The Kamloops Blazers picked defenceman Viktor Persson of Sweden 56th overall in the CHL Import Draft, which was held online on Tuesday.
Persson, a 6-foot-2, 192-pound right shot, is pegged 44th among European skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s rankings for the 2020 NHL Draft.
Entering his 19-year-old campaign, Persson, who has a late birthday (Nov. 7), is likely to have a one-season stay in Kamloops, as he aims to be selected in the draft and earn a pro contract.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an abundance of unknowns for everyone in the hockey world, including Blazers’ general manager Matt Bardsley and European imports such as Persson.
For now, the WHL aims to open training camps on Sept. 15 and begin regular-season play on Oct. 2, but the league requires approval from government and health authorities in its six jurisdictions to go ahead. WHL commissioner Ron Robison said a minimum of 50 per cent capacity in all arenas will be required for play to begin.
The NHL regular season does not have a start date and the NHL Draft has not been scheduled.
Bardsley, who is familiar with Persson’s agent, Todd Diamond, said the Valbo, Sweden, product is keen on coming to North America.
“We feel pretty good about that,” Bardsley said of Persson, whose home country, the only European nation not to adopt a harsh lockdown, has been criticized for its handling of the novel coronavirus. “With the situation going on in the world, I’m not sure if that will change anything. We’ll have to see how that plays out.”
The Blazers’ defence corps is expected to again be a veteran group, with Sean Strange (20), Montana Onyebuchi (20), Quinn Schmiemann (19), Persson (19), Inaki Baragano (19), Ethan Brandwood (18), Logan Bairos (17) and Mats Lindgren (16) among potential key cogs.
Kamloops has six 20-year-olds on its roster — Strange, Onyebuchi and forwards Orrin Centazzo, Brodi Stuart, Ryley Appelt and Tyler Carpendale.
Only three will remain after the overage deadline, which will no longer be on Oct. 10. Bardsley said he expects the cut-down day to be in late October if the season begins on Oct. 2.
Centazzo seems a lock to remain on the team, with Stuart, Strange and Onyebuchi among top candidates for the remaining two spots.
Does the addition of Persson mean either Strange or Onyebuchi are more likely to be moved?
“We still have to figure that out,” Bardsley said. “One thing we don’t know, either, is if there could be some pro opportunities for our guys, as well. It’s just not knowing. To start the year, I think there is going to be an abundance of 20-year-olds, even players who have signed NHL contracts. They may start the season back in the Western league and, once the NHL starts up, there may be guys that leave or go to the AHL. We’re not really in a hurry to finalize anything right now.”
Bardsley noted he does not want to hinder the development of younger players by limiting their ice time.
“We have to manage it and balance it,” he said. “We have such a strong group at all positions that, if there was a player that happened to get a pro contract and is no longer an option, we have good depth, ability and experience. I’d rather have this situation than trying to figure out, oh boy, we need to get some players.”
Bardsley has studied film of Persson, who grew up playing for Brynas IF, a club located about 30 minutes from his hometown.
The Blazers’ GM said his import pick can play both sides and is comfortable on the power play and penalty kill.
Persson tallied 18 points, including five goals, in 26 games last season, his 18-year-old campaign. He was toiling for Brynas IF in the under-20 SuperElit League and finished second among defencemen in club scoring.
“He joins the rush, leads the rush, has offensive skill and is sound defensively,” Bardsley said.
“I’m not really concerned with size, but he is physically mature and comes with size.”
Persson is likely to arrive in Kamloops by Sept. 1 if WHL training camps are to open on Sept. 15, giving him time for a 14-day quarantine.