The seasonal CHL Import Draft took place on June 30, 2020, and with their only selection at 48th, the Lethbridge Hurricanes took 2003-born forward Nikita Chibrikov. The 17-year-old would have joined the club has the third import player, under CHL rules teams, are only allowed to carry two during the season. This rule clearly put the team in a position to make a decision.
The Hurricanes will also have to navigate the “new world” of sports with COVID-19 making things very much unknown in terms of who or when players can come over to Canada, of course, that includes all three imports. Even with a target starting date of October 2, it still remains an unknown and the effects it may have on a player’s want or willingness to cross the ocean to play in the WHL.
Even in a normal COVID-less climate, there can be challenges in bringing a player over from Europe – their want and desire to leave home are often a big question, playing visas can be challenging and being selected to other leagues all factor into a player’s choice. With that being said, the Hurricanes will still be left with a decision to be made.
General manager Peter Anholt told the media after the import draft that while they really like the two imports they currently had they could not pass up a chance to draft another dynamic forward. Anholt went on to admit there was some work to do to land Chibrikov.
The Hurricanes have incumbent European skaters Oliver Okuliar and Danila Palivko but were eligible to select one player in the CHL Import Draft due to Okuliar, who is slated to be an overage player for the upcoming season. If all three came to camp, only two could remain for the season.
Meet the players
The new guy, Chibrikov, spent the 2019-20 season in his hometown of Moscow, Russia. Playing for the MHC Dynamo Moscow junior club the 17-year-old put up a half-point per game with 16 points in 32 games.
The question that was around the Moscow native was whether or not the team could get him to Canada. Russian players do have a history of being harder to bring over – mix in COVID-19 and travel restrictions, and it adds a little wrinkle into this situation. Chibrikov made the decision and choose to stay in Russia, signing a deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL (from ‘Import Draft pick won’t be joining Canes’, Lethbridge Herald, July 22, 2020).
After a breakout season for Okuliar, the speedy forward will enter his second season with the Hurricanes, which is also his overage season. Okuliar provided some much need scoring power to the Hurricanes this past season. Finishing second to only superstar Dylan Cozens in team scoring, the Slovakian managed 68 points in 55 games played. Okuliar will be counted on again this season to put points on the board.
Veteran Danila Pavliko is a former second-round import pick by the Hurricanes and has played his entire WHL career in Lethbridge. The Novopolotsk, Belarus native has amassed 36 points in his 123 games while slowly gaining the trust of Coach Brent Kisio. Pavliko had been paired this past season with Calen Addison, providing a steady safety net for the adventurous Addison. The 19-year-old will be set to enter his third WHL season in 2020-21.
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How will this play out? Well, the signing of Chibrikov in Russia makes it a pretty easy and clear cut decision for the Hurricanes. Returning players in Okulaiur and Pavliko are set to fill the two import spots barring a trade or a situation beyond team control. Much like other WHL clubs the use of the import player has been key to being successful, the Hurricanes hope that is the case when the 2020-21 season kicks off.