For big-market teams, the Canadian Hockey League import draft is a day to boost their rosters with some of the best young talent outside of North America.
Last year the London Knights added Olli Määttä with the first-overall selection. The Quebec Ramparts selected Mikhail Grigorenko with the second pick. Both prospects became major impact players and went on to be first-round picks in the 2012 draft.
On the other hand, for small-market teams who seem to have trouble convincing prospects to move to their city, the import draft is a day where they plant their magic beans, hoping the players they select will agree to play for their team and reach the potential their scouts and contacts claim they possess.
These magic beans definitely don't always prosper. Last year, the Swift Current Broncos drafted Washington Capitals prospect Steffen Soberg with the sixth pick. Soberg showed up to training camp, but returned home to Norway soon long after arriving in the city of roughly 15,000 people. It is possible that Soberg could have dashed on a big-market team as well. Nevertheless, with it becoming a broken record for the smaller-market teams, one assumes being on a team with a relatively small budget might have played a role in Soberg's decision.
This year the expansion Sherbrooke Phoenix have traded the first pick to the Moncton Wildcats. The Prince Albert Raiders, Erie Otters, Gatineau Olympiques (acquired from P.E.I) and Prince George Cougars round out the top five.
If history repeats itself, it is unlikely that one of these five small-market teams will walk away with the top talent of the draft. Instead, the big-market teams will swoop in and walk away the draft's winners.
This year's process (one hesitates to call it a draft) is full of intriguing storylines.
Duel for Dansk? As expected, a big-market team has already made headlines for the import draft that takes place on Wednesday. The Knights recently made a trade with the Peterborough Petes to land the No. 9 pick of the draft. The Knights are rumoured to be interested in selecting Swedish puck-stopper Oscar Dansk, who was selected 31st overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL draft last Saturday.
This speculation was partially started by Metro London reporter John Matisz, who tweeted, "According to Swedish journo, soon-to-be-drafted G Oscar Dansk will likely be London Knights 9th overall pick in CHL Import Draft."
However, another source indicated the Windsor Spitfires are hot on the trail of Dansk and could trade up for Erie's No. 3 pick or the Kingston Frontenacs' No. 6 selection in order to leapfrog London in the potential Dansk-off.
Windsor has a bushel of second-round picks and a 19-year-old import goaltender, Jaroslav Pavelka, so it has much to offer in trade. Both Otters managing partner Sherry Bassin and Fronts GM Doug Gilmour are not only rebuilding, but each is also shopping for a new starting goalie after relying on Russian overagers last season.
The Spitfires, who anticipate Boston Bruins second-rounder Alexander Khokhlachev will bag his final OHL season to play for Moscow Spartak of the KHL next season, may also hold on to their own No. 15 overall pick. A team can have three imports on its protected list but only two can be on the active roster, so they have flexibility.
A trio of high-end Russians: Ivan Barbashev, Sergey Tolchinskiy, and Valery Nichushkin are three very highly coveted Russian prospects that are definitely on teams' radars for the import draft. They were International Scouting Service's three highest-ranked players in their CHL Import Draft Guide.
Although none of them or their agents have publicly stated that they plan on playing in the CHL next year, it's widely speculated that all three are interested.
Barbashev is regarded as one of the top prospects of the 2014 draft class. The 5-foot-10, 135-pound forward dazzled scouts at the World U17 Challenge in Windsor last winter by posting four goals and six points in five games.
Tolchinskiy had an impressive rookie season with CSKA in the MHL this year. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound centre netted 19 goals and 34 points in 51 games.
Tolchinskiy's agent is Igor Larionov, who also represents Edmonton Oilers' No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov and Montreal Canadiens' No. 3 overal pick Alex Galchenyuk. Since Larionov has made it clear he prefers his clients to develop in the CHL, it is speculated he will do everything in his power to convince Tolchinskiy to follow in the footsteps of Yakupov.
Nichushkin represented Russia at the U-17, U-18, and U-19 this year. The 6-foot-3, 176-pound forward dominated at the U-17, scoring three goals and six points in five games. He was also able to muster up two goals in 10 games at the two other tournaments.
Thanks, but no thanks: Every year, CHL teams draft players in the import draft who refuse to show up to training camp or show up and take off shortly after to play in an overseas professional league. Sometimes this is unexpected, while other occasions it's not.
Several agents have already made it public that their clients do not plan to give the CHL a shot. Do not count on seeing Swedish sensation Filip Forsberg in the CHL next year. His agent, J.P Barry, made it very clear in an exclusive interview with Yahoo! Sports that his client isn't interested in joining the CHL. He stated, "He plays pro already in Sweden and receives top line minutes. Filip has developed well in Sweden and will stay there and play there until he is ready for the NHL."
If Forsberg and his agent showed interest in the CHL, the 6-foot-1, 176-pound winger would likely be one of the top picks of the draft. He was, after all, selected 11th overall by the Washington Capitals in the past NHL entry draft. There is still a chance a team might take a stab at Forsberg in the import draft. The odds of a major junior team convincing the 17-year-old to join the CHL seems bleak; however, there might be an outside chance that the Capitals could twist Forsberg's arm into giving it a shot.
No different from Forsberg, Swedish prospect Sebastian Collberg, who the Montreal Canadiens selected 33rd overall in Pittsburgh, plans on playing in Sweden next year rather than the CHL. His agent, Patrik Aronsson, simply told Yahoo! Sports, "Collberg will play in Sweden next year."
Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Teuvo Teräväinen has blossomed in the Finish Elite League this year. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound winger recently won the rookie of the year award, quite an accomplishment for a 17-year-old in a men's league. Therefore, because of his excellent development over this past year in the Finish Elite League, Teräväinen and his agent, Markus Lehto, don't plan on making a change of scenery next year.
Lehto elaborated on this by saying, "Teuvo already plays with one of the top teams, Jokerit Helsinki, in the men's Finnish Elite League, one of the best elite level hockey leagues in Europe and great development spot for young talents such as Teuvo. He has a contract with Jokerit for 2012-2013 season and will continue with them."
San Jose Sharks first-rounder Tomas Hertl's agent, Craig Oster, says a contract in the Czech Republic will handcuff Hertl from joining the CHL. Oster stated, "Tomas is under contract with Slavia Prague for the next two years and as such would not be allowed to come and play in the Canadian Hockey League."
That being said, the 6-foot-2, 198-pound centre's new boss is Sharks GM Doug Wilson. If Wilson is able to work out an agreement with Slavia Prague, it is possible Hertl could be North America bound prior to his two-year contract expiring.
Russian puck-stopper Andrei Vasilevski is under contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL next year. Therefore, similar to Hertl, contractual obligations should keep the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect out of the CHL.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter or contact him at Friesenkelly@live.ca