Fritsche tabbed for shot at NHL

Jim Cressman -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- If through some miracle there's an NHL season, the Sarnia Sting will lose forward Dan Fritsche to the Columbus Blue Jackets. At least that's the plan.

Blue Jackets president and general manager Doug MacLean is attending the world junior hockey championship where Fritsche is playing for the U.S. and said yesterday he wants the 19-year-old in training camp if the lockout is settled.

Fritsche played 19 games with Columbus last season, scoring one goal, before being lent to the gold-medal U.S. junior squad, then reassigned to the Sting. He likely would have been in the NHL this season if not for the lockout.

"If we start up next month, he'll challenge for a spot on our team," MacLean said, adding he's not sure if he'd be allowed to bring up Fritsche.

The old agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League was allowed to expire in June, just adding to the confusion.

"I would certainly attempt to do that (because) there was some assurances made (before the lockout) if we start up that the top kids that had played might get an opportunity to go back to training camp," MacLean said.

"That would be our goal, but we will go by what the rules say. There's no agreement . . . but I would certainly hope for a guy that played 19 games last year and certainly would have challenged to make our team, that there might be an opportunity for him."

MacLean has another reason why he'd like to get Fritsche into the NHL as quickly as possible.

He has a history of shoulder trouble and after missing the first 2 1/2 months of the season in Sarnia following his third surgery in September, he came back and played only two games before going out with a shoulder strain.

He recovered in time to play here.

"I guess I get a little concerned because I watch him play in the OHL and he grinds it out with the best of them there and you're always worried about that," MacLean said. "I watch him play here and he's playing a playmaking game, still grinding, but just a touch different style of game."

Fritsche also holds Swiss citizenship, thanks to his great-grandfather on his dad Jim's side. He had an option to play in the Swiss National League, where Joe Thornton and Rick Nash are, as Fritsche's uncle is an assistant coach with Ambri Piotta.

Fritsche practised there for three weeks in the summer and was set to sign when MacLean stepped in and directed him back to Sarnia for a fourth season, although he's played only 107 games in a Sting uniform.

"I really felt strongly he should go back to Sarnia," MacLean said. "He had lots to accomplish in the OHL. He hadn't led them to any success in the playoffs (but ) it hasn't worked out because of the shoulder.

"I also didn't want him playing over in that (Swiss) league. I didn't think it was a place for an 18- or 19-year-old to be learning the way to be an NHLer.

"I don't think it's right we start encouraging our kids who are junior age to be going to Europe. The CHL has been a great development league for the NHL and the OHL has been a great development league for us."


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