Raiders pick German defenceman Panocha in CHL Import Draft

The Prince Albert Raiders have selected defenceman Norwin Panocha in the 2024 CHL Import Draft. -- IIHF photo.

The Prince Albert Raiders added some size to their defence corps, drafting 6’2 192-pound defenceman Norwin Panocha with the 26th overall pick in the CHL Import Draft on Wednesday.

The German rearguard was a seventh round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2023. He spent last season with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens and also represented Germany at the World Juniors, where he scored one goal in five games.

Prince Albert Raiders GM Curtis Hunt said Panocha is the type of player who can step in and help a young team.

“We think we’ve got good depth on our d-corps right now,” Hunt said in an interview after the draft. “We believe we’ve got some young players who can come in and push for spots that need some support and we think Norwin can help that process as well as hopefully advance his career as he chases his NHL opportunity.”

Panocha had 15 assists in 52 games last season with Chicoutimi, plus one assist in eight playoff games. The Sagueneens released him on Tuesday, Le Quotidien sports journalist Jonathan Hudon reported, and drafted Kazakhstan’s Kornei Korneyev to replace him on Wednesday.

Hunt said they’ve had success drafting older players like Krzysztof Macias, who had 22 goals for Prince Albert last year, and that convinced them to take another veteran in Panocha.

“We had an opportunity to talk to the Buffalo Sabres developmental group about him, the type of player he is, the type of person he is, and we think he’ll be a good fit,” Hunt said. “We know he can play up and down throughout our lineup. We know he’s a very good skating player. He’s got a big long reach and a good stick.”

Panocha is one of 29 players currently attending Buffalo’s development camp. The camp ends on Thursday.

The Raiders dressed Macias and Czech winger Matej Kubiesa as their imports last season. Kubiesa scored six goals and eight assists in 55 games during the regular season. He had no points in two playoff games.

Macias had 22 goals and 25 points in 65 regular season games, plus one goal in five playoff games. Hunt said they’re hoping to have Macias back in training camp as a 20-year-old.

“We have to make some decisions with our overage players,” Hunt said. “He (Macias) is a guy who came in, scored 22 goals for us, (and) I think we’d like to see him come back and possibly build on that year and make some really tough decisions for us in terms of 20-year-old players.”

The Raiders open the 2024-25 regular season at home against the Regina Pats on Sept. 20.

Draft notes

• Panocha was one of six players selected by WHL teams after being drafted by an NHL club. The others were Kasper Pikkarainen (Red Deer—New Jersey), Veeti Vaisanen (Medicine Hat—Utah), Miroslav Holinka (Edmonton Oil Kings—Toronto), Markus Loponen (Victoria—Winnipeg), and Niilopekka Muhonen (Medicine Hat—Dallas).

• The Val-d’Or Foreurs selected Russian forward Matvei Gridin with the top pick in the import draft. Gridin spent the past season with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, and has committed to the University of Michigan. He was drafted by the Calgary Flames 28th overall in the 2024 NHL Draft.

• The Windsor Spitfires drafted 17-year-old Ilya Protas third overall. Ilya spent last season with the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL. He is the younger brother of former Prince Albert Raider Alexi Protas.

• The Kamloops Blazers had the highest pick out of any WHL team. They selected Czech winger Vit Zahejsky second overall.

• Panocha is the first German player the Raiders have drafted since 2017 when they selected Dominik Bokk.