|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
Texas defenseman Lian Bichsel may still be a bit unsettled off the ice, still living out of a hotel seven weeks into his North American career, but he's already feeling settled on the ice in Cedar Park ahead of his AHL debut this Friday.
The Swiss defender, drafted 18th overall in 2022 by Dallas, has high expectations from the organization. Despite being only 19, he was one of the final cuts from the NHL club on Sunday and has many putting him in the mix for a job in Dallas earlier than expected with his preseason performance.
"The preseason with the Dallas Stars was great," Bichsel told 100 Degree Hockey on Wednesday afternoon. "The change from bigger to smaller ice, I think I handled it really good. I'm really motivated this year to start the season here and to work on myself and my game."
The switch from international 'big' ice to a North American sheet trips up many European players as they make the transition. For defenders like Bichsel, there is less room in the defensive zone and tons of board battles ensue. The 6'5 stature he brings is an asset on the smaller ice to be sure.
Bichsel uses his frame to open up the play in the offensive zone, as he views himself as a two-way player.
"I'm a big body and when I'm stepping the play, it opens up another area on the ice. [I'm a] two-way defenseman. I had some chances on the power play but also the penalty kill, I'm really good at. I'm really solid on that physical play. Finish a play in the D-zone and bring the puck up."
Bringing the puck up is a focus area for him as he starts the season. "The big thing is the quick play. When I have the puck, I need to turn the play around fast. My skating and physicality is on point, though I can work on that always, but the big thing is to turn the play quicker."
Bichsel will have a guiding hand from the veteran defensive corps in Texas. There are several options to choose from but Derrick Pouliot has been the most common pairing for Bichsel in practice so far. "I feel very good with him. He can help me a lot like on that transition, playing fast. He's a smart guy also, and we can have a really good pairing together."
Alex Petrovic, starting his third year with Texas, is one of those veteran hands along with Pouliot and Gavin Bayreuther. He's seen good early habits from the young guys, Bichsel included. "We've got a lot of young guys but pretty humble players. Everyone wants to get better. Guys are always asking questions: what to do in certain situations, what to do off the ice in the gym Everyone jumped on the ship [culturally]."
Coach Neil Graham noted that wherever the pairings start might not be where they end, given that the team didn't have exhibition games at the AHL level and the full group only came into focus on Sunday after the final Dallas assignments: "Don't be shocked if we change our mind on the power play or we change a D pair to see something that we want to have a look at as well. Let's be flexible."
Luckily, Bichsel may be 19 but this is not his first time living alone in a new place. He spent the last two seasons in Sweden where he says he already had the rookie pro experience. He did note that he'll need a car here in Cedar Park, since "it's way bigger here."
This time won't be fully alone, however. He and a few other single players are looking for a house in the area at the moment to escape the hotel life they've been living since Traverse City started.
Overall, he's excited for Game 1 with the organization and looking forward to growing his transition game and overall prowess on the smaller ice.
"I know what it means to be a pro on this level. I just go with the flow and then the rest will come."