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Blazers add Europeans to help in crease, on blue line

Blazers shoring up their roster ahead of '22-'23 Memorial Cup on home ice
Aapo Sarell of Lappeenranta, Finland, will toil next season for the Kamloops Blazers.
Kamloops Blazers’ head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston said his club addressed two needs on Canada Day during a CHL Import Draft that lacked depth.“This year’s draft pool was real slim,” Clouston said. “With the Russians and the Belarusians not being available, not only did that decrease the supply pool, but it really had a trickle-down effect. There were a lot more younger players staying over in Europe with contracts they normally maybe wouldn’t have had. We were able to get two players that are committed to coming over that we believe give us lots of depth. That’s what we were trying to accomplish.”The Blazers selected defenceman Aapo Sarell of Lappeenranta, Finland, with their first pick (55th overall) and goaltender Michael Schnattinger of Brno, Czechia (formerly known as the Czech Republic) with their second pick (115th overall).Kamloops has questions to answer in the crease heading into the 2022-2023 CHL campaign, which will conclude with the Blazers hosting the Memorial Cup on home ice.The Blazers have been grooming Dylan Ernst (entering his 18-year-old season) to succeed Dylan Garand, who is expected to toil next season during his 20-year-old campaign within the New York Rangers’ organization.

Ernst was pegged 30th among North American goaltenders in NHL Central Scouting rankings ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft. He was not among the 20 goalies selected this year.

“He’s not in the same part of his development going into his 18-year-old year that Garand was,” Clouston said of Ernst. “There are some questions. They’re not negative. There is nothing negative about his development. For a lot of goaltenders, I would even say the majority in juniors, it takes until they’re 19 or 20 to really hit their prime. Goaltending is the most important position.”Ernst, a Weyburn, Sask., product, posted a 14-8-2 record, .900 save percentage and 2.95 goals-against average in 2021-2022.“Erny took some really big steps this year,” Clouston said. “He proved he does have that potential and that capability.”Schnattinger, the sixth-ranked goaltender on the NHL Central Scouting European goaltenders’ list, is also heading into his 18-year-old season.He stands six feet tall, weighs 181 pounds and toiled for Czechia in the 2022 IIHF U-18 World Championships.“I trust Dan [Blazers’ goaltending coach Dan De Palma] a lot,” Clouston said. “He’s not only an excellent goaltending coach, he’s a real good evaluator. We really liked this guy. He’s excited about coming over and we’re excited about getting him over.”Kamloops had Schnattinger ranked second on its list of goaltenders available in the import draft, according to Clouston.“We didn’t get the guy we wanted at No. 1, but he [Schnattinger] was, from our ratings, the best guy available in the draft at that point,” Clouston said, noting their first-choice netminder was snapped up by an Ontario Hockey League club.“We believe both goaltenders [Ernst and Schnattinger] have the potential to be a No. 1 guy.”Schnattinger played 34 games for HC Kometa Brno U20 last season and had a 3.16 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.Sarell will join the Blazers in time for his 19-year-old campaign and helps to fill the void left by graduated blueliners Quinn Schmiemann, who recently signed with the Abbotsford Canucks, and Viktor Persson, a Vancouver Canucks’ draft pick.“He’s big and he’s a 200-foot guy, probably a defender first,” Clouston said of Sarell, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound rearguard. “He was trending up as the season went on. His minutes were increasing in the junior level and he was getting games in the Liiga, the top league in Finland. We really liked his game at that level, against men, so I think that gave us a lot of confidence he can come in here and help us right away.”

In April, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the CHL banned from the import draft Russian and Belarusian players who were not already on a CHL protected list.

The depth of the import draft was likely also affected by the timing of the NHL Draft, which took place after the CHL Import Draft this year.

Teams that select players in the NHL Draft — which is traditionally held in June — may influence them to make the move to North America by way of the import draft.