The Brandon Wheat Kings are positioned to pick up an impact player in today’s CHL Import Draft.
But despite holding the seventh overall selection — the WHL club’s earliest pick ever in the history of the import draft — there are few guarantees when trying to land European talent. As always, ability is balanced by availability and Wheat Kings general manager Kelly McCrimmon has been busy juggling those two factors as he finishes his pre-draft preparations. McCrimmon attended Sunday’s NHL draft in Newark, N.J., as part of his scouting process, speaking with NHL scouts, general managers and agents to determine which players are willing and able to make the move to North America this fall.
"With the draft now complete and the opportunity to have spent some time with agents and talked to National Hockey League teams, really it’s still a matter of trying to determine availability, contract status in their home country, combining that with the reports you have on players with respect to their ability and making a list and preparing to select a player," McCrimmon said. "So I can’t tell you with any certainty what exactly it’s going to look like, but we are getting it in order."
The Vancouver Giants will kick off the draft with the first overall pick at 10 a.m., CDT. Brandon plans to pick just one player, with 6-foot-2, 212-pound Czech right-winger Richard Nejezchleb expected to return for his 19-year-old season this fall after scoring 11 goals and notching 24 points in 35 games in his rookie season last year.
McCrimmon said he has no preference for taking a forward or a defenceman today, but will definitely not take a goaltender. He also plans to select either a 17-year-old or 18-year-old player, rather than a 19-year-old.
While the import draft is always a crapshoot, the Wheat Kings have had a good track record of success in picking players in the top 15, with their earliest pick coming ninth overall in 2002 when they selected Norwegian defenceman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, who went on to play in the NHL after suiting up for Brandon from 2002-2004. Other top picks have included Finnish forward Sami Sandell (10th overall in 2004), Czech centre Jakub Sindel (13th overall in 2004) and Finnish sniper Toni Rajala (14th overall in 2009).
"It’s like any draft, the higher you pick, the better you should do in terms of getting players that are higher up your own list," McCrimmon said. "But to compare this draft to a bantam draft, for example, there is just no comparison because there’s so many other factors that are involved with the import draft. So the difference between seven and 10 or seven and 20, it’s no guarantee that the player at seven is going to be significantly better than the player at 20. But, it should be. You have to have some fortune as well with it ...
"You try to take care of the aspects that you can take care of in terms of your preparation, your discussions, your meetings that you’ve had with people. But still from there, there is still a leap of faith that goes into the process."