Czech forward Pavel Zacha, a potential top-10 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, was taken by the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League with the first pick of the 2014 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound center had four goals and four assists in 38 games last season with Liberec in the top professional league in the Czech Republic as a 16-year-old. He also played in five games for the Czech Republic at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, and had three goals and two assists to help the Czechs win the silver medal at the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
However, it's questionable if Zacha will play for the Sting. He told The Hockey News in April that he signed a three-year contract with Liberec before last season and would like to follow the same path as countryman Tomas Hertl, who jumped from the Czech Republic to the San Jose Sharks last season.
"Everybody says it's the best way in the Czech Republic," Zacha said. "I like Hertl because he did the same."
Sarnia general manager Nick Sinclair told the Sarnia Observer he understands Zacha's point of view but felt the risk was worth it.
"With the import draft there's always some uncertainty with the players coming over here," he said. "It's a calculated risk that we took."
Sarnia has had recent success with import players. Sarnia selected forward Nail Yakupov with the second pick of the 2010 import draft and he went on to become the first pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. And in the 2012 import draft Sarnia used the 36th pick on forward Nikolay Goldobin, and he was picked by the San Jose Sharks with the 27th pick of the 2014 draft.
"We're optimistic that Sarnia can be a place that will really enhance his draft status," Sinclair said. "Skates very well, very skilled, good hockey sense; he's got all the tools to be a real good NHL player. Hopefully Pavel will be wearing our jersey come September."
Nashville Predators 2014 second-round pick (No. 42) Vladislav Kamenev was picked No. 2 by the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, who obtained the pick in a trade with the Sherbrooke Phoenix.
A 6-2, 203-pound left wing, Kamenev had one goal in 16 games with Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League last season, and two goals and five assists as the captain of Russia's team at the World U-18 Championship.
With the third pick, the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League selected Russian forward Nikita Milekhin. In 26 games with Dynamo Moscow of the Russian junior league he had 13 goals and eight assists. Milekhin is eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.
"He's a good-sized, strong player with skill that comes from the Moscow Dynamo program," Lethbridge general manager Brad Robson told the team's website. "He comes from a good family background and his father also coaches in Russia."
Two players picked in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft were selected Wednesday. The Belleville Bulls of the OHL picked Czech right wing David Pastrnak at No. 10. Pastrnak was taken by the Boston Bruins with the 25th pick.
Center William Nylander, picked No. 8 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, was selected by the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL with the 13th pick. However, it's highly doubtful Nylander plays in the OHL; he's played against men in the Swedish Hockey League the past two seasons and would like to stay at that level in 2014-15.
"I say junior hockey is past now," Nylander said prior to the NHL draft. "Right now it's men's hockey that is on my agenda. I think junior hockey would have been something I would have done [in 2013-14]. Right now I think men's hockey is the way to go."
Other NHL-affiliated players taken in the first round were Czech defenseman Dominik Masin, selected No. 25 by the Peterborough Petes of the OHL after being taken in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft (No. 35) by the Tampa Bay Lightning; and Swedish forward Anton Karlsson, taken by the Erie Otters of the OHL at No. 55 after being selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the third round (No. 87) last month.
Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray told The Hockey News that Masin will play in the OHL this season.
Each of the 60 teams in the CHL had two picks at the import draft; however, not every team made a pick as teams are allowed only two import picks on their roster. Also, no goaltenders were allowed to be selected as part of an agreement reached between Hockey Canada and the CHL to help in the development of Canadian goaltenders.