The 2021 CHL Import Draft went off on Wednesday and Seattle, as expected, made two selections. So, if I had told you a week ago the two players chosen would probably come from, oh, say Slovakia and Belarus, you'd probably believe me. If I had said they would hail from Finland and the Czech Republic, you'd probably nod in agreement. If I said they would be coming from Italy and Great Britain you would have probably called for the guys with the white coats and that jacket with all the buckles!
But hockey's reach is expanding and indeed, the Thunderbirds first pick is Allessandro Segafredo, a right wing from Asiago, Italy. Their second choice is Leon Okonkwo Prada, a defenseman from Colchester, Great Britain.
Segafredo is the younger of the two. He doesn't turn 17 until September. Among forwards, that puts him in the same age class as current Thunderbirds Jordan Gustafson, Gabe Ludwig and Nico Myatovic.
Okonkwo Prada celebrates his 18th birthday in a week (July 7th), joining Jeremy Hanzel as the two 18 year old defensemen on the roster. If both players opt to join Seattle for this coming season they will add to the T-birds still young core.
I was asked if I have been practicing pronouncing Segafredo's name for the radio broadcasts. Well, if he scores over here as much as he did last season over in Europe, I'll get plenty of opportunity to say his name. Playing for the ZSC Lions U17 in Zurich, Switzerland, Segafredo put up 52 points (25g, 27a) in 26 games. For good measure he potted another ten goals, plus one assist, in 24 games with the GCK U20 team.
Due to the pandemic, Okonkwo Prada was limited to just eight games this past season but was nearly a point per game player, registering one goal and six assists for his team in Sweden, Rogle BK J18. Interestingly, Thunderbirds General Manager Bil LaForge said the T-birds actually had scouted him the previous season for the 2020 Import Draft.
With the 2021-22 closer than you think, the Thunderbirds will now begin the recruiting process, hoping to convince both players to come to North America to continue their hockey development. This had to be one of the stranger Import Drafts, which is already a, shall we say, unique process. With the global pandemic affecting hockey at all levels in Europe just as it did here in North America, you have to wonder how much video was available on these players.
In his first two Import Drafts LaForge swung for the fences but neither Tim Stutzle (2019) or Samuel Knazko (2020) signed on with Seattle. Stutzle, of course ended up being selected third overall in last year's NHL draft and spent this past season with the Ottawa Senators. Knazko, who just signed his initial NHL contract with Columbus after the Blue Jackets made him a 2020 third round selection, is going to play professionally this season in Europe. Even if he were to come to North America this coming season, he is eligible to play in the AHL.
Neither Stutzle or Knazko needed the WHL to raise their draft stock. They were already elite talents. Stutzle had been playing in a men's professional league the year Seattle selected him. Knazko had already spurned the Vancouver Giants a year before the T-birds took a chance on him because scouts were already on to him.
But with both the 2019-20 and the 2020-21 seasons curtailed due to the pandemic, coming over to North America and playing for Seattle, just might be what both Segafredo and Okonkwo Prada need to raise their profiles among NHL scouts.
Remember too, when the T-birds used that 2019 Import draft pick on Stutzle, they were a team in transition. the T-birds were two seasons removed from their WHL Championship and most of the older, elite talent had moved on. Now though, the team is once again stocked with young up and comers who NHL scouts will be flocking to view. Another reason these two latest Import picks could decide to choose to further their development while wearing the T-birds colors.
June is over, July has arrived. In three weeks the NHL Draft will take place. Then come the dog days of August. Before you know it training camp will be upon us. Expect some roster adjustment between now and then. While Seattle's roster will have lots of familiar faces, there will be new ones added and a few missing. It's the nature of things in Junior Hockey.