The annual CHL Import Draft took place Wednesday morning and as expected, Seattle used one of their two allotted picks. The T-birds, selecting 56th overall in the first round of the two round draft, chose Russian winger Nikita Malukhin. Malukhin is a 2000-born player, listed at 6'2" and 202 lbs., going into his 17 year old season. With Sami Moilanen in the fold, the T-birds passed on their second pick.
Statistical information on Malukhin is limited. He apparently played for Kazan Irbis in the Russian Junior League last season, tallying six points (2g, 4a) and was a +4 in just 28 games played. It would appear Kazan is the name of the town and Irbis is a trucking company that sponsored the team. Kazan is located approximately 11 hours east of Moscow on the Volga river.
According to Google, "Kazan is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia. With a population of 1.2 million, it is the eighth most populous city in Russia. Kazan lies at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers in European Russia.". So, now you know.
Thunderbirds General Manager Russ Farwell indicated in comments made after the draft that Malukhan will report to the T-birds saying "He is excited to be coming to the WHL". Farwell described Malukhan as a skilled forward with good size and that he has real potential to be an exciting forward in the WHL.
To get a better sense of the kind of player the T-birds latest Import selection is, you can watch this video clip of him scoring a goal: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x59ibgk. But to get a better idea, we'll have to wait for training camp in late August.
What does this mean for the big picture? Well, as we've suspected ever since the T-birds season ended at the Memorial Cup in Windsor back in late May, Alexander True will not be returning for his 20 year old season with Seattle. In fact Farwell told mynorthwest.com blogger, and my partner on the radio broadcasts, Tim Pigulski, that True's agent informed him that he was close to signing a pro contract. So, instead, the T-birds two imports will be the 17 year old Malukhan and 18 year old Moilanen, who will return for his second season.
It makes since. The T-birds are going into a reload/rebuild process and will be much younger next season. Drafting Malukhan gives them a player they can add to the rebuild, someone who could potentially be with the organization for three seasons much like True was after they selected him in the 2014 Import Draft out of Denmark.
Malukhan will be added into the mix of 2000 and 2001 born players who will make up the bulk of the roster for the next three years. And there will be plenty of "bulk" among those 2000-born forwards with Malukhan, 6'3" 202 lb. center Tyler Carpendale and 6'1", 201 lb. left wing Dillon Hamaliuk. Remember, those are their current heights and weights. I'm sure all three have yet to finish growing. Heck, that trio of 17 year olds just might be your third line.
So we can now officially say goodbye to True. It's still possible he could play another year for the T-birds. Think back to the Roberts Lipsbergs situation a couple of seasons ago when he was brought back from the pro ranks as a 20 year old to replace the injured Justin Hickman for the second half of the 2014-15 season. But for that to happen the T-birds would have to suffer a significant injury to one of their 20s plus jettison one of either Malukhan or Moilanen. That's what you call the worst-case-scenario.
We've mentioned on this blog recently the Fab Five who led the T-birds the past four years (Barzal, Bear, Eansor, Gropp and Kolesar). True was also a big part of that core group, though he only played three seasons in Kent. He deserves similar recognition as those five for bringing the T-birds their first ever WHL Championship.
In his three seasons with the T-birds True registered 84 points (45g, 39a) in 169 regular season games. He was at his best though in the playoffs. In 44 postseason games he produced 34 points (20g, 14a). In 11 Championship Series games, going back to the Final last spring against Brandon, True scored eight goals and none were bigger then his game winning overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2017 WHL Championship Series versus Regina. It is the biggest goal in franchise history, earning Seattle their first Chynoweth Cup. Additionally, three times while a Thunderbird True also represented Denmark at the World Junior Championships.
I'd still like to see True get a crack at an NHL training camp. Maybe he will this fall. He's attending the San Jose Sharks Development Camp the first week of July. He's certainly more then capable of playing professionally in Europe but I think he has the frame and skill for a pro career here in North America. He's a solid face-off guy and strong on the penalty kill.
The big Dane gave the T-birds three tremendous seasons and his last goal as a T-bird gave Seattle fans a first ever championship. The image of him standing and watching his game winner hit the back of the net while Regina players are sprawled down on the ice all around him, will be etched in our memories forever.