Portland Winterhawks/Matthew Wolfe

Portland Winterhawks confident in current import players

 

The Portland Winterhawks opted to not make a selection in either round of Tuesday’s 2020 CHL Import Draft, in which a total of 25 selections were made by teams in the WHL. 

As each team in the CHL is only allowed two import players on its roster, this is a testament to the faith that the organization has in both Simon Knak and Jonas Brøndberg. Portland selected both players in the 2019 CHL Import Draft. Each has earned another season with the Winterhawks after contributing to a league-leading season in the Rose City. Portland is following the idea of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and there is no good argument against it, considering the pair also had individual success in their rookie seasons.

Simon Knak

Knak has continued to highlight the success the Winterhawks have experienced when drafting Swiss players, so it’s no surprise that the team is more than happy to welcome him back for another season. He moves the puck quickly and has a great sense of where his teammates are on the ice, even in pressure situations. With 34 points in 49 games as a rookie, it will be interesting to see what Knak accomplishes during his sophomore WHL season.

Simon Knak (Photo- Portland Winterhawks/Keith Dwiggins)

Jonas Brøndberg

Likewise, Brøndberg has continued the strong Danish representation in Portland. He has the size and ability to play with anybody in the WHL and has proven himself capable to back the supercharged Portland offense. With 22 points in 50 games from the blue line, Brøndberg has impressed during his rookie season and doesn’t look to be slowing down — a promising fact when you take a look at the post-WHL careers of previous Winterhawks imports.

Jonas Brondberg (Photo- Portland Winterhawks/Keith Dwiggins)

Past Portland import players of note

Throughout the team’s history, the Winterhawks have had great success with their import players, with a number going on to have impressive NHL careers. Knak and Brøndberg may just be on track to follow in the footsteps of players such as Nino Niederreiter, Sven Bärtschi, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and newly-elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame Marián Hossa.

Nino Niederreiter was drafted by the Winterhawks in 2009. The next summer, the New York Islanders drafted Niederreiter 5th overall. He has since gone on to play 601 games in the NHL, split between three teams, and is currently under contract with the Carolina Hurricanes after a shocking trade from the Minnesota Wild in early 2019.

Sven Bärtschi, a 2010 import pick, had his name called by the Calgary Flames 13th overall in 2011. 291 NHL games later, he is under contract with the Vancouver Canucks through next season and has most recently split his time between the Canucks and Utica Comets of the AHL. Bärtschi was having a fantastic season in Utica before the AHL cancellation.

Oliver Bjorkstrand came to Portland in 2012 and caught the eye of the Columbus Blue Jackets who drafted him in 2013 and have held on to him since. Coming off of a season marked with injury, Bjorkstrand had a fantastic season for the Blue Jackets and will be ready to play should the NHL playoffs take place later this summer.

On June 24, it was announced that Marián Hossa was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hossa was drafted by the Winterhawks 5th overall in the 1997 CHL Import Draft and by the Ottawa Senators 12th overall in the same year. Following his time in Portland, he has gone on to win three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks, been selected as an NHL All-Star six times, and played in 1,309 NHL games between 5 teams. His recent election to the HHoF on his first year of eligibility came as little surprise to most considering his incredible career.

Stock rising in former imports Jokiharju and Blichfeld

Recent import graduates of the Portland Winterhawks, Henri Jokiharju and Joachim Blichfeld, have spent the last season earning their spots with their current respective NHL teams.

The Buffalo Sabres acquired Henri Jokiharju, a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, in a surprise trade with the Chicago Blackhawks last summer. He spent the season as a regular on the Sabres blue line during the entirety of the 2019-2020 season, and the Sabres are looking at him as a major part of the team’s future.

Blichfeld was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2016, the same year he was picked up by the Winterhawks, and spent a majority of last season in the AHL with the San Jose Barracuda. Blichfeld was named the Barracuda 2019-2020 Rookie of the Year after being named an AHL All-Star. He finished the season second among Barracuda players in goals (16) and first in power-play goals (5).

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