Shaun Sutter may be listed as assistant general manager of the Red Deer Rebels, but this summer, ahead of the 2020 CHL Import Draft, his job feels more like that of a private investigator.
While the import draft, which is set for Tuesday, is almost always a roll of the dice, the Rebels have had relative success with bringing over European players in the last half-decade.
From Michael Spacek to Kristan Reichel and Alex Alexeyev, as well as Christoffer Sedoff last year, this time of year has always been a bit of a coup for the franchise.
“We’re excited in the sense that we have a history of picking some good players and we know we’re going to make our team better. Until draft day comes and goes we won’t know what that looks like,” Sutter said on Friday.
“We have a good relationship with agents and if anything, Brent is probably going to be upset with me when he gets the phone bill. Everybody knows that Red Deer is a good organization and we develop players and get them ready for pro… We’re pretty fortunate that we return our whole team basically… we can basically add in any area.”
This season, without the World U18 Hockey Championships, which serves as the main scouting tool for most CHL teams, it’s been a lot of phone calls and video sessions for Sutter.
Along with a global pandemic causing chaos with next seasons’ hockey calendar, safe to say it’s been harder than usual trying to suss out who will fit best and if they will actually come to Red Deer.
“The import draft is always extremely challenging when things are normal. Let alone with a worldwide pandemic, you have obviously travel, immigration issues. There’s uncertainty for the agents, players and teams in Europe when different leagues are starting and all those things. All and all, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Sutter said.
“We’re always well informed and you try to do your homework, we’re pretty confident we’re going to make our team better… The options we have now, as opposed to the ones we had four months ago are different due to the pandemic and players being worried about everything.”
On top of all that, the NHL Draft, which typically happens a week before the import draft, hasn’t happened yet and there’s no date set as of now. That usually gives CHL teams some direction about which players want to be a part of their organization, through connections with NHL teams and their player development staff.
NHL teams will sometimes advise European players to head to the CHL, in order to maximize their development.
Red Deer will pick in the 18th spot on Tuesday for the Import Draft, which will technically be the 14th selection because four teams ahead of them have already passed with their two import slots filled.
Sutter said typically if you pick higher up you have an idea of what’s going to happen, but this year, with so much uncertainty, they’re just hoping they can find a player who will make the team better.
“There’s a lot of plan a and plan b scenarios, where there’s a lot of things that aren’t concrete,” he said.
“You don’t just want to take a guy, just to take a guy. You have criteria of things you want them to have accomplished… how do they fit into the team. We’ve always looked at it like you’re trading for a player that could provide a big piece of your team.”
Red Deer’s lone import for the 2020-21 season as it stands is defenceman Christoffer Sedoff, who will likely be selected in the 2020 NHL Draft, whenever it is eventually held.
Some names that might be available for the Rebels with their pick include Russian forward Fyodor Svechkov, who had six goals in eight games at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge in the fall. Simon Robertsson of Sweden is a big winger that posted three points in five games at that same tournament. Six-foot-two Slovakian forward Alex Geci might also be an option, he played in the Finnish junior system last year and is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft.
Danila Yurov, a big Russian forward who the International Scouting Service has ranked ninth, might slip to the Rebels. A pair of defencemen they could look at include Artyom Grushnikov, who played for Russia at the World Junior A Challenge last year and Stanislav Svozil of the Czech Republic, who is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft.
The Draft will be held on June 30 at 9 a.m. and can be followed at chl.ca/draft/2020.