For the second time this off-season, the Kootenay Ice will pick first overall in an annual restocking of the cupboards.
After making Peyton Krebs the top choice at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, Jeff Chynoweth will look to land a high-end talent from overseas when his Kootenay Ice select first overall at the 2016 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft Tuesday morning.
“It’s way more complicated when you’re selecting first overall,” said Chynoweth, president and general manager of the Kootenay Ice, Wednesday afternoon. “It is a complex draft — a lot of variables come into it. A lot of times you haven’t seen the players, so you’re going mainly on the agent’s opinion of that player.
“Too many times you end up with an average hockey player. When you’re selecting first overall, you’d like to get an impact player and you should. In a normal draft, you would get an impact player. There’s no guarantees in the CHL Import Draft that that will happen.”
In addition to the first-overall selection, the Ice will also pick atop the second round — 61st overall.
Scouting opportunities for the bantam draft, while not a walk in the park, are relatively accessible with players scattered throughout western Canada, the western United States and a multitude of regional showcases and tournaments throughout the season.
Scouting opportunities for the import draft, for most CHL clubs, are few and far between at best. This leaves many CHL GMs to rely on other contacts and player agents for information ahead of the international proceedings.
The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (Dawson Creek; November 2015) and World Junior A Challenge (Whitby and Cobourg, Ont.; December 2015) provided two of the best spreads for Chynoweth and his staff to get eyes on potential international talent well in advance of the 2016 CHL Import Draft.
The IIHF World Junior Championship (Helsinki, Finland; January) and IIHF Under-18 World Championship (Grand Forks, N.D.; April) also provided insight, but not quite as close to home.
While those international tournaments provide exciting hockey and an opportunity for North American scouts and managers to take in talent from overseas, it still isn’t enough to fully determine a path to success at the CHL Import Draft.
A heavy influence on the CHL Import Draft is the NHL Entry Draft, which is slated to begin Friday and run through Saturday. International players selected by NHL clubs are often encouraged to come to North America and ply their trade in Canadian major junior leagues as preparation for jumping into the professional ranks.
That being said, NHL clubs have also been known to influence and dictate where they want their assets playing within the CHL.
A total of 15 players selected at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft went on to be chosen at the 2015 CHL Import Draft. Most familiar to fans in Cranbrook is centre Michael Spacek, who was tabbed by the Red Deer Rebels with the 47th-overall pick, after being chosen in the fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets.
On top of that, 33 players eligible for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft were chosen at the 2015 CHL Import Draft, including highly-touted Mississauga Steelheads forward Alexander Nylander (12th overall) and London Knights defenceman Olli Juolevi (45th overall). Both had outstanding seasons with their respective Ontario Hockey League clubs and are projected to go in the first round of the upcoming NHL draft.
“Ideally, we’d like to get a highly-skilled forward with the first-overall pick,” Chynoweth said. “We didn’t score a lot of goals last year, so you’d like to get an impact player up front who can score some goals. But at the same time, we need a defenceman who can improve our defense. As young as we were last year, we gave up the most goals in the Western Hockey League.
“We’re leaning towards a forward [with the first-overall selection], but at the same time, there are some defencemen that might be available that we’re also looking at… depending what happens this week at the NHL draft.”
In 2015, the Ice selected forward Roman Dymacek with the 35th pick before taking a relatively known commodity in defenceman Mario Grman (95th), who had previously suited up for the Rebels before being released and re-entering the import draft.
Dymacek, a native of Hodonin, Czech Republic, showed flashes during his rookie season in North America, but it ultimately didn’t work out as he amassed a mere four goals and 10 points in 55 games, leading to his release by the Ice in May.
Grman, a native of Topolcany, Slovakia, was occasionally one of the grittier players to take to the ice, though not consistently enough to stick around. He posted seven assists in 68 games and was released by the Ice at the same time as Dymacek.
Over the years, the Ice have seen a range of success at the import draft, the most recent being defenceman Rinat Valiev (2013, 25th) who went on to be drafted by the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs (2014, third round — 67th).
As the Kootenay Ice rebuild continues heading into the 2016-17 WHL campaign, acquiring a pair of high-calibre international skaters could go a long way to getting things turned in the right direction.
The CHL Import Draft provides an opportunity for each of the CHL’s 60 members clubs from across the WHL, OHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to select up to two players from outside North America. CHL clubs are only permitted to carry a maximum of two import skaters.
A progressive ban on import goaltenders was imposed by the CHL beginning in 2013 as teams were only permitted to select netminders during the first round of the CHL Import Draft. Import goaltenders already existing in the CHL were permitted to finish out their careers, while the 2014 CHL Import Draft saw an outright ban on the selection of import keepers.
Former Medicine Hat Tigers goaltender Marek Langhamer was the last import goaltender to play a CHL game, aging out of his WHL eligibility at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season.
The 2016 CHL Import Draft will take place via conference call beginning at 9 a.m. (Mountain) Tuesday morning.