The annual CHL Import Draft was held Tuesday morning. The Seattle Thunderbirds had the 52nd pick in Round One. Each CHL team has two picks but depending on the import situation on their current roster, not all teams opt to make more then one selection, or in some cases any selection at all.
Seattle ended last season with Alexander True, from Denmark, and Andreas Schumacher, from Sweden, on their roster occupying their two import slots. Schumacher recently signed a pro deal back in his native Sweden and we knew he would not be returning for the 2016-17 WHL season. Days before the draft T-birds General Manager Russ Farwell told mynorthwest.com writer Tim Pigulski that the 19 year old True would be back for his third season in Kent.
So Seattle went into Tuesday's Import Draft with one spot to fill. After losing two of their top four defenseman, Jerret Smith and Jared Hauf, who graduated out of the program, many thought the T-birds would use their one pick on a d-man. But the CHL Import Draft is not like most other player drafts. It's all about finding a player, regardless of position, who is 1) willing to leave Europe for North America and 2) agreeable to playing for your franchise. You are also relying on scouting reports from contacts overseas although with the amount of video available teams can probably do a little homework on the players as well.
2015-16 was the year of the Finns in hockey. They did very well on the international level, most impressively winning the Gold Medal on home ice at the World Junior Championships this past January in Helsinki. They also won silver, behind Team Canada, at the IIHF World Championship in Russia this spring. To top it off three of the first five selections in the recent NHL Entry Draft were Finns.
So no surprise then that nearly a dozen young Finnish players were selected by CHL teams Tuesday. Among those was Seattle's selection of 17 year old Sami Moilanen, a 5'9". 174lb right winger who won a gold medal himself this spring at the U-18 tournament that took place in North Dakota. Moilanen played primarily with the Jokerit U-20 team, registering 35 points in 38 games, including 21 goals. In addition to playing at the U-18 Championships, he also played for Finland's U-17 team.
Here's a link to a scouting report on Moilanen: http://overtheboards.net/jokerit-u20-scouting-notes-moilanen-nyman-and-almari/
Is it just me or could you take out the name "Sami Moilanen" and insert the name "Scott Eansor" because it sure reads like they are describing a Scott Eansor type player. It's possible Moilanen is a better finisher and can provide more goal scoring.
While the pick did not address the need on the blue line (although I think Seattle has some young defenseman who are ready to take up bigger roles and more ice time such as Tyszka, Schuldhaus and Pelechaty), it does create a bit of a logjam among signed 1999 born forwards. Prior to the selection of Moilanen the T-birds already had five '99 born signed forwards: Matthew Wedman, Wyatt Bear, Mackenzie Wight, Ian Briscoe and Luke Ormsby.
An unknown is the status of '99 born winger and 2014 6th round bantam draft selection Baker Shore. The Coloradan has attended the last two Thunderbirds training camps. Shore is currently with Hockey USA's U-17 summer select camp and doing very well. He had expressed interest in the WHL route last year. Does he still have that interest? Don't forget the two signed forwards from the 2000 draft class, Elijah Brown and Dillon Hamaliuk. Not all of those players are going to make the roster this coming season.
You have to factor in there are 12 older, signed returning forwards looking for roster spots as well. So that's at least 20 players battling for 14 spots. There is going to be some terrific, intense competition in camp for those 14 roster spots but you have to believe that Moilanen has one of those spots locked down after the team used their only import selection on him.
Of course with a plethora of 1997 born forwards(Brazal, Kolesar, Neuls, Osterman, Magnes, True, and Holowko) on the roster for the moment, we know most will not be back in 2017-18 when they would be 20 years old so at the least, Seattle will have enough depth from the '99 born group to take up the mantle. When those '97 borns are gone, the '99 born forwards will be 18 and ready for bigger roles with the team. That should make for a smoother transition and not a steep drop off in the level of play.
Speaking of those '97 born forwards, congratulations to both Mathew Barzal and Keegan Kolesar who were both invited to Canada's WJC summer camp. Meanwhile Brown and goalie Carl Stankowski will attend Canada's U-17 summer camp in Calgary.