Windsor Spitfires Head to Russia at 2021 CHL Import Draft

It’s been a very busy 48 hours for Windsor Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler. A day after the 2021-22 schedule was released, and two days after the home opener was announced, the team took part in the 2021 CHL Import Draft on Wednesday morning. It was another chance to add to his stockpile of young talent and, like last year, he headed to Russia.

Coming into Wednesday’s draft, the club had a target in mind – someone with the talent to step in right away, but young enough to stick around for a few seasons. The Spitfires have plenty of holes to fill due to numerous graduations during the COVID-19 stoppage. This means more opportunities for the younger players, and the Import Draft is a great chance to bring in someone with long-term potential.

Who did Bowler bring into the fold? Let’s get to it!

Bowler Selects Baisov

The annual CHL Import Draft is a chance for all 60 clubs to add players from outside of Canada and the US. This season, after a draft lottery and three teams passing, the Spitfires had the 48th overall pick (originally 51st).

When it was Bowler’s turn, he went to Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia (in Western Siberia), taking 17-year-old forward Avval Baisov from Khanty-Mansiysk Mamonty Yugry. In 2020-21, the 5-foot-11, 187-pounder scored 31 points in 18 games for their U18 club before being moved up to Mamonty Yugry of the MHL, the top junior league in Russia (three points in 14 games).

Bowler told the Windsor Star that the club hit their target.

“That’s our guy we were targeting and we were very fortunate he was still there at 48,” Bowler said. “Like anything, especially here in this draft, we had 47 names go ahead of us. That’s the whole beauty of the draft, but this is the player we thought would fit into our group.” (from ‘Bowler said chance for Spitfires to draft Baisov well worth the wait’, Windsor Star – 6/30/21)

This draft has been hit-and-miss for the organization over the last 20 years and players don’t always report. Fortunately, Baisov seems ready and willing, telling the club he’s looking forward to training camp. He will join defenceman Daniil Sobolev, a 2020 pick, as the two imports on the Spitfires. They’re represented by Vlad Spektor of Gold Star Hockey.

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“(Baisov)’s skilled, he can move well and he’s physical. He reminds us of (Dallas Stars’ forward) Alexander Radulov (a former NHL first-round pick),” Spektor told the Windsor Star.

“He can play up and down the lineup and in all situations. He plays with a very high compete level.”

Baisov will stay in Russia to train until the Spitfires’ camp opens in September.

New Look Spitfires

When the Spitfires last played in 2019-20, defenceman Ruben Rafkin and goaltender Kari Piiroinen, both from Finland, were big pieces of their roster. Just 15 months later, everything has changed.

Just days after COVID-19 cancelled the 2019-20 season in March 2020, both Rafkin and Piiroinen left the OHL to head home. Rafkin joined his hometown TPS Turku (Liiga) while Piiroinen split time between TPS, Tappara (Liiga), and Tuto (Mestis). While it was the best move for both of their young careers, it opened up both import spots on the Spitfires.

Windsor Spitfires Ruben Rafkin
Defenceman Ruben Rafkin during 2019-20. (Dave Jewell/THW)

During last year’s Import Draft, Bowler brought in the 17-year-old Sobolev, who brings a feisty, offensive game to the club. Now, they’ve added Baisov and, while both players will probably require time to adjust to the North American game, they’re able to lean on each other. The pair also add more youth to the lineup, joining 2020 and 2021 Priority Selection picks who should make the roster. At this rate, you’ll want to buy a program at the home opener.

When Bowler took over for Warren Rychel in July 2019, nobody knew his style and he didn’t help that case in 2019-20 by making only a few minor moves. Now, with two OHL drafts and two import drafts under his belt, the roster is slowly coming together. We won’t know how good they’ll be for a while yet, but, with plenty of new talent coming in, a new era of Spitfires’ hockey is beginning.