It was a busy morning on Wednesday for Kootenay Ice president and general manager Matt Cockell, as he participated in his first-ever CHL Import Draft.
Cockell believes both players could make a tremendous impact on the team’s lineup next season.
“We’re very pleased with the work that we put into the Import Draft [and are] very happy with both selections,” Cockell said. “We’re really excited about the trajectory of our group and [we] wanted to find some players that will complement that.
“We wanted to add some experience on defence [and] then with [the] third pick we have a player that we think will be very exciting to watch for a number of years.”
Kohler, a 2000-born player who spent last season as an underager with his hometown Biel-Bienne U20 team in the Elite Jr. A Swiss league, is a dynamic forward who put up eight goals and 42 assists in 43 games last season.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) June 28, 2017
“Switzerland [has been] developing a lot of fantastic players,” Cockell said. “We think he’ll be a really good fit with an exciting group of forwards and fit nicely on our roster.”
At the 2017 NHL Entry Draft last weekend, Nico Hischier became the first ever Swiss player to be selected first overall when he was selected by the New Jersey Devils. Hischier was taken sixth overall by the QMJHL’s Halifax Moosehead at the 2016 CHL Import Draft before putting up 86 points in 53 games and becoming a blue-chip prospect.
As for Bodak, the 1998-born defenceman is already a very experienced player. Although he was not selected at the NHL Draft, Bodak spent last season in the Jr. A Liiga in Finland with Tappara U20 where he had 22 points in 38 games.
— Kootenay ICE (@WHLKootenayICE) June 28, 2017
Bodak also played for Slovakia at the U20 World Junior Championships last year and was called-up for four games in the Liiga, the top professional hockey league in Finland, with Tappara.
“[Getting an experienced defenceman] was very important,” Cockell said. “He’s a guy that played overseas with older players, he’s played in the world juniors, [he’s] highly experience and [he] can play in all situations.”
Although the Ice no longer hold the rights to Russian defenceman Nikita Radzivilyuk, who was Kootenay’s lone Import player last season, the team still has the potential to add last year’s first overall selection Klim Kostin.
He has since been drafted by the St. Louis Blues and it has been widely reported that he wishes to play in the NHL or AHL next season, instead of junior hockey.
“It’s our right to place [Kostin] on what’s called a ‘special protect list’ so we retain his rights and for now that’s where that sits,” Cockell said, adding that they have had “some interaction” with his management.
“The [NHL] Draft was a great place to interact with a number of folks involved in the players with Klim being one of them,” Cockell said.
As for the likelihood of Kohler and Bodak reporting this fall, Cockell said that the team will begin the process immediately but have not set a timeline for them to make their decision.
“Every situation is a little bit unique, especially when you’re looking at players overseas with different teams,” he said. “Gilian’s a younger player and Martin’s a little bit older, so sometimes an older player might be playing pro and there will be other things that you have to work through.
“For now, we’re [just] really excited with what we accomplished today and we look forward to future announcements regarding both players.”
Cockell added that there is “no rush” in getting Kohler and Bodak signed.
“Our training camp starts at the end of August and we’re working on getting everything organized with the [player’s national] federation, the player [and] the agent right away.”
So proud to be a part of @WHLKootenayICE
Getting ready for a big season!
— Gilian Kohler (@giliankohler) June 28, 2017
In addition to the Import Draft, Cockell also expressed excitement about the results of the NHL Entry Draft which he attended along with co-owner Greg Fettes.
Ice captain Cale Fleury was at the event in Chicago, Illinois and was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round, 87th overall.
“You’re really excited for the players,” Cockell said of the experience. “We had a chance [to be] with Cale [and] his family and for the Cranbrook and the East Kootenay region, it’s exciting when guys that are part of your team get an opportunity at the next level.”
Cockell also said it was nice to see Brett Davis drafted by the Dallas Stars in the sixth-round and is also very excited for Vince Loschiavo to attend the Stars’ development camp as an undrafted player.
“The draft experience as a whole was fantastic and [there] were a lot of folks [there] that we [were able] to meet with,” he said. “A lot of the work we were doing at the draft was actually related to the Import Draft and I feel good about what happened today.”
Now that the WHL Bantam Draft, the NHL Entry Draft and the CHL Import Draft are complete, the Ice have a moment to breathe, even though the work will not stop.
“[There is] a lot of planning, a lot of logistics [and] we’re meeting as a group here [during] the second week of July to [start] getting everything ready for camp,” he said. “We’re putting in the work and we feel good about each checkpoint so far.”
Off the ice, this week marks the end of the Ice’s ‘Drive to 25’ reduced season seats ticket prices window.
A finale breakfast will be held at Cranbrook Dodge on Friday between 8 a.m and 11 a.m. The breakfast is presented by both Cranbrook Dodge and Tim Hortons and will feature muffins, donuts, coffee, hot chocolate and a chance to win various prizes. As of Monday, 1,396 total season tickets have been sold, surpassing last season’s total of 1,315.