Pan­demic com­pli­cates im­port draft

Two picks may not be able to get here amid global pan­demic re­stric­tions

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - TODD SAEL­HOF tsael­hof@post­media.com Twit­ter: @Toddsael­hofpm

It’s im­por­tant busi­ness.

But it’s an­other in the long list of sport­ing deeds that’s af­fected by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Will those play­ers se­lected in the 2020 CHL Im­port Draft on Wed­nes­day morn­ing ac­tu­ally be al­lowed to join their re­spec­tive ju­nior hockey clubs when — and if — the sea­son gets un­der­way?

The Cal­gary Hit­men will find out in good time.

“It’s a very im­por­tant draft — it’s just that it’s such a unique year,” said Hit­men GM Jeff Chynoweth. “But from our end, we’d like to get two play­ers that will come over.

“There’s a lot of un­cer­tainty on that. Will these play­ers be able to be re­leased (from their coun­tries)? That’s the un­known right now with COVID.”

It’s yet an­other wrin­kle in what’s al­ready a tough as­sign­ment for Cana­dian Hockey League pro­grams.

The an­nual im­port pick-em is the def­i­ni­tion of a ‘crap­shoot’ — a risky or un­cer­tain mat­ter of un­earthing tal­ent — sim­ply be­cause CHL clubs don’t have many eyes on po­ten­tial prospects over­seas.

“It’s a very tough draft be­cause, in a lot of cases, you haven’t seen the play­ers,” Chynoweth said. “We’ve got lists of play­ers from nu­mer­ous agents, and we’re fol­low­ing up from our end with our con­tacts to see what they know about these play­ers.

“This is a tough draft be­cause you rely on your con­tacts with NHL teams, word of mouth with the agents and your past re­la­tion­ships. It’s not like you’re go­ing to a ban­tam game at Max Bell (Cen­tre) tomorrow night and there’s 20 scouts there.”

Mix in the COVID-19 cri­sis this year, and it’s oh-so tricky try­ing to find play­ers with both the abil­ity and the ap­proval from their re­spec­tive coun­tries to play ju­nior hockey in North Amer­ica.

“It’s wide open,” Chynoweth agreed. “We’ll look first of all at the best avail­able play­ers. But from our end, the most im­por­tant thing is try­ing to get two play­ers — from our in­for­ma­tion — who will able to step in and play in our lineup on a nightly ba­sis.”

The Hit­men own the 36th and 96th se­lec­tions of the draft among the 60 clubs of the CHL, which in­cludes 22 Western Hockey League squads.

The Cal­gary crew will likely move up in the ac­tual order, how­ever, given that some teams al­ready have two im­ports and will take a pass at their draft po­si­tions.

CHL teams are al­lowed a max­i­mum of two im­port play­ers, and the Hit­men have a pair of va­can­cies on their ros­ter.

Star de­fence­man Egor Za­mula is signed with the NHL’S Philadel­phia Fly­ers. If for some rea­son, he were to re­turn to the Hit­men, he would take up spots on both the club’s im­port ros­ter and over­age list.

The Hit­men’s other im­port from the 2019-20 sea­son, Jonas Peterek, was sent to Kam­loops Blaz­ers at WHL trade dead­line for a fifthround se­lec­tion in the 2021 WHL Ban­tam Draft. He was plucked with the first-round (37th over­all) pick last sum­mer.

Other pre­vi­ous suc­cesses brought to Cal­gary by the Hit­men through the an­nual draft in­clude Vladislav Yery­omenko (46th, 2016), Radel Fa­zleev (52nd, 2013), Pavel Padakin (51st, 2012), Vic­tor Rask (3rd, 2011), Pavel Brendl (34th, 1998) and Bo­rys Prot­senko (1st, 1995). They’re hop­ing they can add that list with a cou­ple of 2003-, 2002- and 2001-born play­ers se­lected in this draft.

“We’re go­ing to make two se­lec­tions,” Chynoweth added. “We’d like to pick a for­ward and a de­fence­man — that’s our pri­or­ity go­ing into the draft.”

The On­tario Hockey League’s North Bay Bat­tal­ion have the first over­all pick in the draft, which gets un­der­way at 9 a.m.

The se­lec­tion order of the draft ro­tates through the WHL, OHL and the Que­bec Ma­jor Hockey League — the three teams com­pris­ing the CHL — us­ing an in­verse order of the fi­nal reg­u­lar-sea­son stand­ings from the 2019-20 sea­son.

JIM WELLS/FILES

Cal­gary Hit­men gen­eral man­ager Jeff Chynoweth says he’s hop­ing to land a for­ward and a de­fence­man when the im­port draft is held on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

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