play Canada in their next game. Switzerland would score first early in the first period with a wrap around, but little did they know that it would be the only goal they were score in the game. Canada would go on to win 4-1 including on empty net goal. Benjamin Conz played spectacular once again, he stopped 46 of 49 shots taken by the almighty Canadians. Conz had two highlight reel saves, one of them was a one timer that all started when Nicholas Steiner coughed up the puck behind the Swiss net, and was taken away from Johansen who then gave a sweet pass to Foligno who got robbed by a sprawling Benjamin Conz.

Benjamin Conz makes a sprawling one timer stop on Marcus Foligno

His other big save was late in the first, it was tied at one a piece when Ryan Johansen entered the zone and took a slap shot from the far left of Conz who was way out of crease and made a stunning glove save.

Benjamin Conz robs Ryan Johansen late in the first period

Benjamin Conz and Switzerland would go on to beat Finland in a shootout to determine who takes 5th place, Conz made 21 stops to finish off his World Junior career seeing as next year he isn't eligible to join the U20 World Juniors. Benjamin Conz may have possibly put up one of the greatest WJC performances over a span of 2 years.

With the 2011 NHL Entry Draft less than a month away, many kids dreams will come true. As for Benjamin Conz who has gone unselected in the past two drafts still puzzles a lot of hockey minds. Many scouts and fans say that he is too small to have a career as a pro. Look at Tim Thomas for example. Thomas is most likely to bring home his second Vezina in three years, and they are both the same size. Benjamin has proven to everybody that he has what it takes to take it to the next level, which is why it wouldn't surprise me along with others if he gets drafted in the later rounds of the 2011 NHL draft.

- Benjamin Conz is hopping that in his third time around in the NHL draft he will finally get drafted by an NHL organization.

"I am trying my best for sure and I am a little bit disappointed, but I know that I am maybe not tall enough to be drafted, so it is difficult, but I cannot change that. Playing in the NHL is still a dream, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. I'm working on that and I'm still hoping." (The Hockey News, Ryan Kennedy).

Even though Benjamin Conz does not have the size teams and scouts are looking for, Conz does have heart and passion for the game. Conz is able to steal a game for a team and is capable of making big saves at key moments in the game. I thought he was going to be drafted in last years draft, but looking back, I can see why he didn't. That year he only had the World Juniors to show for. This year is a different story, he played 46 games as a starter in the Swiss league with the SCL Tigers in his rookie season and for the first time in teams history they made the playoffs and Conz was the main reason why. Benjamin also had another stellar performance in this years World Juniors. 

If you ask me, I think Benjamin Conz will get drafted in his third time around and I could see it happening late in the 6th round. The teams that come to mind who might want to draft Conz are the Montreal Canadiens and the New Jersey Devils. Again, that's my opinion. Others may feel differently!

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!

Saturday, May 28, 2011