The Vegas Golden Knights pipeline continues to benefit the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Brandon selected Finnish left winger Marcus Kallionkieli with their first pick in Thursday’s Canadian Hockey League import draft, less than a week after Vegas made the 18-year-old a fifth-round selection in the National Hockey League entry draft.
Wheat Kings head scout Darren Ritchie, who made the choice as owner Kelly McCrimmon hunts for a general manager to replace Grant Armstrong, said Kallionkieli was a good choice.
"He’s a real talented guy with a heavy shot," Ritchie said. "Good speed. He can play with good players and is obviously an NHL pick so he has a lot of skill that you want on your team."
McCrimmon serves as Golden Knights’ general manager. A year ago, Brandon selected Vegas draft picks Eric Brannstrom and goalie Jiri Patera.
In 58 games last season with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, Kallionkieli, a Helsinki product who also has Brazilian heritage, scored 29 goals and added 24 assists for 53 points in 58 games. He served 28 minutes in penalties and had a plus-minus rating of +13 for Sioux City, which went 30-25-5-2 and finished sixth in the Western Conference.
With their second pick, which was scheduled to be No. 82 but was actually the 65th because of 17 passes by other teams, Brandon took 18-year-old Minnesota Wild prospect Vladislav Firstov, a six-foot-one, 181-pound forward from Russia.
Firstov also played in the USHL last season, scoring 26 goals and adding 32 assists in 62 games with the Waterloo Black Hawks. He had 24 penalty minutes and was a +11 as the team finished second in the Western Conference with a record of 39-16-5-2.
"He’s a real skilled player and has great ability," Ritchie said. "He played on the power play, has good vision and again is another skilled guy. I’ve always said you can’t have enough skilled guys on your team."
There is a hitch with Firstov since he committed to the University of Connecticut prior to the NHL draft. He attended the draft in Vancouver but returned to Russia for his student visa and isn’t at the Wild development camp.
"We have to work on both kids but obviously a little bit more with Firstov with him having a scholarship to the University of Connecticut," Ritchie said.
It’s not exactly a given that import draft players will ever step foot in Brandon.
Last season Brannstrom never reported — he spent most of the year in the American Hockey League and actually played in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators after a deadline deal that saw former Wheat Kings star Mark Stone head to Vegas — but Patera had a strong season for the Wheat Kings.
"There is a lot of work that goes into it," Ritchie said of the process of finding players. "A lot of phone calls, a lot of texts, just trying to hammer down if you’re getting the right message if the player is coming or not coming. It takes a lot of time and you need a lot of patience."
In the past four years, four of the seven players Brandon has selected haven’t reported, including Brannstrom (2018), Martin Kaut (2017), Linus Nassen (2016) and Oliver Kylington (2015).
That followed an incredible run when Brandon hit home runs with all-star defenceman Ivan Provorov (2014) and forwards Rihards Bukarts (2013), Richard Nejezchleb (2012) and Alessio Bertaggia (2011)
Brandon has had terrific success with recent picks from the USHL, choosing Provorov and Patera from the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.
According to Ritchie, the team didn’t focus on the USHL, and had players from around the world on its list. But he said the American experience certainly has its benefits.
"The language barrier and the day-to-day hockey that they’ve already played in North America in a good league in the USHL is going to help them translate their game in the Western Hockey League," Ritchie said. "With the language barrier, both kids will be good."
Other top import draft picks in Wheat Kings history include Austrian defenceman Gerhard Unterluggauer (1995), Czech forward Jan Fadrny (1998), Czech forward Jiri Jakes (2000), Austrian forward Thomas Vanek (2001), Norwegian defenceman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (2002), Swiss forward Juraj Simek (2006) and the 2009 duo of Finnish forward Toni Rajala and Swedish defenceman Alexander Urbom.
The CHL import draft began in 1993, with the Wheat Kings selecting Ladislav Kohn, a Czech forward who was traded to the Swift Current Broncos early in his debut season and went on to play 186 NHL games.
Brandon last selected a player from Finland in 2009 when they took Rajala. The other Finnish player they’ve drafted was Sami Sandell in 2004.
The Swift Current Broncos selected Finnish defenceman Kasper Puutio with the top choice on Thursday as WHL clubs picked a total of 30 players from eight countries.
» Twitter: @PerryBergson
WHEAT KING IMPORT DRAFT PICKS
1. (22) F Marcus Kallionkieli, Finland.
2. (82) F Vladislav Firstov, Russia.
1. (44) D Erik Brännström, Sweden.
2. (104) G Jiri Patera, Czech Republic.
1. (24) F Martin Kaut, Czech Republic.
2. (84) Pass.
1. (59) D Linus Nässén, Sweden.
2. (119) D Daniel Bukac, Czech Republic.
1. (60) D Oliver Kylington, Sweden.
2. (120) F Dario Winkler, Austria.
1. (30) D Ivan Provorov, Russia.
2. (90) Pass.
1. (7) F, Rihards Bukarts, Latvia.
2. (67) Pass.
1. (35) F Richard Nejezchleb, Czech Republic.
2. (95) Pass.
1. (33) F Alessio Bertaggia, Switzerland.
2. (93) F Bruno Mraz, Slovakia.
1. (43) F Mark Mieritz, Denmark.
1. (14) F Toni Rajala, Finland.
1. (23) D Alexander Urbom, Sweden.
1. (33) F Maxim Mayorov, Russia.
1. (39) D Kirill Gotovets, Belarus.
2. (99) Pass.
1. (49) D Nikolai Lukyanchikov, Russia.
1. (23) F Juraj Simek, Switzerland.
2. (82) F Igor Musatov, Russia.
1. (42) F John Wikner, Sweden.
1. (10) F Sami Sandell, Finland.
1. (13) F Jakub Sindel, Czech Republic.
1. (9) D Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Norway.
1. (54) F Richard Jasovsky, Slovakia.
1. (25) F Thomas Vanek, Austria.
2. (80) Pass.
1. (14) F Jiri Jakes, Czech Republic.
1. (39) D Angel Krstev, Czech Republic.
1. (42) F Jan Fadrný, Czech Republic.
2. (69) D Julien Vauclair, Switzerland.
2. (44) F Petr Havelka, Czech Republic.
2. (70) F Pavel Terekhov, Russia.
1. (43) D Gerhard Unterluggauer, Austria.
1. (35) D Oleg Tverdovsky, Russia.
1. (34) F Ladislav Kohn, Czech Republic.