2020 CHL Import Draft: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme

The 2020 CHL Import Draft is happening on Tuesday. But beyond that, we don’t know much.

The OHL’s North Bay Battalion will make the first pick of the Import Draft just after 11 A.M. eastern. Then as usual, picks will rotate by league for two full rounds. While most teams will make both picks, some will make just one pick while others will pass altogether if they have enough imports on their roster.

This is about the time of year the CHL Import Draft happens in a normal year. So from a timing perspective, this is business as usual.

But what is not business as usual is the circumstances that have led to this season’s draft and what the future might hold. That’s where the story begins. Uncertainty reigns supreme.

Setting The Scene

The NHL is currently in Phase 2 of their return to play plan. If all goes well, Phase 3 will start on or a little after July 10 with the hopes that a Phase 4 can start in early August. Assuming all this goes through, we are nowhere near an actual NHL Draft.

Normally the NHL Draft is done and over with. Teams then look at the CHL Import Draft to see where some of their drafted players could go. But this season, the Import Draft is coming first.

So we need to consider several questions here. This piece will attempt to shine some light on some of the biggest questions out there.

  • How different has preparation for the Import Draft been from a CHL team perspective?
  • How many overseas players will actually come over and is there anything else we need to consider?
  • How will NHL teams view the Import Draft this season given the circumstances?
  • How will the Import Draft affect the rest of the offseason in the CHL?

We don’t have all of the answers. But in talking to different people around the NHL and CHL, we will try to point you in the right direction so you are ready for Tuesday’s Import Draft. Let’s start with preparation.

Preparing For This Import Draft

The one thing teams do have more of in this situation is time. The season was canceled what seems like months ago. Teams have been able to study more tape on players and find ways to connect virtually with players they could be interested in.

So in that sense, teams knew this day was coming and have had plenty of time to prepare. I did have one team admit that they will be focusing more on building relationships with players when it comes to Imports. With the extra time, they have been able to connect more and build a relationship over time in the event they can draft that player. They do this in the hopes of having that player report. It’s a behavior-based approach that they hope will be successful.

That’s all well and good. But now we have to consider the all-important second question on our list.

Will Players Come Over?

That is the $1 million question. Given the situation with Covid-19, how many players would even want to leave their home country? Would they even be allowed to leave if they wanted to?

The governments are going to have a lot of say on how this unfolds. As of this writing, the consulate offices are closed in several European cities due to the pandemic. There is no set date as to when they’d reopen. See the below from the U.S. Department of State website.

“Routine visas services continue to be suspended at U.S. posts worldwide as a result of the COVID pandemic, but as resources allow, embassies and consulates may continue to provide emergency and mission-critical visa services.  Mission-critical immigrant visa categories include applicants who may be eligible for an exception under these presidential proclamations, such as: IR/CR1, IR/CR2, IR/IH-3, IR/IH-4, SQ, SI, certain medical professionals, and certain aliens providing temporary labor or services essential to the United States food supply chain, as well as cases involving an applicant who may age out of his or her visa category.  While embassies and consulates may process these types of cases, their ability to do so may be limited by local government restrictions and available resources.  In addition, an applicant’s ability to travel may be impacted by local laws, regulations, and travel restrictions.”

With multiple teams in the United States, this situation must be monitored closely. Meanwhile for Canadian consulate offices, some such as the one in Prague are operating in the event of emergency only. We’ll see where this goes as well. Many players would love to come over if possible. But who knows when we’ll get clarity on everything.

Teams are telling prospects that a season will eventually happen. Part of the thought process of the player is determining the odds of a season taking place in North America. If a league in Europe is set to start and there is still no clarity in North America, that could be their deciding factor.

There will be much more to come on this front. But if the consulate offices remain closed into the fall for any reason, that will have a dramatic effect on the CHL and others. Stay tuned.

Chris Hartsburg, OHL, Erie Otters
Teams in the United States could be at a disadvantage depending on how things shake out in the coming months. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)

The NHL & The Import Draft

The NHL is focused on a return to play. But eventually, there will be an NHL Draft. What will be different is that we will know who own’s a player’s rights by the time the big draft happens.

Normally an NHL team would watch the CHL Import Draft to see who takes their prospect. Just as an example: the Columbus Blue Jackets drafted defenseman Eric Hjorth in 2019. He was eligible for the Import Draft. Hjorth was drafted by the Sarnia Sting thereafter. He then reported to Sarnia.

The thing I will be curious to see is the approach NHL teams will take drafting in the middle rounds and later especially if we’re still in these circumstances. Will they alter which players they look at based on their location? It’s so hard to say what things will look like now. But at draft time, that will be a key consideration. For now though, NHL teams do have time to let things play out.

The Rest of the CHL Offseason

This is where we will see the effects of uncertainty at a high level. With so much up in the air, the one thing you haven’t seen much of yet is trades. While some activity has happened such as Matvey Guskov being traded from London, teams are in a holding pattern.

The Import Draft is a huge part of the offseason and is a huge part of constructing your team for next season. Since we don’t know exactly what the immediate future holds, teams have to wait it out. If Imports can’t or won’t come over, teams will have to adjust. But if they are able to come, teams may have to alter their plans.

But until there is more clarity, expect crickets in the trade market. But once we know more things, there could be a huge fireworks show in order to be ready for a training camp. But nobody knows when a camp would happen or what it would even look like yet. Teams will need to be flexible and ready for multiple scenarios depending on how the next couple of months shake out.

So as you can see, we have a lot of uncertainty. That alone makes this Import Draft a very interesting one. About the only clarity we will get is who will own these player’s rights. Then it’s a wait and see approach. We will watch it all for you here at the Hockey Writers and keep you updated as to if and when juniors plan to start a season.