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It’s always fun to cheer for an underdog.

That’s exactly what Austria has been the past few years since getting promoted to the top tournament in 2021. From incredible goaltending performances to budding stars getting a chance, Austria has managed to raise some eyebrows in recent years, even if the success hasn’t been there.

Austria won’t have Detroit Red Wings prospect Marco Kasper, who will instead remain in Sweden to focus on the rest of the season before representing his country at the World Championship. So the team will need to look deep to get results, but that type of opportunity can create new stars for a country that’s just trying to prove ot belongs.

Here’s a breakdown on Austria’s team ahead of Group A play in Halifax:

Goaltending

Gone is Sebastian Wraneschitz, the hero of the team’s 2021 run in Edmonton. In comes 19-year-old Thomas Pfarrmaier, the team’s third goalie from the recent summer tournament. The undersized goaltender has had a solid start to the AlpsHL season with Red Bull in a league that typically isn’t too kind to younger goaltenders.

It’ll be interesting to see if Benedikt Oschgan gets any starts over Michael Sicher. The 17-year-old was Austria’s starting goalie at the Division IB last year and, despite having a losing record, he has played well in the men’s AlpsHL with Linz. He seems to be the next up-and-coming goaltender in Austria, so we’ll see if they use him at all in Canada.

Defensemen

After playing on Austria’s top pairing in the summer, Lorenz Lindner should resume the role again. He’s not going to produce much, if anything, on the scoreboard, but he can throw some big hits, play a lot and can shut things down. As you’d expect, Austria’s blueline will be busy, and he should be one of the busiest.

If you’re looking for someone to add the odd point or two in a game, look no further than David Reinbacher. He had a pair of assists in August and has already started skating with the men’s national team. He’s playing full-time with EHC Kloten in the top Swiss-based league, and he has a .5 points-per-game average early. Scouts will keep a close eye on him thanks to his good puck-moving abilities, frame and smarts away from the puck.

Christoph Tialler is another returning defender, coming armed in the midst of his third pro hockey season. The 19-year-old’s game is about simplicity – nothing really stands out, but he can eat minutes, skates well and can hold his own despite a mid-sized frame. Lukas Hörl is another returning player, and one that isn’t afraid to skate the puck down the ice a few times a game, either.

Forwards

With no Kasper, the focus shifts to Montreal Canadiens prospect Vinzenz Rohrer, who’s having a fantastic season with the OHL’s Ottawa Senators. He enters the tournament ninth among 2022-drafted OHLers, just four points behind Cedrick Guindon in third and seven behind Pavel Mintyukov for the overall lead. Rohrer is more than offense, though, with the undersized forward displaying intelligent, two-way play while acting as a sparkplug energy forward whenever needed. He’ll need to be more offensively inclined in Halifax, though, because he’s their best shot at stealing a game or two.

One of the most notable names in the lineup is 2023 NHL Draft prospect Ian Scherzer. He played a significant role during the summer tournament despite being one of the youngest players, scoring a goal and posting three points for a team that desperately missed Kasper. Scherzer hasn’t had an explosive season with Rogle by any means, but he’s taken some solid steps forward into rounding out his complete game.

Beyond that, secondary scoring might be hard to come by. Leon Wallner and Senna Peeters have aged out, leaving the team to go in a younger direction. Jonas Dobnig, an 18-year-old born in Canada, will likely crack the top six. He’s a second-year player with the New Jersey Rockets in the National Collegiate Development Conference, but his best success was with Austria’s U-18 team in 2022.

Luca Auer should also get a promotion after playing bottom-six minutes during the summer. He’s willing to play on the edge, but he’s also got good speed and can create scoring opportunities in close while being a solid enough defensive forward.

One other name to watch is Finn van Ee, born in Zell am See. And, no, it’s not just because of his name, but he showed a bit of promise at last year’s tournament despite not scoring. He’s an aggressive energy forward entering his third WJC, and his experience will go a long way.

NHL Draft watch

The best bet of keeping the Austrian NHL Draft dream alive is Reinbacher, who’ll get heavy minutes in a top-pairing role. His experience in Switzerland is important, and he has even looked good with the Austrian men’s national team. Don’t be surprised if he’s playing 26-plus minutes a night in tighter games.

A little further down the draft chain, Scherzer was given important minutes with Austria last year and will likely appear on Austria’s top line again this year. Scherzer could still be a late-round prospect, but this will be his opportunity to really shine.

Projection

With the IIHF cancelling relegation the past two years, Austria hasn’t had to worry about returning to Division IA. This time, it doesn’t have that safety net, and not having Kasper hurts. Austria starts off against Sweden before meetings with Czechia and Canada. Their only real hope is likely going to be in that last game against Germany, who’ll also likely won’t have a win by that point. The relegation round is likely, where they’ll likely go up against a Latvian team with a handful of NHL prospects at their disposal. It’s going to be a tough one.


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