The Canadian major junior world is strongly considering doing away with the CHL’s import draft and eliminating European players.
I strongly suggest they re-consider.
While teams critical of the draft argue it is becoming too difficult to sign the European players selected and that those who do come over aren’t good enough, I say do your job better.
Let’s tackle the second inaccuracy in the aforementioned statement first: To say major junior has not graduated/developed enough elite Euro talent lately is a farce. Mikkel Boedker was a top 10 pick this summer and this season his Kitchener Rangers could face fellow blue-chipper Nikita Filatov, should the gifted Russian suit up for the Sudbury Wolves instead of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. Of course, Boedker may not be available because the Phoenix Coyotes already want him on their roster, once again proving the young Dane’s development has been coming along just fine.
And Juha Metsola, Riku Helenius and Ivan Vishnevskiy played significant roles on their respective junior teams last season as well.
Other recent CHL Euro grads include Martin Erat, Andrej Meszaros and Sergei Kostitsyn, as well as Atlanta rookie goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and the recently defected Alexander Radulov.
Have there been busts? Of course. But considering there is a maximum of two Europeans per team, it’s not exactly Russian roulette for a GM. Think about it: How many North American players per team go from junior to the NHL? A couple at best, sometimes none at all.
If you think they’re taking away jobs from North American boys, just remember they’re only taking spots from players at the bottom of the depth chart; kids who are more suited to play Jr. A or Jr. B.
As for the issue of signing European players, well, yeah, junior hockey is at a disadvantage. The prospect’s NHL team usually doesn’t mind if he wants to hone his craft back home in Sweden or Slovakia, just as long as he comes over when it’s time to play with the big boys.
So think of the import draft as a wish list. If the Wolves land Filatov’s services, it’s a great day in Sudbury. If not, they still have Jared Staal, Eric O’Dell and John MacFarlane. Planning means everything in success.
This is no more truer for Europeans as it is for some of the best North American kids who wrestle with the decision to play NCAA instead of major junior and vice versa: The Plymouth Whalers took a hit this week when Carolina pick Zac Dalpe reiterated his commitment to Ohio State, while Denver lost a hot prospect to the WHL when Kelowna signed Stepan Novotny.
The Windsor Spitfires won’t be getting Richard Panik of Slovakia this year, but the Spits still have a stacked lineup and weren’t counting on Panik to make or break their 2008-09 campaign. Again, planning means everything.
Finally, many of these kids want to come over. They love the level of competition and they love the opportunity to learn English and bond with their future potential NHL rivals.
Canadian major junior is the highest level of teen hockey in the world; why abandon an import draft that plays a part in making it that way?
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every second Friday, and his feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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