The 2020 CHL Import Draft took place Tuesday morning as teams filled any open slots on their rosters reserved for non-North American players.
Seattle used just one pick at No. 21 overall and selected Slovakian defenseman Samuel Knazko. Last season, Knazko played for TPS Turku in the Finnish Junior league where he scored seven goals with 21 assists for 28 points in 41 games. He also appeared in the 2020 World Junior Championships for Slovakia, registering one assist in five games. In all international junior competition last season, Knazko scored three goals and five assists for eight points in 20 games played.
2020 NHL Draft eligible
Knazko is currently ranked No. 42 among European skaters in the NHL’s 2020 draft prospect rankings and could go somewhere in the middle rounds. This is Knazko’s first year of eligibility. Based on recent mock drafts, possible landing destinations for Knazko include Tampa Bay in the third round, Las Vegas or New Jersey in the fourth round or a slide to the sixth round to either Detroit or Ottawa.
Knazko’s strengths and weaknesses
The 17-year-old from Trencin, Slovakia, has been described as an elite skater who can change directions on a dime. He also is an offensive-defenseman with great hands. In the highlight below, you can see just how easily he switches direction. That move gives him a clear path to the slot for a goal.
The critiques around Knazko’s play have been his need to improve on the defensive side. He also needs to be more physical on the ice. Knazko would be one of the smaller defensemen on the Thunderbirds roster at 6-foot-1, 191 pounds.
Offensive jolt to Seattle’s blue line
Should he join Seattle’s roster, Knazko could help provide a much needed offensive spark to the Thunderbirds. Last season, Simon Kubicek (a product of the 2018 CHL Import Draft), led Seattle defensemen in scoring with seven goals and 20 assists for 27 points in 52 games. However, that only ranked 41st in the WHL.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s rival to the north, the Everett Silvertips, had two defensemen in the top 10 in the league in scoring. Wyatte Wylie ranked second in the WHL with 14 goals and 50 assists for 64 points. Jake Christiansen ranked ninth with 22 goals and 28 assists for 50 points. To find the next Thunderbird on the scoring leaderboard among defensemen, you have to go to Owen Williams. Last season, Williams scored two goals and 16 assists for 18 points. That ranked him 68th in scoring among defensemen in the WHL.
Assuming an equal level of production across 61 games, which would be the same number of games played as Kubicek during his rookie season with the Thunderbirds in 2018-19, Knazko has the potential to be Seattle’s top offensive producer on the blue line (10 goals, 31 assists for 41 points). That would land Knazko near the top 20 in scoring for defensemen across the WHL based on recent seasons. His high hockey IQ, as seen below where he positions himself perfectly for a goal, could be a huge boost for Seattle.
Will Knazko stay in Europe or join the Thunderbirds?
As exciting as his potential is, the cloud of uncertainty around the upcoming WHL season could play a factor in his decision to join the team. For now, the WHL intends to begin its full 68-game season on October 2nd. Until then, the Thunderbirds will do all they can to convince Knazko to join the team.
This isn’t the first time Knazko has been selected in the CHL Import Draft. Last year, the Vancouver Giants selected him, but he chose to stay in Europe.
Another deciding factor could be competition. This year, all seven defensemen from Seattle’s 2019-20 roster are eligible to return.
A lot of time remains between now and the scheduled start date of October 2nd for Knazko to make his decision. What happens between then and now is anyone’s guess.