The three major junior leagues held their import draft Wednesday, determining the rights of dozens of European players. But which selections were solid and which were pipe dreams?
The CHL Import Draft is complex. On the surface of course, it’s straight-forward: Every team from the Ontario, Western and Quebec League has the opportunity to select two European players, assuming they have two import slots open on their roster.
But if one of your Europeans went in the first round of the NHL draft, you can keep the rights to three, in case the first-rounder bounces between the pros and junior (it’s basically the Mikhail Grigorenko rule). And you’re not allowed to take goalies anymore, which is protectionist and ignores the fact American netminders have been “taking jobs” from Canadian kids as much as Europeans were.
Also, some folks will tell you it’s not quite a draft because some teams have unofficial deals with players beforehand – which led to last year’s awkward situation where Washington Capitals pick Andre Burakovsky thought he was going to Windsor, only see to Erie scoop up his rights first. After a lot of fuss, Burakovsky went to the Otters and helped Erie make a nice playoff run.
The 2014 installment of the Import Draft happened on Wednesday and as always, there was drama, beginning with the first pick. The OHL’s Sarnia Sting tabbed Czech power forward Pavel Zacha first overall, but the youngster’s agent, Allan Walsh, immediately took to Twitter to announce that Zacha, a potential top-10 NHL pick in 2015, has a contract with Liberec back home and that Sarnia just wasted the pick.
I don’t fault Walsh for venting on social media; Zacha’s contract status in the Czech Republic has been well-known for months – dating back to the world juniors, in fact. The big teen will play against men back home and develop just fine. Now, you’re probably asking, “Didn’t we just see this with Burakovsky last year?”
Not quite. Burakovsky was already drafted by the Capitals and the NHL squad felt it was best for him to come over and get acclimated to North American life. Zacha has no NHL team influencing him right now. With the 10th selection this year, the OHL’s Belleville Bulls took David Pastrnak, a Czech playing in Sweden who recently went 25th overall to the Boston Bruins.
As it stands now, Pastrnak will not come over. He has a contract with Sodertalje where he plays against men and is happy there. The only x-factor would be if the Bruins sign him to his entry-level deal and re-open the major junior discussion, but right now, Belleville looks to be out of luck.
There also doesn’t seem to be much of a chance William Nylander lines up for Mississauga. The Toronto Maple Leafs first-rounder was taken 13th overall by the Steelheads, but I can’t really see a scenario in which he plays for the suburban squad. Being drafted out of Sweden, Nylander can play for the American League’s Marlies if he doesn’t make the Leafs. Or, he can stay home and develop against men for the team of his choosing – the gifted scorer is a free agent in Sweden right now.
But enough dream-snuffing for now. Who is coming over?
Two pretty solid bets are Vladislav Kamenev and Dmytro Timashov, both taken by the Memorial Cup host Quebec Remparts. According to La Presse, Kamenev spoke with Remparts GM Phillipe Boucher at the NHL draft in Philadelphia, where the young Russian was taken in the second round by Nashville. Timashov was also expected to come over to North America and given the Remparts’ reputation for developing talent, I don’t see any problems there. The Ukrainian-born winger, who plays for Sweden internationally, is eligible for the 2015 NHL draft.
Another Swede who was expected to come over is Gustaf Franzen, also a 2015 prospect. Hard-working with high character and a versatile skill set, Franzen kinda sounds like Gabriel Landeskog, so it’s fitting he was drafted by the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, where Landeskog played. Franzen is nowhere near as strong as the current Colorado captain, but that’s what development time is for.
Finally, I fully expect Czech defenseman Dominik Masin to come over to join the OHL’s Peterborough Petes. The Tampa Bay Lightning second-rounder told me at the draft in Philly that he wanted to come over to North America, which is why he didn’t sign a contract extension with Slavia Prague back home this year. Masin captained the Czechs to silver at the under-18s, playing a brave shutdown role, though he does have some offense to his game too. If not for the contract flap, he certainly would have gotten reps with Slavia’s men’s team this season instead of just the junior edition.