A connection that dates back to his time with the Regina Pats helped to put the wheels in motion for Curtis Hunt when it came to the Prince Albert Raiders’ choice in the 2019 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
The defending Western Hockey League champions selected 17-year-old Russian forward Ivan Kechkin on Thursday morning with the 60th overall selection and the final choice of the first round.
“The son of Ivan’s coach (Denis Tolpeko) played for me in Regina,” Hunt explained. “Denis’ dad reached out in April saying that they had a young player on their team and we went back and forth with Ivan’s agent after that.
“We weren’t sure that his intentions were but everything came together near the end of the process. He’s a highly skilled guy with a lot of energy and we’re really excited to bring him in.”
Kechkin, who stands at 5’7” and weighs 143 lbs., split time between his hometown Moscow U17 and U18 programs this past season.
He had 18 points in 15 regular season games for the U18 team and had four points in eight playoff contests, in addition to having 15 points in 23 games for the U17 squad.
“He had looked at some older players as we knew that we were going to be a younger team and especially with the fact that some teams in our league had released some players, so we thought it would be nice to add someone who knows what it’s like to play in the WHL,” Hunt said.
“However, we saw firsthand the advantage of having our kids grow together over the last couple of years. We still have great leadership in our room and a lot of skill and speed throughout our lineup. We believe will have a good team again next year and we should make the playoffs, where anything can happen.”
This marks the first time that Raiders have chosen a Russian player in the CHL Import Draft, but a player from the country has suited up for the team before.
Forward Anton Borodkin, who spent two years with the Kamloops Blazers after they picked him in the 1998 draft, had 30 points in 52 games with the Raiders over the course of two seasons from 2002 to 2001.
The Raiders are expecting 2001-born Belarusian forward and Washington Capitals draft pick Aliaksei Protas to return to the team, while the status of his countrymen and potential overage blueliner Sergei Sapego is still up in the air as he attends the Toronto Maple Leafs’ development camp this week.
The Swift Current Broncos picked Finnish blueliner Kasper Puutio with the first overall pick, while Slovakia forward Martin Chromiak and Swiss defenceman Noah Delemont were chosen by the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs and the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titans respectively.
One of the more intriguing picks came with the 19th overall selection as the Seattle Thunderbirds drafted German forward Tim Stützle.
The 17-year-old is a potential top 10 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft after putting up 55 points in 21 games for the Adler Mannheim U20 program this past season.
He’s slated to move up to the DEL this fall with Adler Mannheim, which is where blueliner Moritz Seider played last season before being drafted sixth overall by the Detroit Red Wings at last weekend’s National Hockey League Draft.