CHL Import Draft: Zacha prime example of Import drafting success, plus a review of 2015 draft

By David Hahn
Radovan Bondra - Team Slovakia - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: HC Kosice forward Radovan Bondra was a fifth round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, and was also the eighth selection overall of the 2015 CHL Import Draft (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)



For junior hockey enthusiasts, has there been a better month of hockey? The Stanley Cup was awarded to the Chicago Blackhawks, the 2015 NHL Draft lived up to expectations, free agency is looming and the 2015 CHL Import Draft capped off a busy month of June.

The CHL Import Draft is a critical and often undervalued part of team building for CHL member clubs, as players are eligible to be drafted from Europe to bolster their lineup. Each year, member clubs are permitted to keep up to two European players on their roster, and are only permitted to make a selection if they have a spot available or if one of their players was selected in the first round of the NHL Draft.

This results in an unpredictable draft, often times fueled by gambles and selections where teams have yet to make any contact with these players. It’s not always a guarantee that these players will report, as some have lucrative professional contracts, or simply prefer to stay home.

One organization that has developed a reputation for maximizing their potential from the CHL Import Draft is the Sarnia Sting, who have successfully selected and recruited an impressive list of European players.

Going back to 2010, the Sarnia Sting have added Nail Yakupov (EDM), Nikolay Goldobin (SJ), and most recently, Pavel Zacha, who was the sixth overall pick of the New Jersey Devils at the 2015 NHL Draft.

“The CHL Import Draft is important and can really help to bring in key players that are able to step into your lineup right away and be impactful,” Sting General Manager Nick Sinclair said of the process. “I’ve been involved for a couple years now and we’ve been fortunate enough to draft some pretty good players that have gone on to be pretty good players. That’s what you want.”

Zacha, who was Sarnia’s first overall pick in 2014, is a prime example of success in the Import Draft. Originally, it was thought that Zacha wouldn’t report after signing a professional contract in Europe, but Sinclair stuck with it and was able to get him signed.

“He’s obviously a very good player, there’s a lot for fans in New Jersey to be excited about. He’s a big kid, strong, skates well, and plays extremely hard,” Sinclair said of the Devils latest acquisition. “You know you’ll get everything he’s got in the tank every night. He has a lot of skill to his game, is willing to go to the dirty areas, overall he’s very intriguing and unique.”

Looking at the 2015 CHL Import Draft, the Sarnia Sting used the 24th overall pick to select Patrik Laine, a 6’3”, 200-pound winger from Finland.

“We we’re surprised he was still available when we picked. He’s also a guy with a lot of pro potential, he’s a big kid that skates well, plays hard, and one thing he can do is score goals,” Sinclair said. “When you go into the Import Draft, you want to try and go after someone who is going to have a big impact on your team, and we thought Laine was one of the top players.”

Another top player and a selection that raised some eyebrows was the Mississauga Steelheads selection of Alexander Nylander at 12th overall, the second straight season where the club attempted to bring a Nylander over. Last year, Alexander’s older brother and Toronto Maple Leafs‘ 2014 first round pick William Nylander was selected by the club, but the Leafs had other ideas and William did not report to Mississauga.

“As all elite players do, he’s a player that has options,” Mississauga Steelheads General Manager James Boyd said. “Having William close by makes this an appealing situation for him. It’s ironic that they are brothers, Alexander is a slick player too. He’s an offensive guy, his speed and smarts are at an elite level.”

The team has stuck with the philosophy of drafting the best players available, and that is a strategy that has offered mixed results. Mississauga has spent Import Draft picks on Erik Karlsson (as the St. Michael’s Majors) and Andrei Vasilevskiy, two examples of players that chose another route. Alternatively, the team did well on Kaspars Daugavins and Maxim Kitsyn, who nearly reached cult status with the club.

“If he decides to play here, it’s a home run for us,” Boyd said of the younger Nylander.

Overall, there are a number of notable selections from the 2015 CHL Import Draft. Here is a look at some of the big names with NHL ties and top players from the draft.

1. Acadie-Bathurst Titan: Vladimir Kuznetsov, LW, Avto Yekaterinburg (MHL) – 2016

2. Saskatoon Blades: Libor Hajek, D, HC Kometa Brno U20 (Czech U20) – 2016

3. Sudbury Wolves: Dmitry Sokolov, LW, Omskie Yastreby (MHL) – 2016

8. Vancouver Giants: Radovan Bondra, LW, HC Kosice (Slovakia) – CHI 5th 2015

10. Chicoutimi Sagueneens: Dmitry Zhukenov, C, Omskie Yastreby (MHL) – VAN 4th 2015

12. Mississauga Steelheads: Alexander Nylander, RW, AIK J20 (SuperElit) – 2016

15. Peterborough Petes: Jonne Tammela, D, KalPa (Liiga) – TB 4th 2015

22. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: Martins Dzierkals, LW, HK Riga (MHL) – TOR 3rd 2015

24. Sarnia Sting: Patrik Laine, RW, LeKi (Mestis) – 2016

33. Niagara IceDogs: David Kase, LW, KLH Khomutov (Czech2) – PHI 5th 2015

40. Shawinigan Cataractes: Alexander Dergachyov, C, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL) – LA 3rd 2015

44. Seattle Thunderbirds: Gustav Olhaver, C, Rogle J20 (SuperElit) – COL 7th 2015

45. London Knights: Olli Juolevi, D, Jokerit U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga) – 2016

47. Red Deer Rebels: Michael Spacek, C, HC Dynamo Pardubice (Czech) – WPG 4th 2015

51. Barrie Colts: Julius Nattinen, C, JYP-Akatemia (Mestis) – ANA 2nd 2015

54. Erie Otters: Erik Cernak, D, HC Kosice (Slovakia) – LA 2nd 2015

60. Brandon Wheat Kings: Oliver Kylington, D, Farjestad (SHL) – CGY 2nd 2015

82. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: Karlis Cukste, D, HK Riga (MHL) – SJ 5th 2015

105. London Knights: Daniel Bernhardt, LW, Djurgarden J20 (SuperElit) – NYR 4th 2015

108. North Bay Battalion: Robin Kovacs, LW, AIK (Allsvenskan) – NYR 3rd 2015

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