It won’t be a conventional CHL import draft for the Halifax Mooseheads this year.
European forwards Otto Somppi and Filip Zadina are still eligible to return to the team for the upcoming season but nobody knows if that’s what the NHL organizations who own their rights want for them.
In fact, it is probable neither will be back. But because there is still a chance one or both of them will return, Mooseheads general manager Cam Russell has to plan accordingly.
He has no choice but to draft two new players on Thursday, then wait to see what happens with Zadina and Somppi when training camps run their course in the fall.
Once Somppi’s and Zadina’s situations are resolved with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings, respectively, Russell will react and settle on the two Europeans for his 2018-19 roster.
“It definitely makes it much harder,” Russell said. “If you look in the past, we’ve had some real good success in the European market but we’ve also drafted a lot earlier than 46th. There’s a lot more work this time.”
Judging by what’s already on Halifax’s roster, it seems likely Russell will draft two forwards. The Mooseheads have six quality defencemen returning so there isn’t much room there and the opening in goal is for a backup, so that likely wouldn’t be all that attractive to a player who is considering crossing the Atlantic to play.
All that said, Russell explained he won’t limit himself to just forwards because he could always pick players at other positions and then shape his roster through trades later on.
“At 46, we’re going to take the best available player,” he said.
“It’s too hard to turn away from, say, a top-three defenceman if the forward that’s available would be 12th on your depth chart. That decision should be easy. So picking in a draft that’s as complicated as this one, you just have to take a real good player when it’s your turn.”
But even with all of the obstacles facing the Mooseheads for the import draft, they do have the luxury of being able to leverage their past to attract quality players.
Four of their recent import picks went on to be top 10 selections in the NHL draft and three of them — Nikolaj Ehlers, Timo Meier and Nico Hischier — are already playing at that level. The Red Wings drafted Zadina sixth overall on Friday and he could be in the NHL as soon as this season.
“It definitely snowballs when you have success and you have European players come over and have a good experience, develop well and get drafted high,” Russell said.
“I remember when we were over scouting Nico Hischier and we met him after the game and spoke to him. He knew Timo Meier and Nik Ehlers had played for us so he called Timo and he told Nico great things about Halifax. When you have former players being great ambassadors for you, it’s a tremendous help.”
The import draft will be held online and includes teams from the QMJHL, WHL and OHL. The Saint John Sea Dogs hold the No. 1 selection and the Mooseheads’ second-round pick is 106th overall, although most teams usually pass on their second choice.
The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles hold the 19th and 79th picks but are expected to have defenceman Leon Gawanke and forward Egor Sokolov back, so it is unlikely they will draft any new players.