At the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship this month, one of Karlis Zirnis' responsibilities for Team Latvia was pre-scouting each player on the opposing team.
When he saw Flyers prospect Emil Andrae, he didn't see a typical Swedish defenseman.
"If you think of Swedish defensemen, like [John] Klingberg or somebody like that, it's taller and kind of a smoother skater," the Latvia assistant coach said Saturday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "He's just an average-sized player, but he's got all the tools."
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Andrae stands at a generous 5-foot-9. But he plays much, much bigger. The Flyers snagged the undersized blueliner in the second round of the 2020 draft. They felt his doggedness defensively and intelligence offensively would make up for what he lacked in stature.
On the world stage at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, many watched Andrae show that, including Zirnis up close.
"That competitiveness, it oozes out of him," Zirnis said.
The 20-year-old captain led Sweden to a bronze medal with eight points (four goals, four assists) and a plus-6 rating in seven games. The only defenseman to score more at the tournament was Canada's Olen Zellweger (11 points), who is considered a top-50 prospect.
Flyers prospects Tyson Foerster (three goals, three assists) and Elliot Desnoyers (assist) won gold with Canada, while Brian Zanetti (two assists) played four games for Switzerland.
Andrae reminded Zirnis of a popular and productive former Flyers defenseman.
"The biggest thing you notice right away is he's just a competitor, like he's not shy of the physical game and he plays with a lot of grit," Zirnis said. "If I have to compare to anybody in the NHL, I would say Kimmo Timonen, also played for the Flyers. That would be my comparison. Good with the hands, can see the ice very well, but not afraid to play the physical game."
Midway through the third period of a 1-1 game against Latvia in the quarterfinals, Andrae scored a nifty goal from deep to win it for Sweden.
"You could see his deception on the blue line and the confidence on the blue line," Zirnis said. "Making the move, pretending he's going to shoot the puck and he holds it and he uses his feet, uses his hands to drag it to create a shooting lane for himself and then he scored.
"I think he's overall a real well-rounded player because he's good on the offensive side, he can play the offensive side, but at the same time, he's not afraid of playing the physical game and I believe he can be a good shutdown guy, too.
"He's not just a one-dimensional type of player that needs power play time to kind of showcase himself. I think he can do both; he can play on special teams, if you need him on the power play, but at the same time, he can shut down teams' top players, too, because he's got a good stick, he skates well and he's not afraid. He's just a gritty player and not afraid of physicality."
Andrae is set for an important season in his native country as HV71 returns to the SHL after being relegated last year. Following the 2022-23 season, Andrae could be ready for his entry-level contract and North America.
"When I went over there five, six weeks ago and watched him play, I was pleasantly surprised of how good he defended and how good of a stick he has," Flyers development coach Kjell Samuelsson said in December. "He's never going to really run somebody over because of his size, but he used his stick and his feet to defend. And he was very good."
Was he one of the top defensemen at the August world juniors?
"For sure, one of the better ones," Zirnis said.
"You always look at it, who's the top point guy for any team? So you're going to be aware when they're on the ice. For Sweden, he was the top point guy. That's hard to do, especially with the caliber of talent you have on Team Sweden up front.
"He showed up in his production and wearing a letter on your jersey, that's not an easy task, too. That shows he's got leadership qualities. ... That means the teammates and the coaches trust him."
Zirnis believes Andrae will be able to defend at the next level.
"I think so just because of his competitiveness, he's got a good stick, he's very strong on his feet, too," he said. "It's one thing to not be shy, but next thing you know, you get knocked down on your butt. That's not the case with him. He's a player that's strong on his feet and not afraid to play in those hard areas.
"To me, Kimmo Timonen is kind of the best example of it because he's smaller size, good stick, can contribute offensively, but also can play very, very good defense."
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