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How Utah Pulled The Austrian Hulk Out Of The Hat

How Utah Pulled The Austrian Hulk Out Of The Hat

Gregor Bieber and Vasiliy Zelenov were drafted to the NHL – and they were also the only realistic Austrian candidates. But the timing and the system came as a surprise:

With the first pick of the fourth round, a yet-to-be-named hockey club from Utah acquired the rights to Bieber. The former Arizona Coyotes' scouting staff didn't want to wait any longer, even though they had five picks after that.

This is really cool because at the beginning of the fourth round there are usually slots available that all the staff see and like, and only later do the local scouts start playing.

Bieber attracted attention at Mini-Combine

But Utah had already established a relationship with the towering defensive back: At the beginning of June, he was invited to a mini-meeting in Salt Lake City with about a dozen other players, where he was put through tryouts. Bieber was not invited to the NHL public pool in Buffalo because he did not appear on Central Scouting's final roster.

Overall: No scouting service – either recognized or run by private individuals in the basement of their parents' house – had the former KAC's name on the list. There is a lot of detail about how committed individual teams are to any rosters.

The only option where a player's name must appear? On the central scouting computer before selection. Almost every crack is listed there, but if the name is missing, it is recorded by the scouting body (after verification) at the request of the team in question and released for the draft.

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No contact until draft

What happened to Bieber after the trip to Salt Lake City? “I didn’t hear from them again until draft day. Then I got a text saying I had been drafted and should be on my way the next day.” In fact, Bieber was back on the plane overseas the next day; the annual rookie camp would begin with old and new picks.

Two trips to Salt Lake City in the space of a month, plus a fairly high selection – such an unexpected turn for a player who had never played against seniors (except for one international) and who had played the entire season in Skelleftea’s U20 team. But this league is a league of great interest; the U20 and U18 World Championships were certainly not the only things that Arizona/Utah scouts were watching.

Of course, a selection never guarantees an NHL contract or even an appearance, but Biber's development – known only to coaches and insiders in the Austrian ice hockey scene – is fascinating. Research into whether his hometown of Krustetten (population 300, near Krems) ever showed up in the NHL computer is still ongoing. In the event of a potential NHL contract, KAC could still participate as his former club, but Biber's youth club UEC Krems could no longer participate.


Big and strong defenders in the direction

It was unimaginable to me before the draft: Bieber was selected ahead of defenders like Swiss Daniil Ustinkov or Czech Tomas Galvas, who rose rapidly during the season. Both never got a chance, although Ustinkov played (temporarily) for ZSC and in the Swiss junior teams, but his season was a disaster. Galvas – a very light-footed skater – simply lacks centimeters and kilograms.

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Overall, the trend towards bigger and stronger defenders can be seen again, and the smaller cracks should excel, and even then, like the Hutson brothers, they only come later. When a beaver is fully grown and fully trained, it can easily reach 6.4 feet/205 pounds (currently 6.3/187), which would be roughly the size of a hull by Austrian standards.

Vasiliy Zelenov had to wait a little longer than Bieber for his name to be called. The Buffalo Sabers — who had already been mentioned to me as a prospect before the draft — drafted the new Austrian with the seventh overall pick out of their eight picks at 204th overall.


The selection in the CHL Import Draft would not be a surprise

Of course, the new NHL teams will advise and influence the players regarding next season, but without a contract they can’t dictate anything. Their two teams for next season are still Skelleftea and Red Bull Academy, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if both names were drawn in Wednesday’s CHL Import Draft.

Vasiliy's twin brother Ivan is definitely moving overseas, but he doesn't want to ruin his chances of getting into college. If he changes his mind or the NCAA changes its rules (currently under discussion), it's not out of the question for both brothers to be on a CHL team.

After the diaspora after 2006 (Michael Grabner and Andreas Nodl), Austria has only come out of the draft empty-handed once since 2020 (2021).

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2020: Marco Rossi, Thiemo Nickel, Benjamin Baumgartner

2022: Marco Casper, Vinzenz Rohrer

2023: David Reinbacher

2024: Gregor Bieber, Vasily Zelenov


These are all Austrians who were selected in the NHL draft