B.C. Division teams look to replace productive imports

The CHL Import Draft has come and gone again, amid the usual curiosity and controversies.

The seven players chosen by B.C. Division teams have a tough act to follow. They come in behind a host of imports that have had an enormous impact in recent years.

Prince George Cougars

With the 54th pick, the Cats selected Vladislav Mikhalchuk from Belarus.

The 6’2, 176 pound forward scored at over a point per game pace last season with the Belarus U18 team in the Belarus2 League. Mikhalchuk has some playing experience in Canada, collecting nine points in seven games at the 2017 Mac’s Midget Tournament in Calgary where Belarus won the gold medal.

Should the native of Minsk crack the Cougar’s lineup, he’ll celebrate his 18th birthday in Canada on October 16.

“Vladislav Mikhalchuk is the type of player that you notice every time he takes the ice,” said Cougars General Manager, Todd Harkins in a release from the Cougars. “He was dominant at the Mac’s Tournament, is comfortable playing against much older competition and I have no doubt that his skill, speed and physicality are all going to translate well to the North American game. He’s very dynamic, he makes skilled plays with the puck and his hockey sense is off the charts.”

The Cougars began last season with imports Bartek Bison (NED) and Yan Khomenko (RUS) before a couple of trades brought in supposed high-octane forwards Nikita Popugaev (RUS) and Radovan Bondra (SLK). Although expectations were high, neither had a huge impact with the Cats. Bondra should play professionally in Chicago’s system, while the highly-touted Popugaev was recently drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the fourth round.

Kelowna Rockets

With the 51st pick, the Rockets selected Libor Zabransky from the Czech Republic.

The 6’1, 181 pound defenceman played the majority of his hockey last season as a member of HC Kometa Brno U20, where he displayed some offensive flair. In 34 games, the 17-year-old Zabransky, born on Brno, scored nine goals and added 26 assists. During the post-season, he scored three times and added seven assists in 12 games.

Later on in the day, with the 111th pick, Kelowna selected Marek Skvrne, also from the Czech Republic.

The 6’0, 172 pound right winger and Zabransky were teammates for much of the season last year. Skvrne, also from Brno, provides the Rockets with additional depth up front. The 17-year-old collected 21 points in 36 games with HC Kometa Brno U20.

Kelowna has the unenviable task of replacing Calvin Thurkauf and Tomas Soustal, perhaps the organization’s most productive imports ever. Both were muscular, aggressive, physical forwards. Thurkauf, who collected 144 points in 156 games over two seasons, is signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets and should play professionally next season. Soustal, a free agent, is 20 and would be a “two-spotter” with the Rockets this season. He chipped in with 138 points in 226 games over three seasons.

Kamloops Blazers

With the 42nd pick, Kamloops selected Justin Sigrist from Switzerland.

The 5’10, 165 pound centre played this past season with the GCK Lions Under-20 of the Elite Junior A League where he scored nine times and added 22 assists in 41 games. From Hombrechtikon, the 17-year-old Sigrist collected 25 points in 34 international games for Switzerland and looks to be a future member of its entry at the World Junior Championship.

“We are happy to add Justin to our hockey club,” said General Manager, Stu MacGregor in a release by the team. “He is a hard-working and reliable forward that we think will develop well playing with our hockey club.”

Replacing Rudolfs Balcers will be an enormous challenge for the Blazers. Last season, the rookie from Latvia scored 42 goals and added 38 assists. The western conference nominee for the WHL Rookie of the Year award, Balcers is signed by the San Jose Sharks. Defenceman Ondrej Vala (CZE) is eligible to return.

Victoria Royals

With the 30th pick, Victoria selected Igor Martynov from Belarus.

The 6’, 180-pound Martynov has a host of international experience with U18 and U20 programs and played in the Belarus2 league. In 20 games with the U20 squad, he collected 11 points. The 18-year-old left-handed shooting forward is listed as a right winger. He has also been drafted by Dinamo Minsk, in the third rounds of the 2016 KHL Draft.

“We are very happy that we were able to select Igor Martynov,” said Royals’ president and general manager Cameron Hope in a release. “His play this year, especially at the World Under-18’s in April, confirmed for us that he would be a great fit for our style of play. Igor is a skilled player with a great shot, and we are excited to welcome him to Victoria.”

The Royals lineup included a pair of imports last season, hulking defenceman Marsel Ibragimov (RUS) and Toronto Maples Leafs 2016 draft pick, forward Vladmir Bobylev (RUS).

Vancouver Giants

With the sixth pick, Vancouver selected Milos Roman from Slovakia.

The 6’, 194-pound forward collected six points in 29 regular season games with Frydek-Mistek HC in the second tier of Czech professional hockey.

“Milos is your prototypical playmaking centre,” said Giants’ general manager, Glen Hanlon in a release. “When you build teams, you want strength down the middle and we’re excited that Milos will help us in that regard next season.”

With the 66th pick, Vancouver selected Yannik Valenti from Germany.

The Giants appear ready to wait for Valenti to arrive.

“Yannik will be a high-end player for us in the 2018/19 season,” Hanlon said in a release. “With our confidence in our current roster, we felt that we could select a player for the future to help us down the line, and we look forward to having Yannik join us at a later date.”

The 5’10, 157-pound forward scored 20 goals and added 23 assists in 40 games last season with the Jungadler Mannheim U19 team.

Last season, the Giants traded Radovan Bondra to the Prince Goerge Cougars in a move that saw them acquire Bartek Bison (NED) and also to build for the future. Defenceman Dmity Osipov, a four-year WHLer, was also moved last season – to the Brandon Wheat Kings at the trade deadline.

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Glen Erickson

WHL supporter for more than 40 years. Spent the past 11 years in Kelowna, B.C. as WHL Writer for Hockey’s Future, collaborating on prospect rankings, covered two World Junior Championships, four Top Prospects Games, and a handful of Canada/Russia Super Series events. Still feel the sting from my beloved Saskatoon Blades never winning a league title, but enjoyed witnessing the Kelowna Rockets win two WHL championships on home ice. The passion of the players continues to draw me to the rink