August 21, 2008
When it comes to the development of players for the NHL, the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) is right at the top.
Most of the players in the CHL are North Americans playing in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and the Western Hockey League (WHL)—but the import draft held every year allows junior teams to select foreign players (a majority of which are European) to play on their teams in the CHL.
Whether or not the Europeans decide to actually come over and sign with their junior team is a decision for the players and the players alone, but the option has always been there for them.
However, after reading an article from The Hockey News, I learned that the CHL is looking to abolish the import draft. I just can't see why they'd do this.
Now, if you look at rosters across junior hockey, you don't usually see a lot of European players on CHL teams to begin with—but why not?
For one, each team is limited to two Europeans on the roster at a time. That is a league rule and an argument for another time, but needless to say, that is one way—and a big one at that—that Europeans are limited in the CHL.
Second, there is a very big decision to make when a player gets drafted in the import draft. For arugment's sake, let us make up a player. His name is Gootz and he is from Sweden (I wish).
Gootz gets drafted in the import draft to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. From that point on, Gootz has a decision to make: If he decides to follow the path to the OHL, he will be leaving his home, family, and everything he knows to move to Plymouth, Michigan.
He'll move in with a boarding family that he does not know. He'll be in a very unfamiliar place and on a team that he may or may not have a very good shot at making. He will consistently be playing against junior players who have a serious shot to be NHLers someday.
On the other hand, he can stay in Sweden and play for Frolunda in the Elitserien. He will be home with his family and not have to worry about learning a new language, or the intricacies of a new culture. Life will be much easier for him, and he will be playing in a professional league against high-caliber players.
Obviously from that, it sounds like Gootz should stay at home.
But when it comes down to the hockey aspect, Europeans are willing to take the chance of coming over to play in the CHL because the style of play is different than it is in Europe. Many players would be willing to come over if they knew the CHL would be a better place for them to get used to the North American game—the style of which is heavily influenced by the NHL.
And if you want to make the NHL, why not start with the league it impacts the most from a gameplay standpoint?
So why does the CHL want to get rid of the import draft? Their main reason for trying to get rid of it is because players usually don't come over. It's a common problem, but that is something that can be changed by the CHL teams.
They have to convince these guys to come over and play on their team, and once they get here, give the player a shot before giving up all hope on him.
The second, and dumbest reason, is that the CHL doesn't see many good European players coming over. Is this true? Absolutely not.
Look at the Coyotes. Martin Hanzal came from the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. Mikkel Boedker, a rookie Dane, came to the Kitchener Rangers and absolutely shined there—enough to be a top 10 pick.
One of the players drafted before him, Nikita Filatov, wants to come to North America. While he has the skill to probably join the Columbus Blue Jackets right now, the contingency plan is to let him play for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL and gain experience within the North American style.
New York Ranger draft picks Tomas Kundratek and Evgeny Grachev will be coming over to play in the CHL as well. Kundratek, the top Czech prospect at the draft, was picked by the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL while Grachev will go to the Brampton Batallion of the OHL.
While it sounds crazy at this point, Kundratek believes he could make the NHL right now! Obviously no one knows yet—but that kind of confidence is pretty good to have on a CHL team as it makes for one dangerous player.
Even Luca Cunti of the Lightning will be playing in the QMJHL with Rimouski Oceanic this coming season.
But what about current success stories? Well Europeans in the NHL now who played in the CHL include Sergei Kostitsyn, Andrej Meszaros, and Alexander Radulov. Yes, Radulov is now gone—but that isn't the point.
The point is that Europeans can play in the CHL and they can be great players in the Canadian leagues. Does it always work out? Of course not, and with it being only two spots on the whole roster, it is a small gamble to bring a European over and put him in a game that may be different from what he is used to.
But the idea that a player may bust in the CHL or not come over at all are certainly not reasons to abolish the CHL Import Draft.
Keep the import draft. Keep bringing Europeans over. The guys across the pond are some of the best players in the world. If they want to come over and play, then let them.
The foreign leagues have turned out great players for a long time, which may persuade some to stay home. But to get rid of the draft because of that is bad reasoning—and saying that Europeans who come over aren't good enough is simply ridiculous.
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