Monday, June 28, 2010

Import draft — Game of bluffing or crap shoot?

Daily News Sports Editor
The CHL import draft, one of the most bizarre events associated with major junior hockey, is on tap today.
Each of the CHL’s 60 teams is permitted to have two European players on its roster. Those teams will fill out their quotas today, with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars getting things started at 6 a.m.
Most, if not all, CHL general managers will have spent at least part of last weekend in Los Angeles at the NHL draft. While there, they will have chatted up NHL team officials and various player agents in the hopes of landing a blue-chip player in today’s draft.
And make no mistake — this is a draft that is pretty much controlled by agents who oftentimes dictate which players will play where.
“It really has become a game of bluffing,” Steve Spott, the GM and head coach of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, told Jeff Hicks of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. “Trying to figure out who’s going to do what and who’s going to be left.”
Craig Bonner, the general manager of the Kamloops Blazers, was in and around the Staples Center on the weekend and, as he says, has done “quite a bit” of homework in preparation for today’s proceedings.
Bonner, with Slovakian centre Dalibor Bortnak returning to his roster, will make one selection today. He holds the 22nd pick.
When Bonner returned from Los Angeles, he said he had a list with “60 to 65” names on it. He and Matt Recchi, the Blazers’ director of player personnel, spent some of Monday talking with more NHL people, chasing agents and paring that list.
“It’s a matter,” Bonner said, “of talking to NHL people and trying to figure out different things. It’s an interesting process.”
What has made it more interesting this time around, Bonner said, has been the arrival on the scene of more agents.
“I don’t know if it’s a different year but there sure seem to be a lot of different agents coming forward these days,” he said.
Bonner expects those agents to be interested in getting more European players into the CHL because the weekend draft “was in a lot of ways dominated by the CHL . . . not a lot of Europeans went.”
Therefore, Bonner reasoned, “some of these agents will start encouraging their clients to come to the CHL because it seems to be, as far as the draft goes, opportunity-wise . . . a lot of guys feel it’s the way to go.”
Of the 210 players selected by NHL teams on the weekend, 107 (51 per cent) were from CHL teams.
A report released by the IIHF earlier this month showed that the number of European players in the NHL has decreased steadily since the lockout (2004-05).
Still, the import draft is, as Bonner put it, “a crap shoot.”
Hicks has reported that a year ago the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, with the third overall selection, had their eye on Swiss forward Nino Niederreiter. At the same time, Spott’s Rangers, in the six spot, planned on taking Swedish winger Gabriel Landeskog.
However, the Portland Winterhawks, picking second, threw a wrench into everything by taking Niederreiter.
The Whalers followed by grabbing Landeskog and the Rangers ended up coughing up two second-round draft picks in order to acquire him.
The Blazers, meanwhile, took Slovakian winger Matej Bene with the 29th pick. He put up 14 points, including five goals, in 45 games but was a healthy scratch far too often and was released following the season.
Dalibor Bortnak, Kamloops’ other Slovakian forward, will return for a third WHL season.
JUST NOTES: The Edmonton Oil Kings have traded Danish F Sebastian Svendsen, 19, and a 2011 third-round bantam draft pick to the Prince Albert Raiders for F Jordan Hickmott, 20. This will allow the Oil Kings to make two picks in the import draft, at Nos. 4 and 19. . . . The Raiders also have F Igor Revenko, 20, on their roster. Revenko, form Belarus, had 55 points, including 27 goals, in 62 games last season. But, as a 20-year-old import, he would be a two-spotter. . . . While the WHL’s Western Conference teams won’t hold their scheduling meeting until next month, the teams have scheduled their home-openers. The Blazers’ will occur Sept. 24 when the Prince George Cougars are at the Interior Savings Centre.


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