ST. LOUIS -- As a boy growing up in Switzerland, Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi would watch the country's national team compete in the Winter Olympics and IIHF World Championship.
The Swiss were never viewed as one of the global powers. However, Josi was among a generation of young players who witnessed the country's breakthrough in ice hockey. Switzerland upset Russia at the world championships in 2000 and pulled off a shocking win over Canada at the Winter Olympics in 2006.
The man behind Switzerland's bench for both wins: Ralph Krueger, who coached the national team from 1997-2010. Josi played under Krueger for two world championships in 2009 and 2010, and they were reunited for Team Europe's run to the final at the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.
"He’s a great speaker," Josi said of Krueger Thursday night during all-star media availability at Stifel Theatre. "When he steps in the room and says something before the game, he’s one of those guys that everybody is listening. He has a very positive attitude. … He’s one of those guys you like as a player."
Remarkably, two Swiss players are all-stars this season: Josi and New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier, who was drafted first overall in 2017. Though the latter never played under Krueger, both developed through the national program built by the Buffalo Sabres' coach.
Krueger had the junior national teams use the same systems and tactics he deployed with the senior program. A professional approach helped the Swiss build an impressive pipeline for its national team.
Josi was drafted 38th overall by the Predators in 2008 after playing in Switzerland's top professional league at 17 years old. The 29-year-old has been selected to three NHL All-Star Games and helped Nashville reach the Stanley Cup final in 2017. His 48 points in 47 games this season make him a likely Norris Trophy finalist.
"Number one, I coached him for multiple years, and I know him as well as any player in the National Hockey League and his offensive production has been outstanding," Krueger said of Josi when the Sabres were preparing to face the Predators last Saturday in Nashville. "He’s brilliant in what he can create with the smallest gaps and smallest holes. You need to be really solid defensively to neutralize him."
Josi also helped Switzerland win a silver medal at the world championships in 2013 and has served as the Predators' captain for the past two seasons. The NHL seemed attainable to Josi after Mark Streit, who played under Krueger, joined the Montreal Canadiens in 2005.
Streit went on to play 786 regular-season games over 12 seasons in the league.
"That was huge," Josi said of Streit. "He was the first skater who made it to the NHL and that kind of opened the doors for us younger kids. That belief you can make it from Switzerland. The NHL seemed so far for kids from Switzerland. … He gave us that belief."
Sabres winger Victor Olofsson received the third-most Calder Trophy votes in the Professional Hockey Writers Association's midseason award balloting, the results of which were unveiled Thursday morning. Olofsson, 24, finished behind Colorado's Cale Makar and Vancouver's Quinn Hughes.
Olofsson has 16 goals among 35 points in 42 games this season. A lower-body injury has kept him out of the Sabres' lineup since Jan. 2.
Jack Eichel was not among the three finalists for the Hart Trophy, which was led by Edmonton's Connor McDavid. Other midseason award winners include Washington's John Carlson (Norris Trophy), Philadelphia's Sean Couturier (Selke), Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck (Vezina), Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan (Jack Adams) and Toronto's William Nylander (Comeback Player of the Year).
Cozens' big night
Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens had three goals among four points in Lethbridge's 7-1 victory over Moose Jaw in a Western Hockey League game Wednesday night. It was Cozens' first hat trick of the season and his fourth four-point game.
Cozens, who was drafted seventh overall by Buffalo last June, has 24 goals among 53 points in 33 games for Lethbridge. He has four goals among seven points in three games since returning from the IIHF World Junior Championship, where he won a gold medal with Canada.
The NHL All-Star Skills Competition begins Friday night in Enterprise Center at 8 p.m., Eastern. The events will include fastest skater, save streak, accuracy shooting and hardest shot. The elite women's 3-on-3 game will begin at 6 p.m.
Story topics: Ralph Krueger