“J.J. is probably what I would call a little bit more of a two-way player,” Button said. “Coaches will be comfortable with him being out on the ice because he is so smart. And Lukas is, I think, a little bit more tilted toward being a playmaking-type forward rather than a goal-scoring winger, but it’s an area that he can develop.
“When you’re talking about potential first-round picks, I think Tim, obviously. But J.J. and Lukas certainly can be.”
Germany’s rise in hockey has come partly with the help of a program called Powerplay 26.
After a lifetime in hockey, including winning a bronze medal as a player at the 1976 Winter Olympics, Franz Reindl took over as the German Ice Hockey Federation’s president in 2014 and helped create the program. Powerplay 26 is a comprehensive plan for improvement at all levels, bringing more youth players to the game and supporting them more effectively, with a goal of consistently competing for medals at all levels by 2026.
Since Powerplay 26 began in 2014, the German senior men’s team has climbed from 13th to seventh in the world rankings. The under-20 team earned promotion to the top level in December 2018, and the under-18 squad followed suit four months later. Over the same time, the women’s program slipped slightly, from seventh to eighth.
“Our level is Switzerland, Slovakia,” Reindl said. “The big nations, they are ahead of us. Canada, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Czechs and U.S.A. are the top six. But to be seven — it’s amazing in these last years, going from 13 to seven in the international world. But now it’s even harder to stay there, and to maybe make the next step.”
Sustaining that success, said Stefan Schaidnagel, sporting director for the German federation, is a matter of consistently having positive results.