Two Canucks prospects selected in CHL Import Draft

By Matt MacInnis

The CHL held its annual Import Draft on Wednesday, June 29 via teleconference and Internet. The Ottawa 67’s held the first pick due to a deal with the Oshawa Generals and selected 2005-eligible Czech defenseman Jakub Vojta. With the second overall selection, one of the QMJHL’s expansion franchises, the St. John’s Fog Devils swung for the fences by choosing highly-touted Swede Nicklas Bergfors out of Sodertalje. Bergfors is considered a mid first-round pick in the upcoming 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Petr Kalus, a Czech forward, was made the third pick by the WHL’s Regina Pats. However, it was the 33rd and 58th overall selections that were particularly relevant to the Vancouver Canucks. At 33rd, the Portland Winter Hawks chose the Canucks ninth round pick from 2004, Danish forward Jannik Hansen. At 58th, the Kelowna Rockets chose another 2004 Canucks selection, Alexander Edler.

When the Canucks made a trade to acquire the third round pick in 2004 that they eventually used to choose Edler, some were confused at why the organization would make a trade to acquire a prospect very few had even heard of. In the days following the draft, the public learned that the now 6’4, 200 lb defender had spent the season in the little scouted region of Northern Sweden, but came with high recommendations from Canucks European Thomas Gradin, the same scout who gained the favor of Vancouver fans with the selection of Mattias Ohlund.

The mysterious Swede spent the 2004-05 season with MoDo’s J20 team this past year and demonstrated his impressive offensive skill set. In 33 games, Edler scored eight goals and had 15 assists for a total of 23 points. However, concerns about his defensive play kept him off the Swedish national junior teams. After being selected by the Kelowna Rockets, a perennial defensive powerhouse of the WHL, Edler will have ample opportunity to refine his play in his own zone.

Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton spoke to Hockey’s Future the day after the Import Draft about Edler. Hamilton confirmed that the team has an understanding with Edler and fully expect him to report to the team when training camp opens. Hamilton also acknowledged that there had been communications between the Rockets and the Canucks about the Swedish prospect.

“Well, they wanted us to have him,” commented Hamilton. “I certainly talked to Dave Nonis about him.” Hamilton admitted that the nobody from the Rockets have seen him play in person, but says he has a tremendous amount of respect for Scout Thomas Gradin, and is confident in his assessment of Edler. He has also been in communication with several other scouts he has a lot of respect for regarding Edler’s ability.

When asked why he felt the Canucks asked his team in particular to take Edler in, Hamilton said he believed his team has done a good job developing defenseman, citing the examples of Thomas Slovak (COL), Shea Weber (NSH), and current NHLer Scott Hannan. The Rockets are also a team that provides a situation of stability, Hamilton also said, adding that it’s always important for teams to get their high European picks to North America as soon as possible.

“It saves them a year at the AHL level,” explained Hamilton, “by getting him used to how the game is played over here now as a junior than when he’s playing professionally.” Kelowna is definitely a good fit for Edler, who will spend his 19-year-old season with a team who sells out the majority of their home games, and will play in an environment where winning is an expectation.

Hamilton said it’s too early to properly forecast Edler’s place on the team. Although he comes with good credentials, a good word from scouts won’t assure him special treatment. “He’s got to make the team as far as I’m concerned.”

Hamilton elaborated that the team hopes, and believes, “he’s ready for a top four role, but if he ends up as a fifth or sixth defenseman, it doesn’t make much sense.” When asked if he thinks that the Rockets’ defensive focus will impede Edler’s play, Hamilton that he didn’t expect it would.

“What he brings is what he want,” adding, “we’re not going to take him and smother him.”

Hamilton pointed out that the Rockets have activated their defense and allowed them to be offensive in the past, citing Weber’s nine goals in 18 WHL playoff games as an example. Even with the team expected to lose its best and most physical defender in Weber, Hamilton insists Edler’s large frame is not a big deal to the organization, and that speed is more of an issue for the organization than size. “If you can’t skate, you’re in trouble, because we like to move the puck.”

During the 2004-05 season, the Rockets had two European players on their roster with wingers Lauris Darzins (NSH) and Michael Blanar. At the Import Draft, the Rockets made two selections, Edler, and Austrian forward Thomas Raffl (2005 eligible). According to Hamilton, the team has released Blanar, and is uncertain if Darzins will be available to them, depending on if the Predators want him to play professional hockey in 2005-06. If Darzins does return to the Rockets, the team expects him and Raffl to compete for one spot at forward.

“If he can play, there is a spot for him,” Hamilton says of Edler, indicating the team plans for him to be on their roster as it is unlikely the highly touted Swede will not be able to crack the Rockets’ top two pairings. The team expects to lose just four players, said Hamilton, and although key players such as Weber and Tyler Mosienko are among those who will not return, many expect the Rockets to be one of the teams to beat in the WHL next season.

Jannik Hansen’s selection in the ninth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft sparked little interest. In addition to being one of the last players taken in the draft, Hansen comes from the Danish hockey program, certainly not a leader in player production. However, the 6’0, 176 lbs Dane had a strong season while playing with Rodovre, scoring 17 goals and 17 assists in 32 games, just over a point-per-game average. The production was certainly a good sign for the slightly built forward, who many believe fell so far in the draft because of his thin frame. After his successful season in his home league, Hansen was made the 33rd overall pick in the CHL Import Draft by the Portland Winter Hawks.

There had been some rumblings coming out of Europe that Hansen was considering making the jump to North America, which most agree would be good for his development as he would have a chance to play in a more physical league. According to a press release issued by the Winter Hawks, General Manager Ken Hodge says he has been told by both Hansen’s agent and the Vancouver Canucks that Hansen will report to the Winter Hawks, although he is cautious that something could change over the course of the summer.

In the past the Winter Hawks have selected players from the Czech Republic or Slovakia, but Hodge says that Hansen’s proficiency in English should give him an advantage over some of the previous import players they have recently had in Portland. Hodge explains that the opportunity to add a mature player with offensive skills is a chance the team felt obligated to take.

“But, if we had a chance to add some maturity and some offense to our lineup, we wanted to pursue that. Jannik is supposed to be a player with good speed, a bit of a proficiency to finish scoring chances, and reports indicate he sees the ice well. We are hoping he will compliment our returning forwards.”

Interestingly, Hansen might make WHL history by becoming the first Danish player to ever play in the league if he ends up suiting up for the ‘Hawks. The previous season the team had only one Import, Martin Bucek, who was released following the end of the season. With the 64th pick in the Draft, the ‘Hawks also selected Czech forward Stanislav Balan (NSH).

It appears that the Canucks management played some role in finding CHL teams to take on Edler and Hansen in the Import Draft. The moves get two of their 2004 European selections into North America which is expected to help both players develop a game that is more suitable for the NHL style of player. The situation Kelowna should be an excellent fit for Edler who will be forced to improve his defensive play and increase his physicality in order to earn substantial ice time with the team expected to contend for the league title.

Hansen joins a Winter Hawks team that he should be able to help offensively and should get an opportunity to play on one of the top two lines if he is able to adjust to the WHL style of play. Either way, if the players do end up in the WHL as expected for the 2005-06 season, it will be seen as a step forward for both players.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.