The CHL Import Draft has been instrumental in helping put WHL teams on the path to the Ed Chynoweth Cup, but also influential on NHL teams selecting foreign talent as players adapt to the North American game. With that, we will look at each of the selections made by WHL clubs at the 2018 CHL Import Draft.
Edmonton Oil Kings: Vladimir Alistrov, Right Wing, Belarus
Alistrov split last season between the U17 and U18 teams in the Belarus2 league. He posted a combing 70 points (31G-39A) in 50 games. The 6-foot-2, 168-pound winger also competed for Belarus at the U18 World Junior Championship where he posted three goals and four assists for seven points in five games.
Prince George Cougars: Matej Toman, Left Wing, Czech Republic
Toman split last season between the Czech U18, Czech U20, and Czech2 leagues. With the U18 he posted 15 points (3G-12A) in 11 games. In the U20 league he scored 14 points (8G-6A) in 25 games and recorded two goals and one assist in 15 games with the men’s team. He added three goals in six games and the U17 World Hockey Championship. Cougars General Manager Mark Lamb said “he’s a really skilled player with a lot of upside. He’ll fit right in with our young nucleus in Prince George.”
Kootenay ICE: Valtteri Kakkonen, Defence, Finland
The 6-foot-0, 168-pound defenceman played for JYP U20 of the Jr. A SM-liiga last year where he notched 12 points (5G-7A) in 47 games. According to Kootenay ICE General Manager Matt Cockell, “[Valtteri] is really excited about our team, he’s excited about our group. In Valtteri, we’re excited about the skillset and look forward to welcoming [him]to our organization and the community.”
Kamloops Blazers: Martin Lang, Left Wing, Czech Rupublic
Lang scored 59 points (37G-22A) last season with HC Plzen U18 in the U18 Czech league. He added 13 points (8G-5A) in 8 playoffs appearances. He appeared in 25 matches representing his country at a U17 level, posting 21 points (10G-11A). Blazers General Manager Matt Bardsley praised the shifty forward, stating “I was excited to get Martin (Lang) where we got him. I saw him play last year at the U17’s and thought he was real good. Shifty on the rush, can really shoot the puck with a goal scorer’s touch. He’s going to fit the mold of how we want to play.”
Red Deer Rebels: Oleg Zaitsev, Center, Russia
Zaitsev was promoted twice last season, moving from his U17 squad through the U18 league to the men’s team in the MHL. In the men’s league he recorded 27 points (8G-19A) in 48 games. “He’s a top end player in his age group. Big centreman who moves well. Smart, really thinks the game well,” said Rebels Assistant General Manager Shaun Sutter. “[He] really anticipates the play well with and without the puck. He’s not only a good offensive player but a good penalty killer. Can score and make plays. He’ll be coveted for the upcoming NHL Draft.”
*Quotes used with permission of Byron Hackett/Red Deer Advocate
Lethbridge Hurricanes: Akira Schmid, Goaltender, Switzerland
The first goaltender taken by a WHL club since the rule reversal, allowing goaltenders back into the selection pool was Akira Schmid. Schmid played in the Elite Jr. A league in Switzerland last season, where he posted a 2.60 GAA in 32 games. He won the award for posting the most shutouts in his league. Schmid was also selected in the sixth-round of the NHL Entry Draft this year. “Schmid is a 2000-born goaltender and we didn’t have one in our system, so we were happy to get him and think he fits perfectly into our depth chart,” said Hurricanes General Manager Peter Anholt.
Saskatoon Blades: Emil Malysjev, Defence, Sweden
Malysjev moved from the J18 Elit league to the SuperElit league last season after posting seven points (2G-5A) in 15 games. After joining the SuperElit league he recorded four assists in 29 games. “Emil is a big, mobile defender who played on a championship team with HV71 in the top Swedish junior league last season,” said Blades General Manager Colin Priestner. “We spoke to several NHL teams about him and they all felt he was an excellent prospect for the 2019 NHL draft. He’s a got a great first pass and is a strong, responsible defender.”
Prince Albert Raiders: Aliaksei Protas, Right Wing, Belarus
The 6-foot-3, 178-pound forward played for Team Belarus U17 of the Belarus2 league last season. He posted 20 points (9G-11A) in 49 games and added four points (1G-3A) in three playoff games. “Aliaksei is a versatile player who can play on the wing or at center,” Raiders General Manager Curtis Hunt said. “He fills a couple of needs for us. He can come in and play center and provides size up front.”
Seattle Thunderbirds: Andrej Kukuca, Right Wing, Slovakia
Kukuca had an excellent season in the Slovakia U20 league last year, posting 41 goals and 67 points in 42 games to pace the league in goals. He was defensively responsible as well posting a plus +/- 25. The winger was electric in the playoffs scoring 18 goals and recording 28 points in 18 games to help his team to the Championship.
Medicine Hat Tigers: Mads Sogaard, Goaltender, Denmark
Sogaard as a large goalie, standing at 6-foot-6, 181-pounds. He is used to North America, playing with the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League last season. in 22 games he posted a 2.64 GAA and a .909 SVS%.
“We are excited to add two highly skilled players in Mads and Vasily to the Tigers family,” said Tigers General Manager and Head Coach Shaun Clouston.
Victoria Royals: Phillip Schultz, Center, Denmark
Schultz started last season in the Denmark2 league where he scored 17 points (9G-8A) in 10 games. He was promoted to Denmark’s top league and recorded 12 points (5G-7A) in 40 games. “We are excited that we were able to select Phillip Schultz this morning,” President and General Manager Cameron Hope said. “He is a skilled offensive player who plays a determined game that includes a physical dimension. He has represented his country on the world stage and comes to us from playing professional hockey against men twice his age.”
Tri-City Americans: Krystof Hrabik, Center, Czech Republic
Hrabik stands at 6-foot-4, 210-pounds. Playing mostly in the Czech2 league last season, he recorded 15 points (5G-10A) in 32 games. He competed for his country at the U19 and U20 level recording seven points (4G-3A) in seven games in the former. “We are excited to add Krystof to our hockey club. He is a big power forward with good offensive touch,” stated Americans GM Bob Tory. “He also brings extensive experience playing both in the Ivan Hlinka and World Junior Championships with the Czech Republic. A teammate of former Americans defensemen Michal Plutnar, Krystof comes highly recommended.”
Brandon Wheat Kings: Erik Brannstrom, Defence, Sweden
Brannstrom is a first-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights. The 5-foot-10, 183-pound defenceman had a good season in the Swedish Hockey League, where he posted 15 points (2G-13A) in 44 games. He competed will for his country at the U20 IIHF World Junior Championship as well, recording four points (1G-3A) in seven matches. “Erik is a highly skilled world caliber junior player,” says Brandon General Manager Grant Armstrong. “He’s an excellent skater, has impressive offensive instincts and hockey sense. If he comes to Brandon he could be a difference maker in our lineup.”
Regina Pats: Sergei Alkhimov, Forward, Russia
Alkhimov is no stranger to North America, playing last season with the Colorado Evolution U16 team. There he posted 23 points (8G-15A) in 13 games. While competing for his country, he recorded two assists in five games. His previous year in Russia was impressive as well, recording 20 points in 25 games at U16, two points in two games at U17 and three points in two games at U18.
Spokane Chiefs: Yegor Arbuzov, Defence, Russia
Arbuzov spent most of last season with CSKA Moskva U17 where he posted 13 points (8G-5A) in 22 games. The 6-foot-0, 187-pound defenceman also recorded one assist in seven international matches.
Kelowna Rockets: Lassi Thomson, Defence, Finland
Thompson split last season between Ilves U18 and U20 team. He recorded seven points (4G-3A) in six matches with the U18’s before being called up to the U20’s where he scored 27 points (12G-15A) in 49 games. Competing for Finland across all U18 tournaments he attained 10 points (3G-7A) in 20 games. “We needed to get a defenceman. All of the reports of Lassi are that he’s a good, young player,” said Rockets General Manager Bruce Hamilton. “It may take him a while to adjust, but we needed to add another defenceman, and we feel he will be a good fit here.”
Portland Winterhawks: Dean Schwenninger, Center, Switzerland
Schwenninger captained his U17 squad in the Elite Novizen league last year where he scored 37 points (13G-24A) in 19 games before being called up to play for the U20 team. Once there he posted 8 points (5G-3A) in 20 games. Internationally he recorded nine points (5G-4A) in 15 games.
Everett Silvertips: Peter Melcher, Right Wing, Slovakia
Melcher played for both the U18 and U20 teams with his club recording 27 points (17G-10A) in 15 games and five points (3G-2A) in 12 games respectively. He played for both in the playoffs scoring nine points (4G-5A) in three games and 12 points (5G-7A) in 17 games respectively. He is described by Everett General Manager Garry Davidson that he is skilled and has lots of potential. He is also compared to last years import pick, Fasko-Rudas, who Melcher considers a really good friend.
Swift Current Broncos: Joona Kiviniemi, Left Wing, Finland
Kiviniemi was loaned to his U20 team after scoring one goal and two assists in 12 games with the U18’s. While he only played one game with the U20’s he scored two goals in his appearance.
Moose Jaw Warriors: Daniil Stepanov, Left Wing, Belarus
Stepanov is the third Belarusian player selected by a WHL club in the first round. He spent most of his season last year with Team Belarus U18 where he dished out 17 assists and 20 points in 31 games.
Kamloops Blazers: Joonas Sillanpaa, Defence, Finland
Sillanpaa, at just 17 years old, is already 6-foot-5, 181-pounds, making him a difficult defender to play against. He spent most of last season with HIFK U18 where he recrded seven points (2G-5A) in 33 games and helped his team win the league championship.“Joonas is a big rangy defenseman who can contribute in all areas of the ice. He displays good offensive instincts along with good mobility while showing a willingness to engage physically,” said Kamloops general manager Matt Bardsley.
Red Deer Rebels: Ivan Drozdov, Right Wing, Belarus
Drozdov spent last season with team Belarus U18 and Yunost Minsk of the Belarus league where he posted a combines 14 points (7G-7A) in 26 games. Competing for Belarus on the international scale he added three points (2G-1A) in six games. At the Belarus Development Cup he scored six goals and added five assist for 11 points in 11 games. “He’s not the tallest or biggest guy, but he’s a gritty guy that plays with a lot of energy and tenacity. Has some skill and can shoot. Pretty good player,” Rebels Assistant General Manager Sutter said. “It gives us some coverage on Alex because you never know when you get NHL players picked, when they could come back or will they come back.”
*Quotes used with permission of Byron Hackett/Red Deer Advocate
Lethbridge Hurricanes: Danila Palivko, Defence, Belarus
The 6-foot-4, 175-pound defenceman is the fifth Belarusian taken by a WHL club. last season he scored 26 points (6G-20A) in 40 games for Team Belarus U17 and added six assists in 12 games for Team Belarus U18.
Saskatoon Blades: Kristian Roykas Marthinsen, Left Wing, Norway
Marthinsen is a seventh-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals. The Norwegian has been playing in Sweden where hw put up 31 points (23G-8A) in 23 games in the J20 Elit league. While competing for Norway in 2016-17 he scored eight points (5G-3A) in five games. “Kristian is a bit under the radar because he’s a Norwegian playing in Sweden, but he was drafted by Washington last year and speaking with their management they feel he is a great candidate to come to the CHL to continue his development,” explained Blades General Manager Colin Priestner. “He is very quick, has an excellent shot, and he led his league in goal scoring this past season.”
Seattle Thunderbirds: Simon Kubicek, Defence, Czech Republic
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound defenceman spent last season in the Czech U18 league where he posted 19 points (9G-10A) in 29 games. he added eight points (2G-6A) in seven playoff games, helping his team win the league championship.
Medicine Hat Tigers: Vasily Podkolzin, Left Wing, Russia
Podkolzin played last season in the Russia U17 league with Vityaz Podolsk where he recorded 30 points (13G-17A) in 21 games. He competed for his country on many occasions, scoring 19 points (9G-10A) across all competitions.
Brandon Wheat Kings: Jiri Patera, Goaltender, Czech Republic
Patera is a sixth round selection of the Vegas Golden Knights who is currently playing in the United Stated Hockey League with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Last season he played 34 games posting a 3.24 GAA and a .901 SVS%. “Jiri is a young goaltender working to mature his game,” says Armstrong. “We have two legitimate number one netminders and that is a position that you can never have enough.”
Regina Pats: Nikita Sedov, Defence, Russia
Sedov has played in North America for two years now, both with the Colorado Evolution club. Last year with the U16 team he recorded 11 points (3G-8A) in 11 games.
Portland Winterhawks: Michal Kvasnica, Right Wing, Czech Republic
Kvasnica played most of last season in the Czech2 league where he scored 16 points (6G-10A) in 45 games. He competed with Czech Republic in 23 matches, scoring five goals and adding four assists for nine points.
Swift Current Broncos: Roope Pynnonen, Defence, Finland
Pynnonen recorded two assists last season playing across three U18 teams in 20 total matches. “We are very excited to add these two quality young players to our organization.” said Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Dean Brockman. “They are players that in time will fill the void left by some of our graduating players.”
Moose Jaw Warriors: Yegor Buyalski, Forward, Belarus
Buyalksi competed at the U17 Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament this past month where he scored 5 goals and added an assist in four games. Back in the Belarus2 league he recorded 48 points (19G-29A) in 49 games.
This totals the 31 players selected by WHL clubs at the 2018 CHL Import Draft. They came from nine different nations.