For over 20 years, there has been one constant in the CHL, the summer’s Import Draft. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit the globe, the annual draft was held online on Tuesday morning as scheduled. The Windsor Spitfires used the draft, plus a trade immediately afterwards, to add much-needed depth.
Each team in the CHL is allowed two import players. After the club chose from Finland in the last two years, general manager Bill Bowler changed the pace this year and went to Russia. He had a target in mind and didn’t miss, aiming to improve the club for 2020-21 and beyond. Soon after, he made a trade with the Hamilton Bulldogs that has a hometown feel.
Who are the newest members of the Spitfires? Let’s take a look.
Bowler Selects Sobolev
The Spitfires had the 40th-overall pick in the Import Draft, which became the 32nd pick after eight teams passed in front of them. When it was his turn, Bowler hit his target: defenceman Daniil Sobolev of Moscow Spartak Jr.
Sobolev, 17, is a 6-feet, 198-pounder with a reputation as a gritty, two-way player. In 48 games last season, he had two goals and six points, along with 47 penalty minutes.
In a release, Bowler said that the St. Petersburg-native is tough to play against and, with his hockey IQ, will be an effective two-way defenceman. The draft is a gamble as players don’t always report. However, Sobolev offered some early hope by telling the Spitfires that he’s excited to learn the Canadian style.
“I am a two-way player; I can attack offensively and defend well,” he said in a statement. “I am excited about the Canadian style of play and to develop offensively.”
Last season’s two Finnish players selected were goaltender Kari Piiroinen (2018) and defenceman Ruben Rafkin (2019). Both left the team in late March and signed contracts back home in Finland.
The Spitfires retained Rafkin’s rights in case he’s chosen in the 2020 NHL Draft and is assigned to the CHL. However, the 18-year-old wanted to play pro at home in Turku and spend more time with his family, so his return is unlikely.
Related: Flames’ Top 5 Draft Picks Since 2010
Sobolev caught the Spitfires’ attention at the Four Nations Tournament in Plymouth, MI in 2018 and now has a chance to prove them right.
In total, 66 players were chosen in this year’s Import Draft. Here’s the final breakdown by nationality:
- 15 Russians
- 13 Czechs
- 10 Slovakians
- 8 Finns
- 8 Belarusians
- 3 Swedes
- 3 Swiss
- 2 Latvians
- 2 Danish
- 1 German
Spitfires Trade with Hamilton Bulldogs
Following the draft, the Spitfires added a second defenceman, this time in a trade with the Bulldogs. They acquired 18-year-old Michael Renwick in exchange for a second-round pick in 2024 (Oshawa Generals), a conditional second-round pick in 2024 (Kitchener Rangers), and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2024 (their own).
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Renwick had 17 points in 59 games last season and is considered a strong, two-way player. As an 18-year-old, Bowler expects him to play a lot next season.
“Micheal will play significant minutes for us and is a quality person who will fit in nicely with our group,” he said.
Renwick also has ties to Windsor; his grandfather is former Spitfires’ head coach Dave Prpich. While he was born in Mississauga, playing around family is an opportunity he’s eager to have.
“Its exciting, Windsor is a great organization,” he told the Spitfires. “(Leaving the Bulldogs) was a tough decision to make but Windsor is an excellent place for me to be and I am super excited for it. I am going to bring my leadership qualities and physicality to the team and I hope to be able to produce some offence.”
The Spitfires lost multiple defencemen to graduation or signing elsewhere, leaving holes in the lineup. The additions of Renwick and Sobolev, combined with James Jodoin (2019 OHL Draft) and Nicholas De Angelis (2020 OHL Draft), give the club a bit more depth heading into 2020-21.
While there’s a long way to go because of the pandemic, having some optimism for next season isn’t a bad thing. It’s a glimpse of normalcy in an ever-changing world. The next steps will be slow and methodical as everyone’s safety is at the forefront. Stay safe – we’re all in this together!
I’m a resident of Windsor, ON and a graduate of St Clair College Journalism and New Media program as well as the University of Windsor Communication, Media, and Film program. I’ve been a junior hockey fan (specifically the Windsor Spitfires) for 30-years and have written about/photographed junior hockey since about 2005.