Hunt prepared for CHL Import Draft

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Prince Albert Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt speaks to the media following January’s WHL Trade Deadline.

Defending WHL champions to pick 60th overall on Thursday

Having an Ed Chynoweth Cup in your back pocket certainly doesn’t hurt when it comes to bringing European players over to the Western Hockey League.

However, according to Prince Albert Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt, the team’s recent success in developing talent plays an even bigger role in having success in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.

“Even if you go back to before my time when (Leon) Draisaitl was here, we’ve done a good job of doing the work that comes into recruiting import players,” Hunt said.

“I know that we missed on (St. Louis Blues prospect Dominik) Bokk (in 2017), but we’ve been able to bring guys like (Simon) Stransky, (Vojtech) Budik and (Aliaksei) Protas in the draft and we had the opportunity to get (Sergei) Sapego last season from the Tri-City Americans. The championship certainly helps and it certainly puts us on the map for guys that might not be familiar with us, but it’s just a small part of the process.”

Although they have the 60th and 120th overall selection for Thursday’s draft, which gets underway at 9 a.m., the Raiders will only be using their first round pick.

“Because Sergei is eligible to come back as an overager, he’s allowed to go on a special list and that allows us to make the one pick,” Hunt said. “It’s a wait and see process as to if he’ll be back next year. He’s currently at Toronto Maple Leafs camp and he’ll be making a decision soon of he’s going to be playing in North America or in Europe.

“Our intention is to bring back Aliaksei back for a second season unless he were to make the Washington Capitals roster out of training camp this fall, which would be fantastic for him.”

Although Hunt has not decided on what position he’ll be looking to add a player to, he does have a list of prospects that he’s been working on with newly named director of player personnel Curt Brownlee.

“We have a list of about 90 players and we’re currently shuffling the order or our list after doing our research on them,” Hunt said.

When it comes to next year’s roster, the Raiders will be losing four forwards as Noah Gregor, Dante Hannoun and Sean Montgomery age out of the WHL, while Parker Kelly is set to begin his professional hockey career with the Ottawa Senators organization.

Forward Brett Leason could come back to the team for his overage campaign, but he’s expected to join the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears after being drafted by the Capitals in the second round of the 2019 National Hockey League Draft on Saturday in Vancouver.

Starting netminder Ian Scott is also moving on as he joins the Toronto Maple Leafs system, while the Raiders will need to sort the overage situation on the blueline as Zack Hayes, Max Martin, Jeremy Masella, Brayden Pachal and Sapego are all eligible to return.

The Swift Current Broncos will have the first overall pick in the draft as a result of having the worst record in the WHL last season.

The Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan have the second and third overall selections.