The Canadian Hockey League held its annual import draft Wednesday morning and the Western Hockey League members picked up a total of 28 players from overseas that they hope to see in action this winter.
If you are not familiar with the import draft, each team in the CHL is allowed to carry two import players on their roster each season. They are drafted by all three leagues depending on records from last season. Nail Yakupov who was recently the number one pick in the NHL Entry Draft was one of these import players who ended up in the OHL. For the players it represents a chance to get the feel of playing in North America in hopes to improve their future draft stock.
As the WHL teams do not have the extensive scouting teams that NHL teams can afford they rely on a lot of contacts and reports on these players. Some have very little written about them and are somewhat of an unknown quality in North America.
Just who are these new WHL’ers?
Below is a brief description of each guy selected by the WHL teams. They are listed in order the teams selected this morning.
Prince Albert Raiders – Leon Draisaitl–W–The German forward will be an interesting player to keep an eye on this season. He is big and has put up some staggering numbers playing in Germany. Two years ago playing for an U16 team he scored 97 goals and 192 points in only 29 games. Those are pretty dominant numbers no matter where you play. Now while the competition in Germany is not as tough as the WHL he has weapons and could make a big mark.
Prince George Cougars – Joonas Korpisalo– The Cougars hoped to mine the fertile Finnish goalie stock by picking up Korpisalo. Korpisalo was drafted this past weekend by Columbus in the third round of the NHL Draft. Playing for Jokerit last year he had four shutouts and a 2.04 goals against and .920 save percentage. For The Hockey Writers Next Ones profile on him click here. Here is a taste of what Cougars fans will see out of Korpisalo:
The Cougars made another pick in the second round to select Rinalds Rosinskis of Latvia. He is a defenseman who played for the HK Juniors Riga in Latvia last season and while he only scored 10 points he stands at 6’5” tall and could be a physical presence in Prince George.
Seattle Thunderbirds – Alexander Delnov– LW – Delnov is Russian and was drafted in the fourth round by the Florida Panthers this past weekend. He was player the Panthers took timeout over in draft as he was not on the register and they had to make sure that he was eligible. He scored 22 points last year for Mytischi Atlanti and reports indicate that he wants to play in North America and could help the T-birds offense that struggled last year. Delnov appears to be a good skater and plays an all around game.
The Thunderbirds were not done in the first round however. They picked up Edmonton’s first round pick in exchange for a tenth round Bantam draft (you have to love trading picks across drafts) and used it to select Roberts Lipsbergs, another Latvian player who scored 14 goals and 28 points in 58 games last year for HK Riga at 17. He also showed up in two international tourneys with 6 goals in 12 games. In a press release head coach Steve Konowalchuk said “Roberts is a competitor with a hard shot and he likes to shoot the puck.”
Everett Silvertips – Mirco Muller– D- The Silvertips went to Switzerland to select the 6’3” 176 pounder to help fill the blue line void that is left by Ryan Murray. In 2010-2011 playing for a U17 team he scored 12 goals and 31 points in 32 games.
Everett used their second round pick to nab center Stathis Soumelidis from the Czech Republic. Soumelidis is a big player who is listed at 6’2” and 214 and put up 19 points in 35 games and for Jr. A SM-liiga last season. He also had 127 penalty minutes in those 35 games which seems to indicate he doesn’t mind playing a tough game and he should adapt well to the WHL.
Victoria Royals – Patrik Polivka– G – The Royals selected the Czech goalie to help their play in net that saw all of their goalies last year post goals against averages above four. Polivka played mostly with HC Plzen U20 last year and put up 3.20 GAA .917 save percentage. Hopefully the Royals can count on one guy to get them under four goals a game now.
The Royals used their second round pick to select a former NHL draft pick in Rasmus Bengtsson. The defenseman was selected in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers. Going into that draft he needed to show that he could play the North American physical game and he got a taste last year as he played 34 games in the USHL with Muskegon Lumberjacks.
Lethbridge Hurricanes – Axel Blomqvist – RW – the Hurricanes went to Sweden to reunite some brothers as Blomqvist’s brother Albin already plays for Lethbridge. While they aren’t twins, Swedish brothers have seen North American Success. Unlike his defense playing brother Axel is an offensive player who in 38 games last year scored 27 goals and 46 points.
Swift Current Broncos – Eetu Laurikainen – G – The Broncos took another Finnish goalie in Laurkainen who in 26 games for Jr. A SM-liiga last season poted a 3.15 goals against and .915 save percentage.
Red Deer Rebels – Jan Bittner – D – The Rebels took the big 6’2” tall, 207 pound defenseman to add some beef and depth to their blue line. Bittner played for HC Litvinov U20 last season and put up 15 points in 42 games.
Portland Winterhawks – Oliver Bjorkstrand – LW – As if the Winterhawks needed any more offensive talent they picked up Bjorkstrand from Denmark to provide more scoring. He mostly played for Herning last year and scored 13 goals and 26 points. He also played well in the U18 tourney by putting up 9 points (4g) in 11 games. While he is somewhat slight of frame he has the potential to add muscle.
Portland had a second first round pick and used it to pick up Kirill Vorobyev from Russia. The big defenseman has a year of North American hockey under his belt already, playing for the New Mexico Mustangs of the NAHL last year. The 17 year old weighs in at 6’1” and 205 pounds and should be a physical presence for the ‘Hawks.
Kootenay Ice – Petr Vesely – LW – The Ice selected the 2013 draft eligible Czech forward who showed a nice scoring touch last year with 25 goals and 60 points in 43 games. The Ice have some nice offensive players and Vesely could fit in well.
The Ice used their second round pick to take Jakub Prochazka, a left winger, who scored 20 points in 37 games against older competition for HC Litvinov U20 last season.
Regina Pats – Emil Sylvegard – C – In a somewhat curious situation the Pats took Sylvegard, who is 19 years old and played in QMJHL last year with Drummondville. He put up 32 points and at 6’2” 198 pounds, is used to major junior hockey and is a solid player who can play physical.
Brandon Wheat Kings – Richard Nejezchleb – RW – The winger, born in 1994, stands at 6’2” 187 pounds and played for HC Slavia Praha U20 last year in the Czech Republic. There he scored 11 goals and 23 points in 24 games and Brandon hopes he can add some depth this season.
Edmonton Oil Kings – Edgars Kulda – LW – The defending champs picked Latvian winger Kulda who played for HK Juniors Riga and scored 15 goals in 33 games last year. He’s another guy selected in this draft with good size and a power game.
Spokane Chiefs – Mikulas Rimmel – RW – The Chiefs selected Rimmel, who is a 2014 draft eligible player, from the Czech Republic and hope he can show the scoring touch in Spokane that he did last year. He played for HC Vitkovice U18 in Czech last year and scored 29 points in 38 games at 16 years old. He is a smaller player who will have to adapt to the North American play in WHL.
Vancouver Giants – Ales Kilnar – LW – Kilnar played for HC Vitkovice U20 last season and scored 28 goals and 51 points in 39 games. He’s an older player who will turn 19 this year and was draft eligible last year but was not selected. He put up good numbers that should add some scoring depth for the Giants.
Medicine Hat Tigers – Marek Langhamer – G – The Tigers picked up a guy Langhamer who was a seventh round draft pick of the Coyotes in this year’s draft. He played 33 games for HC Pardubice U20 and had a GAA of 3.29 and .909 save percentage last year. His international numbers are a bit worrisome however, as he played in 4 international tourneys last season and had a GAA over four in each and a save percentage under .900.
The Tigers also selected defenseman Daniel Hansen from Denmark in the second round. The Danish blueliner only scored six points in 41 games last season. He’s a bit of an unknown as he heads to North America.
Calgary Hitmen – Pavlo Padakin – RW – Padakin is a Ukrainian born player who played in the NAHL last season with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and scored 15 goals and 33 points in 51 games. He seems to have a good build and should easily be able to adjust to play in North America.
Moose Jaw Warriors – Frederik Tiffels – LW – Tiffels is another German who played for Jungadler Mannheim U18 last year and scored six goals and 28 points in 36 games. He was also selected in the USHL draft by Muskegon last month and it will be interesting to see if he chooses the higher profile league and team. He got a lot of experience playing in international tournaments last year for Germany as he saw action in 37 games, and managed 9 goals.
The Warriors also selected center Nikita Zagryadskiy from Russia. Zagryadskiy is a big center who is listed at 6’3” tall and 190 pounds.
Kelowna Rockets – Henrik Nyberg – LW- The Rockets only pick in the import draft was in the second round. They used it to select Nyberg who played for Djurgardens in Swedish Super Elite league and scored 11 points in 30 games.