Raiders to make one pick in CHL Import Draft

Photo Courtesy of Hockey Canada Sarnia Sting netminder Benjamin Gaudreau pounces on a loose puck before Prince Albert Raiders import draft pick Uladzislau Shyla can get to it during the IIHF World Under-18's this spring. Shyla is expected to join the club on a full-time basis this fall.

Prince Albert holds 53rd overall selection on Wednesday morning

When asked what his approach will be for Wednesday’s Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, Prince Albert Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt was quick to respond.

“The best advice I ever got was to take the best player,” Hunt said. “The rest will sort itself out.”

While they are eligible to make two picks, the Raiders plan to only use their first round selection (53rd overall) in the draft, which gets underway at 9 a.m.

The club already has one European player set to join the club this fall, as Belarusian forward and 2020 selection Uladzislau Shyla signed a contract with the team last summer.

As the COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from joining the Raiders, the 18-year-old suited up for the Team Belarus Under-18 program this year and had 22 points in 38 games.

He was also an assistant captain for his country at the 2021 World Under-18’s in Texas, where he had three points in five games.

“I thought he had a really good tournament and we’re excited to bring him to Prince Albert,” Hunt said. “My guess is that was his first taste of the North American game, so we’re looking forward to helping him get acclimatized to that as a Raider.

“During the tournament, he showed a good understanding of the game and his role on the team, especially wearing a letter on his jersey and being on their top line, which went up against the best lines from their opponents.”

The club is also able to protect forward Aliaksei Protas, as he’s a possible overage player and is signed by the Washington Capitals.

Protas, who led the Raiders in scoring during the 2019-20 season, spent last year with the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk and the AHL’s Hershey Bears, the latter of which he’s expected to suit up for this fall.

This marks the first time that the Raiders have held the 53rd overall selection, which has been used in recent years to take Ilya Solovyov (Saginaw Spirit – 2019), Lassi Thomson (Kelowna Rockets – 2018), Ostap Safin (Saint John Sea Dogs – 2017) and Calvin Thurkauf (Kelowna – 2015).

Since taking blueliner Vojtech Budik in 2016 and not making a selection in 2017, the Raiders have used their last four picks on forwards Dominik Bokk, Protas, Ivan Kechkin and Shyla.

“I don’t see that trend changing too much,” Hunt said.  “The agents of these players have let us know who’s coming and we watched the Under-18’s as well so we have a good sense of who to draft from our list.”

The Raiders already have two forward slots open on their roster with Spencer Moe and Justin Nachbaur both aging out of the league.

Goaltender Max Paddock has also graduated from the team, but his spot is expected to be filled by rookie Max Hildebrand, as the Martensville product is currently slated to join returning netminder Carter Serhyenko in the lineup.

The team will also have to figure out which 20-year-olds to keep on offence as Matthew Culling, Michael Horon, Eric Pearce and Reece Vitelli are battling for one of three overage spots, along with blueliner Remy Aquilon.

That situation could get even more crowded if Ilya Usau ends up returning to North America.

After posting 52 points in the 2019-20 campaign, Usau played in the KHL for Dinamo Minsk last year and has signed a contract to play with the club again this fall.

“It’s kind of a wait-and-see situation with Ilya,” Hunt said. “If things don’t go the way he thinks they should over there, we’d have to consider him bringing him if we had a chance to get him, as I think he can be a 40-goal guy in our league.

“We’re in a bit of a holding pattern until their season starts, but him coming back would be a nice problem to have, considering the depth we have in that age group.”

The QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar have the first overall selection for Wednesday’s draft, with the Everett Silvertips and the OHL’s Barrie Colts rounding out the top three.

Raiders home schedule announced

Having previously announced that they’ll welcome the Regina Pats to town for their 2021-22 season opener on Friday, Oct. 1, the Prince Albert Raiders released their full 34-game slate of matchups at the Art Hauser Centre on Monday morning.

Among the notable dates is the first appearance by an Alberta-based team since 2020 on Oct. 16 against the Medicine Hat Tigers, a Nov. 5 reunion with the archrival Saskatoon Blades and a visit by the Pats for the Raiders home finale on April 2.

All home games will be held at 7 p.m., with the exception of a Jan. 2 matchup with the Edmonton Oil Kings that will start at 6 p.m.

The road schedule for the Raiders will be announced at a later date.

Around the CHL

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League held their annual entry draft on Friday and Saturday, with the Sherbrooke Phoenix taking forward Ethan Gauthier first overall.

Gauthier, who is the cousin of New York Rangers forward Julien, had 40 points in 23 games for the Bois-Francs Cascades Under-15 program in 2019-20 and was widely considered to be the best player available.

The biggest move in the league came two days prior to the draft as the Chicoutimi Sagueneens dealt forward and Washington Capitals prospect Hendrix Lapierre and a seventh round pick in 2023 to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan for forwards Julien Bourget and Alexis Dube, first round picks in 2022 and 2023, a third round pick in 2022 and a fourth round pick in 2023.

The 19-year-old Lapierre, who was the 22nd overall pick by Washington last October, had 93 points in 88 regular season games and 17 points in 13 playoff contests for the Sagueneens after they picked him first overall in the 2018 QMJHL Draft.