The Canadian Hockey League held its annual Import Draft on Thursday morning, with the Kootenay Ice using the 11th overall pick to select Valtteri Kakkonen of Finland.
The 6’0 defenceman spent the 2017-18 season with JYP U20 of Jr. A SM-liiga, with the 2000-born player putting up five goals and seven assists in 47 games. Kakkonen has previously represented Finland at International competitions in 2016-17 at the U17 level and 2015-16 at the U-16 level. He was born in Jyväskylä, Finland.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) June 28, 2018
The Ice elected to use just one of their two available 2018 selections of European talent, with Swiss forward Gilian Kohler (selected 3rd overall in 2017) expected to return to the team next season. While 20-year-old defenceman Martin Bodak is also still with the team, he is still weighing his options to play professionally next year.
“Valtteri is a player who skates well, makes plays and competes hard,” said Ice general manager and president Matt Cockell following the draft. “He adds [a lot] to our blueline and moves the puck up the ice quickly, which is what we want our team to be about. We’re excited for the opportunity to work with him and integrate him into the WHL and the smaller rinks in North America.”
Cockell said that the organization is especially eager for the opportunity to have a player who will available to play the next two season with them and added that while there could still be an opportunity for Bodak to return, they are moving on as if he will be playing professionally elsewhere at this time.
“It is our [job], for all our players, to support them in moving on to [bigger and better things],” Cockell explained. “We are happy to have a player in [Valtteri] who is excited to come over to North America and [we believe] that what Martin did here makes players want to come over and have the success that he did [for themselves].”
According to the GM, the Finnish defenceman is actually quite a similar player to Bodak, who despite being from Slovakia moved from the Finnish league to play in Cranbrook last year. Bodak is currently at the summer development camp of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.
The team’s top priority, however, in selecting Kakkonen is that they truly believe that he is excited to play in Cranbrook and will be a great addition on and off the ice, as well as in the community.
“First and foremost, we want to bring in great people to our organization,” Cockell said of Kakkonen’s character. “It’s a two-way street, it has to be a good fit for the player and the team.”
The top player selected in this year’s Import Draft was Slovak forward Maxim Cajkovic of Slovakia by the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs. The Edmonton Oil Kings made the WHL’s first pick at second overall by taking left winger Vladimir Alistrov of Belarus. The OHL’s first selection was goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen of Finland, taking advantage of the CHL reallowing the selection of goalies for the first time since 2013.