In need of forwards who can step into the lineup and contribute right away, the Brandon Wheat Kings believe they got one in Wednesday’s Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
The Wheat Kings used the 35th overall pick to select 18-year-old right-winger Richard Nejechleb from the Czech Republic.
The 6-foot-2, 187-pounder played for HC Slavia Prague in the Czech under-20 league last season, notching 11 goals and 12 assists in 24 games. He also had four goals and two assists in three games with the Slavia U-18 club, and a goal and a helper in nine games with the Czech national under-18 team.
"He has good size," Wheat Kings general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "We had good reports on him from people that we know well. I think he’s got a good skill set and will be here in the fall."
With Mark Stone, Mike Ferland and Kevin Sundher expected to play professionally, Brenden Walker traded to the Saskatoon Blades and Darian Dziurzynski and Paul Ciarelli graduated, the Wheat Kings will likely go into the season minus six of their seven highest-scoring forwards from 2011-12. Swiss winger Alessio Bertaggia (24 goals, 50 points in 64 games) would be the only returning forward to record more than 20 points last season, although Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy contributed 60 and 53 points, respectively, from the blue-line.
While European players naturally face an adjustment period in the Western Hockey League, Nejechleb should get every opportunity to earn a significant role, assuming the Wheat Kings are able to get his transfer completed.
"We’ve had no indication that there will be any problem with that," said McCrimmon, whose team gained the open import spot days before the draft when Bruno Mraz signed a pro contract in his home country of Slovakia. "As we always say, until he’s here and his transfer card has been approved by Hockey Canada and the IIHF, then we don’t know for sure, but we’re optimistic that that process will line up."
Nejechleb and Bertaggia, who turns 19 next month, give the Wheat Kings their full complement of two imports, so the club was able to flip the 38th overall pick in the draft — acquired in the 2011 trade that sent Brayden Schenn to the Saskatoon Blades — to the Edmonton Oil Kings for a fifth-round choice in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.
ONE-TIMERS: Nejechleb was ranked 41st among European skaters for this year’s draft by NHL Central Scouting but was not picked … The Vancouver Giants have acquired former Wheat Kings G Liam Liston, 19, from the Lethbridge Hurricanes for third- and sixth-round picks in the 2013 bantam draft. "We are hoping that Liam can have a similar breakout season to what Adam Morrison had last year," Giants general manager Scott Bonner said in reference to the goaltender who became Vancouver’s starter as a 20-year-old last season after coming over from the Saskatoon Blades. "He comes with some real good experiences under his belt, like being around a Memorial Cup team in Brandon, and attending the CHL Top Prospects Game in 2011."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 28, 2012