Seven goaltenders selected as CHL lifts Import Draft ban
Seven goaltenders were picked after the CHL lifted its ban on the position in its annual Import Draft.
There’s a full list of goalies selected below, but first let’s take a look back at the ban itself.
In 2013, the CHL announced goalies were no longer eligible for its Import Draft, citing the theory that imported goaltenders were blocking Canadians goalies from being able to develop properly in the highest junior league available to them domestically. The 2013 CHL Import Draft was to be the last one in which teams were allowed to select goalies with their two available picks.
Fast forward five years and the ban has been lifted, with CHL president and OHL commissioner David Branch citing improvements in Canadian goaltending development as a main reason.
“We’re pleased and more than comfortable that specialized goaltending development is at a place now that is comparable to other positional players,” Branch told the London Free Press, who has also said removing the ban will “possibly improve” the competition level in the CHL, and enhance opportunities for goaltenders around the world.“That was important. We had to make sure we could satisfy the needs of arguably the most important position in the game, and absolutely, (the ban) has been a successful (addition) to the overall goalie development program here in Canada.”
The impact of the import ban is debatable.
The import goaltender ban started as reaction to a so-called crisis in the Canadian crease at the OHL’s “Protect the Net” symposium in 2014, with some arguing foreign goalies blocked the development path of young Canadian goalies in the CHL, contributing to four straight World Junior Championships without a gold medal and to an ongoing decline of Canadian goaltenders in the NHL.
Hockey Canada, which reportedly requested the Import Draft ban for goalies in the CHL, had already recognized the problems started long before junior hockey, admitting they had fallen behind countries like Finland and Sweden by not having a position-specific national goaltending program. They announced their own goaltending coaching certificate program was coming in 2o13 but five years later the impact seems to depend on where you live, with some regions accrediting coaches regularly and coaches in other areas that still haven’t heard of it, let alone opportunities to take the course.
At the CHL level, the OHL now has an annual goaltending coaches conference that combines with minor hockey to continue learning about the position, and the WHL appointed Edmonton Oiler goaltending coach Dustin Schwartz to oversee the WHL Goaltending Advisory Committee, with representatives from the four Western Canada provincial hockey associations and all WHL goalie coaches.
As for the import ban itself, it seemed clear foreign goaltenders were doing little to block Canadian goaltenders in the CHL system. There were also ways of circumventing the system, including players moving to Canada to play a year of minor hockey before the CHL Draft.
Measuring the NHL impact is difficult. Eleven Canadian goalies were picked in the 2018 NHL Draft (compared to 15 Europeans, including three playing US junior), an increase from 2017 (six Canadians), 2016 (nine), 2015 (four) and 2014 (four) since the import ban. Bur two of the Canadian goalies picked at the NHL Draft this summer came junior-A and only two were taken before the sixth round.
While the ban hurt goaltenders from smaller, less-developed countries who wanted the chance to have the same options to play as everyone else, the reality was most goalies from countries like Sweden and Finland were probably going to receive more full-time, goalie-specific coaching by staying home anyway.
The CHL wasn’t alone in trying to protect spots for domestic goalies. The junior-A United States Hockey League capped import goalies at one, meaning one goaltender on each team must be American.
As for the 2018 CHL Import Draft, with a newfound freedom and a whole host of mid-range goaltending prospects to choose from, the general managers went to the draft board with new options on Thursday and seven different teams pulled the trigger on reintroducing foreign goaltending talent immediately:
#3 overall: Uklko-Pekka Luukkonen (Sudbury Wolves, OHL)
The first goaltender taken off the board was the Finnish-born Luukkonen, drafted 54th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2017 and currently signed to an entry-level deal inked just a few weeks back.
Luukkonen was described in June of 2017 by InGoal’s own Greg Balloch as “a goaltender with some flash and aggressiveness”, and was widely considered the top European goaltending prospect in a strong 2017 draft class. A move to the CHL might be perfect for him after a lacklustre 2017-18 season saw him look too good for the U20 Junior A HPK program in Finland, but not quite ready to make the direct jump to the men’s Liiga program. He instead spent the year on loan with LeKi of Mestis, where he posted a .909 save percentage through 24 regular season games.
#15 overall: Ivan Prosvetov (Saginaw Spirit, OHL)
Prosvetov was already in a good situation in North America, playing for the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms in a good position to get some control over his game ahead of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He impressed enough to earn a selection by the Arizona Coyotes, who snagged him 114th overall in the fourth round in Dallas on Saturday.
Tall and lanky, Prosvetov has already made a strong transition to North America with two seasons under his belt; he adapted quickly to the smaller ice surface with the NAHL’s Minnesota Magicians, then posted a .913 regular season save percentage in 36 appearances for Youngstown as a draft-eligible.
Moving to the CHL, though, should give him that final boost in quality of competition before he tries to go pro with Arizona down the line.
#20 overall: Akira Schmid (Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL)
Schmid entered the 2018 NHL Entry Draft as one of the top-ranked prospects coming out of Europe, and didn’t disappoint when he was selected 136th overall by the New Jersey Devils in the fifth round.
As a Swiss native, he’s been playing in his home country for the U17 Elite Novizen and then U20 Elite Junior A programs in Langnau for the last few years, and he’s been considered one of his country’s top goaltenders in international play to boot. It’s goaltending’s worst-kept secret that Swiss development is still lagging behind the other up-and-coming European nations at the position, though, and a move to North America could provide access to more frequent coaching and better resources as he develops for the Devils. Although fellow Swiss Devils goaltending prospect Gilles Senn has remained overseas for his entire development career, he’s been in the Swiss-A system for a few years now, and is too old to make his way to the CHL now anyway; for Schmid, this is an opportunity that could be too good to pass up.
#30 overall: Kari Piiroinen (Windsor Spitfires, OHL)
Windsor took the first young goaltender in the import draft with their pick right smack dab in the middle of the first round, taking Finnish national Piiroinen after he showed immense promise despite his young age.
Piiroinen is just 16-years old, but he spent his 2017-18 season on the U18 Junior B and U20 Junior A rosters for HIFK this past season, putting up four appearances for the U20 roster and boasting a .910 raw save percentage in the process. He then stole the show in the postseason, earning a .957 save percentage in five appearances for the U18 roster en route to the Junior B SM-sarja championship. He’s already 6-0″ and 161 lbs, and made four appearances for Finland at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in the process.
While the first three selections have already been drafted and only have a year left of CHL hockey to play, this pick was one made with the long game in mind. It may be the first foreign import player, should Piiroinen choose to report, to make his way over to the CHL for a full major-junior career since the ban in 2013.
#32 overall: Mads Søgaard (Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL)
So far, just one Danish-born goaltender has made it in the NHL, but InGoal noted in 2014 that there has been a rising trend of Danish goaltender development in the last handful of years – and Søgaard is one of the products of that system who has managed to make his way out of Denmark in an attempt to play at a higher level.
He put up decent numbers during his 2017-18 season in the NAHL with the Austin Bruins, posting a .909 save percentage through 22 appearances in his first North American season. He struggled in international play on the D1A U18 World Juniors roster, but was named to the U20 team as well and remains by and away the most promising prospect from his country. If he truly wants to follow in Andersen’s footsteps, the 6-6″ prospect may very well find that the WHL is a better option than staying in the NAHL or heading to the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, where he was also drafted.
#48 overall: Maxim Zhukov (Barrie Colts, OHL)
Zhukov is another player who was already drafted by an NHL club, and could now see that influence his decision to play major junior hockey in 2018-19 rather than remaining in the USHL. He put up a .909 save percentage during 53 regular season games last year with the Green Bay Gamblers, but had shone for Russia at the U18 World Juniors last year; his .926 save percentage through five games was good to help his team clinch a bronze medal and him the best goaltender honors at the tournament.
Fellow Russian national is currently headed for Barrie again next season as well, so the pair could easily make up the two import spots on the Colts roster together.
#104 overall: Jiri Patera (Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL)
Like Zhukov at spot #48, Patera was selected in the import draft as a prospect of the Vegas Golden Knights, who used two of their 12 selections in 2017 to pick up the pair of foreign-born goaltenders.
Both goaltenders are also average-sized and have international experience, and both played in the USHL last season to boot – so if they both make their way to the CHL after the import draft, Vegas should have plenty of parallels to draw from when comparing them side-by-side on their development arcs. Patera is a few months older than Zhukov, and spent some time practicing with HC Slavia Praha and HC Ceske Budejovice in the years prior to his North American leap – something that Zhukov, who played MHL B, didn’t get as much of a chance to do. Beyond that, though, there’s little that Patera had as an advantage over his Russian counterpart.