Operating with the mindset that you can never have too much of a good thing, the Brandon Wheat Kings will try to add another impact player today through the Canadian Hockey League import draft.
The Wheat Kings already have the maximum of two imports eligible to return this fall, but with Czech winger Richard Nejezchleb, who was drafted by the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers on the weekend, entering his 20-year-old season, Brandon is allowed to add another import player and will do just that.
"It’s a little bit of a unique situation in some respects because we do have a 20-year-old that could return," said Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who has the 30th overall pick in today’s draft, which begins at 10 a.m. "Richard was drafted on Saturday and like any 20-year-old — it’s no different really than Eric Roy (a 20-year-old Wheat Kings defenceman who is drafted by the Calgary Flames) — he’s going to go to an NHL camp looking to sign a contract and play in the American league, which would be one of the possibilities. There is a possibility that he would be returned to junior, but really in terms of preparing for Wednesday, it doesn’t affect the process real significantly."
Brandon was fortunate enough to have two good imports last season in Nejezchleb, who led the team with 32 goals, and Latvian winger Rihards Bukarts, who improved as his rookie campaign went on to finish with 54 points and will be expected to be even better this season as a 19-year-old. The Wheat Kings would be in an enviable position if they got Nejezchleb back even though he counts against both the overage and import limits, but the team would be forced to move one of the three if he returns and today’s pick also comes.
But there are very few certainties when bringing in an import player. Convincing a player to come and securing his release are a start; having him overcome the challenges of moving to a new country to be come a productive player in the Western Hockey League is another matter.
The way CHL teams try to give themselves the best chance is by networking with NHL teams, agents and scouts and making effective use of a wide range of sources.
"There’s always a group of players that we have had some viewings of with our own staff, and that’s helpful," McCrimmon said. "But more often you end up going by different reports you come up with by speaking with contacts or NHL personnel and scouting staff."
With all the variables at play, and Brandon’s draft position smack-dab in the middle of the CHL’s 60 teams, McCrimmon said it’s hard to go into the day expecting to fill any specific need on his club.
"Realistically, it’s pretty challenging to be able to be position-specific or age-specific; sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t," he said.
"When it comes to our pick, I’ll select the player that I’ve got the best reports on."
ONE-TIMERS: Moose Jaw is the latest WHL team to mount a head-coaching search as bench boss Mike Stothers is leaving the Warriors to coach Manchester of the American Hockey League … Everett has acquired RW Graham Millar, 18, for a conditional fifth-round pick in next year’s WHL bantam draft. Millar, at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, had seven goals and six assists in 61 games as a rookie with the Blades last season.