The Red Deer Rebels hit a home run in the 2011 Canadian Hockey League import draft, selecting Czech netminder Patrik Bartosak 59th overall.
But that was then, this is now. And the prevailing question is: Can the club smack it out of the park once again in this year’s import draft, set for Wednesday?
With the NHL entry draft now complete and many of the players eligible for the import draft already the property of big-league clubs, the obvious fact is that they will be the prime candidates to be picked in Wednesday’s lottery.
“There are some names of interest among players who have been drafted, but everyone is kind of interested in the same players,” Rebels assistant general manager/director of player personnel Shaun Sutter said Monday. “There are guys who were picked in, say, the seventh round of the NHL draft who can be good junior players and there are guys who didn’t get picked in the NHL draft who could be real good junior players.
“And sometimes you can get a quality player with a late pick. Bartosak is a good example, as is (Montreal Canadiens’’ first-round pick) Nikita Scherbak. He was one of the late picks last year (109 overall) and obviously he’s a high-end player.
“So the import draft is a bit of a crap shoot, so to speak.”
The Rebels pick 27th and 87th Wednesday and will likely be hoping to land a defenceman and a forward. A rearguard will definitely be at the top of their list.
“We’ve been working on this for the last several weeks and it’s really heated up over the last three to five days,” said Sutter. “We’ve been doing our homework on guys for some time, but everything seems to come to the forefront fast and furious the last couple of days.
“We’d like to improve our back end, which is something we talked about at the end of last season. We’re focused on doing that, on meeting that objective, so that’s definitely a target. After that, it’s such a different animal because there’s a such a large group of teams across the CHL that we could have 68 names on our list and none of those guys could be there in the second round.
“There is no denying that there are some good players available this year, but confirming whether or not they’re coming over is another challenge. With where we’re at with our team, we need two players who are going to come over. We have some real specific needs with our team that we’re trying to address, so we’ll be trying to do that, but at the same time we’ll have to be open to the fact that if we can’t get one of those things we have to get the best player. It’s a bit of a juggling act that way.”
The Rebels almost certainly will move up from their No. 87 spot in the second round, Sutter pointed out.
“That pick could be significantly higher if teams ahead of us already have an import they want to keep and make just one pick. There’s not a lot of teams who will be seeking two players like we’re seeking to do,” he noted.
Sutter admitted that teams, for the most part, have to rely on information from agents and various scouts when picking players in the import draft, which starts at 9 a.m.
“There has to be a lot of trust in these people,” he said.
“Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of WHL teams who are scouting Europeans. It’s mostly about your contacts and using them, whether they be in Europe or with NHL teams.”