On Tuesday morning, the Canadian Hockey League held its annual Import Draft online, allowing all teams within its three territorially-divided major junior leagues (Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League) the opportunity to select up to two ‘import’ players of international descent.
Slightly different this for the 2020 version of the draft was the fact that it was held prior to the NHL’s annual Entry Draft – typically hosted somewhere from the 20th to 30th of June. But with the current COVID-19 pandemic changing the entire landscape, CHL teams were required to make some decisions prior to knowing the full extent of their playing rosters for the coming 2020-21 season.
Both of the Manitoba-based WHL teams had the opportunity to make two selections, with the Brandon Wheat Kings choosing at No. 39 and No. 99, while the Winnipeg ICE picked 42nd and 102nd overall in the two-round, 60-team dispersal. However, with a reliance on the return of 2019 CHL Import Draft selection Marcus Kallionkieli returning to their lineup this season, the Wheat Kings decided to forego their second round selection, choosing just once at pick 39.
Brandon selected Russian defenceman Yaroslav Busygin 38th overall with their only pick of the morning. While the Winnipeg ICE chose Finnish forward Henri Nikkanen 42nd overall, and Slovakian goaltender Eugen Rabcan at 102.
Busygin, 17, is a tall, left side defender, who spent the past year in Russia’s MHL, suiting up in 25 games for Vityazi Chekhov. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound blueliner scored four goals and added one assist, while collecting 26 penalty minutes on the season. Busygin was one of 11 defencemen on the roster, and the only 2003-born player on the team. Chekhov narrowly missed the playoffs in 2019-20, finishing six points out of contention.
Nikkanen, 19, is a former fourth round selection of the Winnipeg Jets (2019), and has spent his entire career thus far playing in his native Finland. The two-way centreman put up 13 goals and 28 points in 28 regular season games for Jukurit in the Finnish Liga, before adding four goals in three postseason games. He has also spent significant time skating for Finland with various national level programs.
Rabcan, 19, is a large, undrafted backstop from Slovakia who has put up surprisingly good numbers in each of his past four seasons within four different levels of Slovakian amateur/junior hockey. This past year the 6-foot-3, 195-pound goaltender took the bulk of the work with HK Spisska Nova Ves of the Tier II Slovak League, putting up a .921 save percentage and a 2.61 goals against average – which ranked him eighth amongst 21 qualified netminders. He has also represented Slovakia internationally.
With recent Import Draft selections providing good fortune to both the Wheat Kings and ICE – see Jiri Patera from 2018 and Michal Teply from 2019 – it will only be a matter of months until Manitoba’s two Western League teams know if their respective selections from Tuesday will pay off.