The vast majority of the 60 teams that comprise the CHL are subject to consistent turnover. Individuals play out their careers before graduating into university, professional leagues, or out of hockey altogether. While perennial contenders like Kelowna and London are seemingly incapable of experiencing the typical highs and lows, most markets have embraced the cyclical nature of junior hockey. These quick transitions have forced organizations to be resourceful when constructing rosters.
One method available to teams is the annual import draft. Each team can select the rights to eligible import players and fill two allotted positions on their roster. How much can an import player improve his NHL draft stock and team’s performance? Look no further than Lassi Thomson’s rookie season in Kelowna.
How did they fare last year?
The Kamloops Blazers made two selections in the 2018 import draft, the first being Czech Republic’s Martin Lang at 14th overall. The speedy winger finished the season pointless in his final five games but hit his stride in the postseason, reminding the Blazers why he was a first-round selection. Lang will be relied on for his offensive prowess with another young Blazers squad in 2019-2020.
The Blazers’ second selection in the import draft was used to acquire Finnish defenseman, Joonas Sillanpää. The rangy rearguard struggled to find a permanent home on the blue line in his one season and was released before the 2019 import draft.
Any room for another?
Sillanpää’s departure paved the way for the Blazers to use their 16th overall selection on Inaki Baragano, a right-shot defenseman from Lausanne, Switzerland. Baragano’s busy 2019-2020 season included a spot on the U18 squad at the World Junior Championships, where he faced off against future teammate Connor Zary.
As the roster stands right now, the defense has five returnees from last year’s campaign. Baragano will also be competing with a group of prospects from the 2017 draft looking to make the jump.
History of import selections
We would be remiss to discuss import players without acknowledging Tim Bozon, the Blazers’ 27th overall selection in the 2011 draft. Bozon collected 169 points in 153 games during his time in Kamloops, but his most remarkable achievement was returning to the rink after a life-threatening battle with meningitis in 2014.
Since the 2000 import draft, the Blazers have selected more players from Switzerland than any other nation. Excluding players acquired via trade, here are the selections per country: