The Kootenay Ice will feature some European flavour on the roster this year, after making two selections in the CHL Import Draft on Wednesday.
With the first pick, the club welcomed defenceman Rinat Valiev into the fold, making it the first time in franchise history that a Russian is a part of the team. The Ice swung for the fences with their second selection, picking Artturi Lehkonen out of Finland.
Ice GM Jeff Chynoweth’s biggest need was beefing up the defensive corps, which he addressed with the selection of Valiev at 25th overall. Though Valiev is of Russian descent, he spent last season in the USHL with the Indiana Ice, appearing in 15 games.
He suffered an injury that kept him out of the U18 World Championships, where he would’ve played for his home country, and was ranked 142nd overall in the final NHL Central Scouting rankings before the 2013 NHL Draft.
Listed as a 6’1” 190-pound blueliner, Chynoweth said he wants Valiev to slide right into the back end and take on big minutes and responsibilities.
“All reports are is he is a good skating defenceman that can play anywhere in the lineup from one through six on the back end,” said Chynoweth, “and from our end, going into this, we needed somebody who could play immediately. We don’t have time to develop. We need someone who can play big minutes for us sooner, rather than later.”
An added bonus is his language skills and familiarity with North American culture, as he’s able to speak fluent English based on his experience in the USHL while living in Indiana.
When the second round of the import draft came around, Chynoweth decided to go big or go home with the 85th overall pick in Lehkonen.
Lehkonen, a Finnish forward, was picked up in the second round of the NHL Draft last Sunday by the Montreal Canadiens, and is currently playing professional hockey in his home country.
A few forwards that Chynoweth had on his list were scooped up right before his second round pick, and he decided to take a chance on Lehkonen, who’s fate is in control by the Canadiens.
“It’s a huge longshot,” said Chynoweth. “We’re swinging for the fence and hoping and praying that maybe Montreal signs him and brings him over here and feels that major-junior is best for his development.”
Lehkonen is billed as a speedy and skilled forward who had 30 points in 45 games with KalPa in the Finnish Elite League, where he is a 17-year-old playing among men.
The Vancouver Giants had the first overall selection, using it to take defenceman Dmitry Osipov, out of Russia.
NOTES: The CHL Import Draft allowed goaltenders to be picked in the first round this year. Euro goalies are banned from now on.