Hunt preparing for CHL Import Draft

After the Western Hockey League’s trade deadline passed in January, Prince Albert Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt began his due diligence when it came to who the team would take at the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.

“At that point I started to get in contact with agents and go over the lists of players from International Scouting Service, National Hockey League Central Scouting and the Red Line Report as to who would be available,” Hunt said.

“You have to be mindful of the fact that many of the players that were taken at the NHL Draft this weekend probably aren’t coming over, but there’s a whole new group of younger guys that are eligible next year. We feel like we’ve put together a strong list of players and we’re ready to go.”

The Raiders hold the 26th and 86th overall selections in Thursday’s draft, which will get underway at 9 a.m.

With 18-year-old Belarusian defenceman Sergei Sapego set to return for his second WHL campaign, the team only plans to use one draft pick as they’ll replace departing 20-year-old Czech blueliner Vojtech Budik.

“We did reach out to see if he wanted to come back, which would have made things a little easier for us when it came to putting our defence together for next year, but after three seasons here I think the time’s right for him to play professional hockey,” Hunt said.

“I think he can play in the American Hockey League, especially with the way he finished last season. He texted me and asked if we need any help when it came to bringing a player over, and I think that’s speaks volumes for how comfortable he was during his three years here.”

Last season, the Raiders selected German forward Dominik Bokk with the ninth overall pick, but he elected to play in Sweden for the Vaxjo Lakers program.

The St. Louis Blues drafted Bokk with the 25th overall pick during the NHL Entry Draft Friday.

“You always approach the draft the same way in trying to get the best player possible to come over here, but there’s always the challenge of dealing with agents and whether or not the player will report,” Hunt said. “That was the case last year with Bokk. We had a report saying he was ready to come over North America…until the wrong team picked him.

“At the end of the day though, it worked out well for us as we were able to bring in Sergei and he’s been a great fit on our defence. Plus, when you see Bokk become a first round pick, that validates our position and we know that what we are doing is working.”

At this point, Hunt is keeping all of his options open as for what need he’ll try to fill on the Raiders roster come Thursday morning.

“You have to be mindful of a number of things,” Hunt said. “We have a European on defence already, but we have a big hole that we need to fill back there because of the Humboldt Broncos tragedy (which took the life of Raiders prospect Adam Herold).

“We have five 19-year-old’s returning on the blue line and all three of our overagers that we lost to graduation (Curtis Miske, Regan Nagy and Jordy Stallard) are forwards, so you can probably do that math as to what we have to do. However, when it gets to your pick and there’s an elite player there, it’s pretty hard to turn that down.”

While not officially announced by the CHL as of Tuesday, it’s widely expected that the teams will be allowed to draft goaltenders again for the first time since 2013.

The last European goaltender in the WHL was Marek Langhammer, who suited up for the Medicine Hat Tigers from 2012 to 2015.

“If they were to allow teams to pick goalies again, I think it would go back to what it was like a few years ago when you could draft them,” Hunt said.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs hold the first overall pick, with the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves rounding out the top three selections.