October 24, 2011
The Canadian Hockey League import draft has often been called a crapshoot. There's always highly touted players who disappoint, less profiled players who impress and a handful of players who choose to play elsewhere.
There's a lot of factors in where a player is selected in the import draft. If a younger player shows strong commitment to come over to the CHL his draft stock will unquestionably rise considering he's shown devotion to at least give the league a shot. And if a player is unsure about going overseas to play junior hockey, a lot of teams will pass on him with the risk of possibly wasting their pick.
Just ask the Swift Current Broncos about that; they selected Norwegian goaltender Steffen Soberg sixth overall this summer and then had the unpleasant surprise of seeing him buy a one-way ticket to Norway. One would think if the Broncos had a time machine they'd go back and select one of the other goaltenders who've ended up calling a city in North America their new home.
There's always rumblings about money coming into play, especially since wealthier teams such as the OHL's London Knights and QMJHL's Quebec Remparts seem to have much better luck attracting highly touted players than some locally owned, small-market teams. With that background out of the way, here is a look at seven players selected in the 2011 CHL Import Draft who've been paying early dividends in the Western Hockey League.
Martin Gernat, defence, Edmonton Oil Kings (18th overall) — One would think the likes of Buffalo Sabres prospect Mark Pysyk, Carolina Hurricanes prospect Keegan Lowe and top 2012 draft prospect Griffin Reinhart would be absorbing all of the attention on the Oil Kings blueline. Instead, Gernat has been turning heads with his dominant play on the back end.
The 6-foot-5, 191-pounder, who has six goals and 16 points in 13 games thus far, has quickly became a power-play quarterback. His offensive instincts have been superb, drawing some comparisons to Sabres prospect and former Kootenay Ice Brayden McNabb. It seems the Slovak has all the tools in order to have a bright future in the pros. If indeed Gernat lives up to his potential, he could make Edmonton Oilers scouts look brilliant for drafting him 122nd overall last June.
Patrick Bartosak, goaltender, Red Deer Rebels (59th overall) — It seemed like whoever replaced WHL MVP Darcy Kuemper in Red Deer's net would have a tough act to follow. However, Bartosak has posted eight wins in 10 games with a .940 save percentage and 1.87 goals against average, so it appears Rebels' fans will forget Kuemper's name sooner than expected.
Considering it seems almost certain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be staying with the Oilers this season, the Rebels will likely have to resort to defence-first hockey. Bartosak will undoubtedly become the centrepiece of their new style of play. If the native of Korprivnice, Czech Republic, continues to post strong numbers throughout this season, he will definitely get his fair share of looks at the upcoming NHL draft as a 19-year-old.
Victor Rask, forward, Calgary Hitmen (third overall) — Despite there being a lot of uncertainty whether Rask would join the Hitmen or go back to Sweden, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound centre made Calgary his new home after his new boss and Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford expressed a strong interest in him playing in North America this season.
Rask, 18, has gotten off to a fast start, scoring six goals and 11 points in 10 games — including a hat-trick against the Swift Current Broncos last Saturday. The Hitmen will be relying heavily on Rask for points. His play will have to be the difference-maker in order to edge the likes of the Regina Pats and Prince Albert Raiders in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Tim Bozon, forward, Kamloops Blazers (27th overall) — The Portland Winterhawks' Nino Nieddereiter and Sven Bärtschi were the Dub's Swiss sensations of the past two seasons and now Bozon is carrying on the recent tradition of a native of Switzerland taking the league by storm.
The 6-foot-1, 178-pound wing's impressive play is a major reason for the Blazers currently sitting atop the B.C Division. Bozon has netted two goals and 12 points in 12 games with a +9 plus/minus. If the 17-year-old continues this remarkable play, he will likely receive a lot of attention at the upcoming draft like Bärtschi and El Nino did in the previous two drafts when they became first-round picks.
Alessio Bertaggia, forward, Brandon Wheat Kings (33rd overall) — After scoring a hat trick in the first game of the season against the Moose Jaw Warriors, Bertaggia quickly became a household name amongst Wheat Kings fans.
The 5-foot-8, 165-pound wing, who's scored seven goals and 14 points in 13 games, is one of a handful of Wheat Kings' forwards who've combined for their league-leading 54 goals. If Bertaggia continues to find the back of the net, he will help void the Wheat Kings' losses of Dallas Stars prospect Scott Glennie and Chicago Blackhawks prospect David Toews to the pros. His expected impressive play will also make a strong case for him to represent team Switzerland at the world junior hockey championship in Calgary and Edmonton.
Andrey Makarov, goaltender, Saskatoon Blades (30th overall) — Look no farther than Makarov for the reason why the Blades are still a strong team after losing a handful of key players such as Colorado Avalanche prospect Stefan Elliott and Philadelphia Flyers rookie Brayden Schenn.
It's clear Blades GM-coach Lorne Molleken has a lot of faith in Makarov after trading overage goaltender Adam Morrison to the Vancouver Giants recently. Considering the 6-foot-1, 178-pound puck-stopper has posted a .925 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average throughout his first nine games, Molleken's trust in Makarov has been earned. The Russian netminder will be counted on heavily in the future, being a potential difference-maker for the Blades when they host the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Dominik Volek, forward, Regina Pats (ninth overall) — Volek's superb play has been a major reason for the Pats' unexpected early season success. The 6-foot, 175-pound Czech has sparked the Pats with three goals and nine points in 13 games.
Whether Volek can be a consistent scorer will be a major factor in the Pats' season and a telling point for his draft stock. A lot of scouts and reporters expect the 18-year-old to have a strong rookie season, notching around 60 points. If Volek lives up to these expectations, he will undoubtedly be handed an NHL jersey at the 2012 draft.
Kelly Friesen is a Western Hockey League writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on twitter @KellyFriesen.