Bulldogs 2017/18 Import Situation
Since joining the Ontario Hockey League, the Hamilton Bulldogs have been successfully recruited each of their import picks to join the team. Successful junior teams are able to overcome their competitors by convincing these promising young men to travel thousands of kilometres away from their home for several seasons. Different cultures and languages can be huge stumbling blocks at times, but when adversity is overcome, the success stories can be vital pieces for championship teams. Look no further than last year in London with Olli Juolevi, or this year with Windsor’s Mikhail Sergachev, both players who push their teams to the contender level.
Hamilton’s import strategy has been to select:
- A) young men entering their first NHL draft eligible season and;
- B) players who’ve been successful representing their home country in key international tournaments. Czech defender Ondrej Kachyna and Danish defender Christian Mieritz have consistently suited up for their home country, and you can currently catch the Bulldogs’ Slovakian playmaker Marian Studenič playing during the IIHF World Juniors.
Hamilton’s development of these players hasn’t been what we can call a raving success; they ended up waiving Mieritz in January 2016. Kachyna made huge strides in the second half of season last year, jumping up 72 places on NHL Central Scouting’s final draft rankings, but has struggled to work past “healthy scratch” status under the watchful eye of Coach John Gruden. Steve Staios seems to have hit a home run with Studenič, who’s dynamic flair has been worth the price of admission for Hamilton fans, and should earn him a long look from scouts and potentially a selection in the middle of the NHL Draft in June 2017.
2017 Import Strategy
Considering that Hamilton is going to push for a top position in the Eastern Conference during the 2017/18 OHL season, Staios & Co. will have to carefully consider how best to utilize their import roster spots. The OHL trade deadline is right around the corner, and Staios has the ability to make a move that beneficial for both the organization and Ondrej Kachyna right now. The defender has struggled to win the confidence of the coaching staff, and as a second year import player, the team has the option to trade him throughout the league. There are a lot of variables that would follow that move; does the team trade for another import player or; flush out the season with only one import player, freeing up a spot for a new pick in the spring. There is always the chance that the team simply waives Kachyna just as they did with Mieritz after his return from Finland in January.
(*I’m not actively advocating for the departure of Kachyna, I simply want to see him positioned for his personal success)
Two options that may be in the team’s best interest is either trading for an import from another team in need of re-loading, or selecting an older player that will only be with the team for one season. If you haven’t checked out Peter Kneulman’s blog The OHL Writer you should make the effort to familiarize yourself with his work. Kneulman spends what must be a crazy amount of time siphoning penalty records, draft pick rights and unique player status like OAs & imports. He recently published a list of trade assets that includes a detailed breakdown of import status, including who can be traded.
Option A) Trade
My favourite trade target is hulking Finnish defender Markus Niemelainen:
- Corey Pronman, ESPN: Niemelainen was a fine two-way player for Saginaw this season [2015/16]. He’s a fantastic skater for a defender of his size, moving effortlessly around the ice. His skill isn’t high-end, but he moves the puck at a solid-to-average level, showing good hands and coordination for a player his size, and decent offensive instincts.
- Craig Button, TSN: Steady, positional type defenseman. Makes plays with the puck, but doesn’t get outside his capabilities. Closes ice and doesn’t give much room inside dots and is weighty, but not punishing.
Hamilton can use some help curbing the bleeding on the penalty kill, and Niemelainen’s addition to the blueline could help kick-start the transition from the back end. He would represent a boon for the team’s marketing, as he was picked by Edmonton in the 2016 draft. Given Edmonton’s prospect depth, he would likely be back in Hamilton next season for a deep playoff run. Hamilton has a decent chunk of 2nd and 3rd round picks over the next few years, and could pair a few along with the rights to Kachyna for Niemelainen.
Option B) Older Import
Hamilton could follow the example the Kamloops Blazers set during the 2016 Import Selection. Kamloops chose San Jose’s 5th round draft pick, Latvian Rudolfs Balcers, looking for a more experienced addition to their roster. Poised for a potential Memorial Cup push, Hamilton’s 2017/18 could use an offensive boost from an older forward. A quick scan of the current World Junior rosters for drafted Europeans who’s rights are up for grabs includes Finland’s winger Otto Koivula (2016 4th round – New York Islanders) or Sweden’s centre Elias Pettersson (late ’98 birthdate makes him eligible for the NHL draft for the first time.) Pettersson has been playing for Sweden’s second tier professional league in Timrå IK’s system. He has the potential to be drafted in the first round of this year’s NHL draft, so it would be a stretch to imagine he would transition to the CHL unless there was a guarantee of a Memorial Cup presence. We will find out if Hamilton can provide this following the trade deadline just around the corner, so this is all incredibly speculative at this point.
Either way, Bulldogs fans may benefit from scouting out elite international talent on the World Junior rosters that could pie-in-the-sky wishes. Really, it’s the holiday season, this is when fans should be making wish-lists for the New Year, right?
Feature Image: Barry Gray / The Hamilton Spectator