Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers, with the ‘Vacancy’ sign up on their back end, selected Swiss defenceman Edson Harlacher with the 51st selection of the CHL import draft on Wednesday.
Harlacher turned 17 on Jan. 22 and goes by Edi. He played last season with the U20 Kloten Flyers of the Swiss Elite Junior A League.
In fact, he has played in the Kloten program since 2009-10 when he was on the U15 team.
Last season, Harlacher had six points and 22 penalty minutes in 34 games with the Flyers, and six points, four of them goals, in six games with Kloten’s U17 team. He also played eight games with the U17 national team, recording one assist.
As a 17-year-old on the U18 national team, he was pointless in five games at the world championship. In six other games with that team, he had one goal.
The CHL import draft page shows Harlacher as being 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, while the Elite Hockey Prospects website has him at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds.
The Blazers used only one of their two import draft picks because they anticipate having left-winger Tim Bozon back for a third season. Bozon also is from Switzerland although he played for France in the 2013 IIHF world championship. He was selected by Montreal in the third round of the NHL’s 2012 draft and has signed with the Canadiens. But, as a 19-year-old, Bozon has to play in Montreal or Kamloops.
Major junior teams are allowed to have two European players on their rosters.
Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak said the team’s European contacts have said that Harlacher “is definitely a prospect.”
“He’s a bigger body,” Hunchak added. “Apparently, he skates pretty well.
“Whether he can play in our top four right away . . . that’s the hope. There will be lots of opportunities for a lot of guys . . . we’ll have to wait and see.”
The Kamloops depth chart contains six defenders who have played at this level, headed up by veterans Sam Grist, 20, and Landon Cross, 19. Also included are Jordan Thomson, 17, Ryan Rehill, who turns 18 on Nov. 7, Connor Clouston, 17, and Josh Connolly, 18.
Clouston played only four WHL games last season as he spent most of the season with a midget AAA team in Medicine Hat.
Hunchak said that Connolly, who played a lot of his freshman season as a forward, will be back on defence when training camp opens on Aug. 22.
No matter what happens, though, the Blazers will be young on the back end.
“We were older last season,” Hunchak stated. “At some point, you have to start playing these young guys.”
Grist, who was acquired early last season from the Tri-City Americans, is in the 20-year-old mix, along with forwards JC Lipon and Colin Smith, and goaltender Cole Cheveldave.
Lipon, who will turn 20 on Wednesday, was selected by the Winnipeg Jets in Sunday’s NHL draft, while Smith was taken by the Colorado Avalanche in last year’s draft. Neither has signed an NHL contract.
“A lot of it is going to depend on what Winnipeg and Colorado want to do with their guys,” Hunchak said of his club’s 20-year-old plans. “We’re left at the mercy of what the NHL teams want to do.”
Each WHL team is allowed to carry a maximum of three 20-year-old players.
The Blazers’ 2013 preseason roster that is available on the WHL website doesn’t include F Aspen Sterzer or G Taran Kozun.
Sterzer, who is to turn 19 on Sept. 9, played in only 31 games last season. He didn’t play again after suffering a concussion on Dec. 29.
Kozun, who will be 19 on Aug. 29, got into 20 games (11-4-3, 2.36, .914) while backing up Cheveldave.
Hunchak said the omissions of both players is “a mistake . . . that’s all that is” and that both are expected at training camp.
Of course, that same website continues to show Guy Charron as the Blazers’ head coach.
The Blazers have yet to sign an assistant coach, but Hunchak admitted that “we’re close. We’re real close on things.”
Close enough that there may be an announcement this week.
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