MALMO, Sweden — Maple Leafs fans got a nice New Year’s gift from Switzerland coach Colin Muller.
Leafs prospect Fabrice Herzog leads the Swiss with three goals at the 2014 world junior and Muller dropped the name of a big-time NHL forward when discussing Herzog on Wednesday.
“Fabrice Herzog right now for us is, if not our best forward … he is really good around the net,” Muller said. “He has the long reach, a Rick Nash sort of style player. Works his tail off. Back checks hard. Knows where to go, knows the front of the net. Wins pucks on battles with stick. Good kid. I really like him. He has improved in the last six months.”
Can Herzog, who was picked 142nd overall by the Leafs in the 2013 NHL draft, make it to the NHL?
“He could be close,” Muller said. “He is sort of an awkward skater right now, I think he is still just getting into his body size.”
Herzog can score. In 34 games with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the 6-foot-2, 194-pound forward has 20 goals and nine assists.
“There are a lot of good players there and I like my role there,” Herzog said. “I think it is better when I play in the Quebec league than the Swiss junior league. I think I can learn more.”
Herzog is one of three Leafs picks playing in the tournament.
Frederik Gauthier, the first-rounder last June, is back at his natural position of centre for Canada and won three faceoffs late in the 3-2 win against the United States on Tuesday.
And the Leafs figure they uncovered a gem in Swedish forward Andreas Johnson, a seventh-round pick in 2013. He has been sharp in the world junior, scoring three goals and recording three assists in four games.
“You hope this is where he is going to be, but maybe a bit of a surprise, I guess,” Leafs director of amateur scouting Dave Morrison said, “but we had high hopes for him because we thought he had that ability.
“He is really smart and he just has natural offensive ability. He just seems to find the seams. He can shoot the puck and he can really pass the puck.”