Gilian Kohler shows elite skill set in Kootenay Ice preseason debut

Highly touted Swiss-import makes impact in first games, demonstrates chemistry with Peyton Krebs

On Saturday night in Crowsnest Pass, Gilian Kohler saw first-hand just how physical Canadian hockey can be.

Playing in only his second WHL preseason game since arriving from Switzerland, the speedy right winger was on the ice when a third period fight broke out between teammate Barrett Sheen and Calgary Hitmen centre Mark Kastelic.

The pair of combatants swung wildly and after bringing Kastelic to the ice, Sheen was given a huge applause from his bench and the crowd.

“The fight at the end, that was a little bit rare for me,” Kohler said after the game, chuckling. “It was the first time I’ve been on the ice [for] a fight, but it’s part of the game [here].”

Despite being used to playing on a bigger ice surface, with less physical play and intimidation tactics, Kohler did not seem out of place in his first weekend in North America.

After missing the first four games of the preseason due to a concussion suffered over a month ago while representing Switzerland internationally, Kohler’s North American debut was impressive.

On Friday, he picked up an assist in the Ice’s 8-4 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes and on Saturday scored two key goals in the team’s 5-2 win over the Calgary Hitmen.

According to Ice head coach James Patrick, the performance was just scratching the surface of what Kohler is capable of.

“I like his skill set [and] from seeing him in practice, [I already know that] he skates and handles the puck well,” Patrick said. “I think it was great for him to get both games in and get some of the rust off.

“I think his conditioning is going to get better. Being off the ice as long as he was and missing the first week of camp, he’s not even in full form yet, so I expect more out of him.”

Kohler played the majority of the weekend on a line with Sheen and 16-year-old rookie Peyton Krebs, the Ice’s top pick at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, who is expected to play a key role for the team this year.

The duo of Krebs and Kohler is one that really stood out in Patrick’s eyes.

“You could see [them] developing some chemistry,” he explained. “Obviously, the two of them were dangerous for a big part of [Saturday] night and [Friday] as well.

“I have liked that line. [Sheen’s size] gives them a little room to move out there.”

Kohler, who was selected third overall in the CHL Import Draft and has also been hyped but is more of a mystery than Krebs, had nothing but good things to say about his linemates.

“It feels good to play with [Krebs]. He gives the game speed, [which] is how I like to play,” Kohler said. “Quick passes, shoot[ing] and try[ing] to score… my teammates helped me, so we did a good job.”

Both of Kohler’s goals on Saturday night were the result of highly-skilled plays. His first of the night, a second period marker, was a wrist shot from the slot and his second, early in the third, was a power play one-timer delivered to him by Krebs.

The pair of goals ended up being the game-winner and the insurance goal.

As for the physical play, the 5’9 right winger did not look to be struggling at all with the increase in hitting over the weekend.

“I know he’s got really good vision [and] I’ve told him a couple of times [that] I don’t want him running out thinking he has to finish hits,” Patrick said. “I want [him] to play to [his] skill set [and] get stick on stick, be in shot lanes defensively [and] in good position.

“Obviously, [he’s] playing against some big strong guys on a smaller ice surface, which will take some getting used to, but he’s pretty solid on his feet. He’s a thick guy, who’s solid.”

As for Kohler, he feels as if he is progressing well and was glad to finally get back to game action after a long break over the summer.

“[Friday] was the first game [in a long time] and I was not feeling at my best, but [Saturday] was much better,” he said. “I played the system much better than yesterday, [but] it’s [really] all about teamwork.”

With some of the rust off, Kohler now has his sights set on the regular season. The team kicks off the year against the Hitmen at Western Financial Place on Friday night and while he might be new to Canadian hockey, Kohler already has a few of the clichés nailed down.

“We have to take it game by game, and play the system like the coach wants [us] to play,” he said. “[The Hitmen] will come much harder, I think, but we have to continue to work as a team [and] be strong.”

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