There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the 2020-21 WHL season as a whole. Will it start on time? Will it happen at all? Will import players be able to come back to North America? It will be a while before we get any clarity on these three questions as there are certainly a lot of health factors and governmental decisions to consider.
However, if the season is able to happen in a normal way, a lot of teams face some big decisions ahead of late June’s CHL Import Draft.
Let’s take a look at each team’s import situation and go in the order they will be drafting.
Swift Current Broncos: two imports are eligible to return
- Sergei Alkhimov – F – 2001 – 44 points in 128 career WHL games. Acquired from Vancouver along with a sixth-round pick in 2020 for Joona Kiviniemi.
- Matéj Toman – F – 2001 – 37 points in 126 games. Acquired from Saskatoon along with the rights to Cale Ashcroft and a sixth-round pick in 2022 for Martin Fasko-Rudas.
The Broncos keep mentioning how young the team will be this coming season. Because of this, I would expect them to use at least their very high first import pick and probably even their second one in the draft. Not bringing Alkhimov and Toman back though means only Aiden Bulych and Tyler Smithies will be the only returning players who had more than 15 points in the WHL last season. The Broncos need playmakers so maybe they go with a couple 2003-born forwards.
Moose Jaw Warriors: one import is eligible to return
- Martin Lang – F – 2001 – 76 points in 123 career games. Acquired from Kamloops for Libor Zabransky.
He put up 24 points in 26 games after coming over from the Blazers. The Czech playmaker also put up five points at the U20 World Juniors. I would expect Moose Jaw to want him back. They can then use their high pick and keep Lang. They need help on the blue line so maybe they draft a defenseman. The Warriors did take Swedish goalie Jasper Wallstedt last season but he did not report. Maybe they take another run at him or a different goalie.
Tri-City Americans: no imports are eligible to return
They traded away both of the players they picked in last year’s import draft. The Americans could use some help up-front and on the back end so maybe they repeat last year and take one of each.
Prince George Cougars: one import eligible to return
- Filip Koffer – F – 2002 – 24 points in 59 career WHL games.
The Cougars lose three of their top four scorers from 2019-20 so I think they pick another forward to pair with Koffer up-front. The first-year Czech forward also played at the U20 World Juniors and had a goal.
Regina Pats: two imports are eligible to return
- Nikita Sedov – D – 2001 – 34 points in 126 career WHL games.
- Jan Cikhart – F – 2002 – eight points in 49 games.
Sedov has been a workhorse on the blue line, so I would expect him to return. However, Cikhart was a healthy scratch a lot of times after being acquired. So despite him being just an 18-year-old for the 2020-21 season, his return seems questionable. The Pats could go younger with their relatively high import selection.
Red Deer Rebels: one import eligible to return
- Christoffer Sedoff – D – 2002 – 19 points in 61 career WHL games.
The Rebels only drafted one import last season and forward Oleg Zaytsev went back to Russia to play in the VHL and MHL after putting up 43 points in 2018-19. They could go with a 2002-born forward, bolstering that age group.
Seattle Thunderbirds: one import eligible to return
- Simon Kubicek – D – 2002 – 55 points in 113 career WHL games.
With Andrej Kukuca graduating from the WHL, the T-Birds have an opening now to go with the steady Kubicek. I could see them going with either a forward or a defenseman. A forward would help bolster that contingent of ten 2002- and 2003-born players up-front. However, another d-man could find playing time in a group that does not have a ton of experience.
Kelowna Rockets: two imports are eligible to return
- Pavel Novak – F – 2002 – 58 points in 55 career WHL games.
- Jonas Peterek – F – 2001 – 31 points in 55 games. Acquired from Calgary for a fifth-round pick in 2021.
Novak had a breakout rookie season and ended up leading the injury-plagued Rockets in scoring. Peterek was one of those that missed quite a bit of time. Despite that, he is second behind Novak in scoring among forwards who are likely to come back. With all that offense moving on, it would not be shocking if they brought him back as well and passed on making any picks.
Victoria Royals: two imports are eligible to return
- Phillip Schultz – F – 2000 – 62 points in 106 career WHL games.
- Keanu Derungs – F – 2002 – 29 points in 57 games.
Derungs seems primed for a big second season with the Royals. Victoria will at least pick once as Schultz is an overage player. That 2000-born age group is loaded for Victoria and if Schultz is one of the three overagers picked, he would take up two spots. He is a hard-playing forward who is a game-breaker at times and will make this decision hard for general manager Cam Hope.
Vancouver Giants: one import eligible to return
- Michal Kvasnica – F – 2000 – 40 points in 104 career WHL games. Added midway through the season.
After Kiviniemi left the team shortly after arriving from Swift Current via trade, Kvasnica was brought in. He played the previous season for Portland but was released. He is likely facing the same fate with the Giants. They have eight overagers coming back and have to get down to three. If Eric Florchuk and Alex Kannok Leipert get professional contracts, then maybe there is an opening for him to take up two spots, but his path to that role just seems unlikely. Vancouver will make two picks anyways.
Saskatoon Blades: two imports are eligible to return
- Martin Fasko-Rudas – F – 2000 – 72 points in 170 career WHL games. Acquired from Swift Current for Matej Toman, the rights to Cale Ashcroft and a sixth-round pick in 2022.
- Radek Kucerik – D – 2001 – 13 points in 49 games.
Fasko-Rudas piled up 18 points in 20 games for the Blades. Saskatoon can make a pick because he’s an overager and they do have four other 2000-born forwards eligible to return, so his return is pretty questionable. He has high-end playmaking abilities though, so if he does not find a pro deal somewhere, the Blades will be tempted to make him a “two-spot” player. Kucerik could be a valuable returnee with two key d-men graduating from the league.
Calgary Hitmen: one import eligible to return, though it is Egor Zamula who is a signed 2000-born player, so it’s highly unlikely he comes back.
The Hitmen will be making two picks. I would expect them to take a forward and a defenseman.
Brandon Wheat Kings: one import eligible to return
- Marcus Kallionkieli – F – 2001 – 11 points in 24 career WHL games. Was drafted in the fifth round in 2019 by Vegas.
With Jiri Patera moving on, the Wheat Kings can essentially add two players who did not play much for the team last season if at all. The skill Kallionkieli possesses came through loud and clear despite just the one goal in his 24 games. His injury caused him to miss most of the season. He could very well be a game-breaker for the Wheat Kings in an increased role next season. With just one total defenseman in the 2002- and 2003-born groups that played much for them last season, I would expect them to go with that position.
Winnipeg ICE: one import likely to return
- Michal Teply – F – 2001 – 63 points in 53 career WHL games. Was drafted by Chicago in 2019 and has signed with them.
Nino Kinder signed a contract in the DEL and is therefore unlikely to return for a second season with the ICE. Teply was amazing for Winnipeg last season. He and Peyton Krebs lead a dynamic group on a team that could contend for the East Division title.
Prince Albert Raiders: two imports are eligible to return
- Aliaksei Protas – F – 2001 – 120 points in 119 career WHL games. Drafted by Washington in the third round in 2019 and has since signed with them.
- Daniil Stepanov – F – 2001 – 30 points in 117 games. Acquired from Moose Jaw for a ninth-round pick in 2023.
Protas led the team in scoring and came third in league scoring. He will likely miss time at NHL camp and the World Junior Division 1A Championship but will still tear up the league offensively. The good news for the Raiders is that the Capitals are pretty deep, so Protas should be back for a big 19-year-old season. Stepanov was often a healthy scratch for the Raiders. Though he is young still, Prince Albert may be tempted to add a defenseman to help make up for the loss of Zack Hayes and Jeremy Masella.
Lethbridge Hurricanes: two imports are eligible to return
- Oliver Okuliar – F – 2000 – 68 points in 55 career WHL games.
- Danila Palivko – D – 2001 – 36 points in 123 games.
General manager Peter Anholt has mentioned they are looking at Okuliar as a “two-spotter.” He was second on the team in scoring and is a game-breaker. Without a ton of other overage options, Okuliar should be back. Palivko is a year younger and with Ty Prefontaine, Koletrane Wilson and very likely Calen Addison, an experienced d-man is a good asset for them to keep. Since Okuliar is an overager, they will likely make another pick.
Medicine Hat Tigers: two imports are eligible to return
- Jonathan Brinkman – F – 2001 – 27 points in 56 career WHL games.
- Mads Søgaard – G – 2000 – 2.58 GAA, 0.915 save percentage and 40-21-3-3 record in 74 games. Was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the third round in 2018 but has yet to sign with them.
A lot hinges on whether Søgaard signs with the Senators. If he does not though, he becomes a free agent and there is a pro deal out there for him somewhere. I just don’t think it’s likely he comes back for a third WHL season. I’m sure the Tigers have yet another Danish player in mind for that spot. Garin Bjorklund seems primed to take over the net full time as well in his 18-year-old campaign.
Spokane Chiefs: one import eligible to return
- Lukáš Pařík – G – 2001 – 2.73 GAA, 0.917 save percentage and 22-7-2-0 record in 32 career WHL games.
Filip Kral moves on but Pařík is going to be back. He and Campbell Arnold were the duo last season and they should be even better with experience now. With Kral, Noah King and Ty Smith leaving, the Chiefs could go to Europe for another blueliner.
Kamloops Blazers: one import likely to return
- Inaki Baragano – D – 2001 – 16 points in 60 career WHL games.
The rumor is that Libor Zabransky has signed with HC Koneta Brno overseas. He would have been in tough to get one of the three overage spots anyway. Baragano coming back would help a back end that could lose three d-men who played significant minutes last season.
Edmonton Oil Kings: two imports are eligible to return
- Vladimir Alistrov – 2001 – 73 points in 119 career WHL games.
- Jesse Seppälä – 2002 – one point in 17 games.
Alistrov was a key contributor for the Oil Kings and should be back for a third WHL season. Seppälä just could not catch a break as he was out injured for much of the season. He is only entering his 18-year-old campaign though so maybe Edmonton brings him back for another chance to make an impact.
Everett Silvertips: one import likely to return
- Michal Gut – F – 2002 – 36 points in 51 career WHL games.
Kasper Puutio signing with Karpat definitely put a kink in Everett’s import plans for 2020-21. They dealt a first-round pick in 2020, a second-round pick in 2022, Fasko-Rudas and Parker Hendren for him and Ethan Regnier. The likely 2020 NHL draft pick was the first overall pick in last year’s CHL Import Draft and would be a top pairing guy for them if he came back. Everett still seems to think he will, but Finnish imports are notorious for not returning to the WHL despite having success there. If they make a selection come June, it’s a sign they are moving on with Gut and possibly another d-man.
Portland Winterhawks: two imports are eligible to return
- Simon Knak – F – 2002 – 34 points in 49 career WHL games.
- Jonas Brøndberg – D – 2001 – 22 points in 50 games.
The rookie import duo was key for the Scotty Munro Trophy winning Winterhawks. Knak was dominant at times and seems ready for a huge second season after very likely getting drafted in the 2020 NHL Draft. Brøndberg was a top-four guy for Portland, and with the Winterhawks losing Matt Quigley and likely Johnny Ludvig, he should get even more of an opportunity to play key minutes.