Draft gambles could pay off for Silvertips

EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips have received a commitment from one big name. And another possible game changer is now in play.

Everett’s offense potentially received a big boost with the news that Russian winger Ivan Nikolishin has committed to coming to Everett for training camp later this month. It could receive another one as power forward Jujhar Khaira, whose rights are owned by the Tips, left Michigan Tech on Wednesday.

Everett general manager Garry Davidson confirmed Wednesday that both of Everett’s picks from this year’s Canadian Hockey League import draft, Finnish winger Waltteri Hopponen and Nikolishin, will report to Everett on Aug. 19, three days before training camp officially opens on Aug. 22. Hopponen was Everett’s first-round pick in the import draft, Nikolishin was the Tips’ second rounder. Both are heading into their 17-year-old seasons.

Nikolishin was a shot in the dark for the Tips. Everett, which already had Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller on the roster, reached its allotment of two Europeans after selecting Hopponen in the first round. However, the Tips were allowed a second-round pick because Mueller was selected in the first round of this year’s NHL draft. The third European serves as insurance should Mueller stick with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

So Everett took a flyer on Nikolishin. The 5-foot-9, 154-pounder, who is the son of former NHL player Andrei Nikolishin, is a highly-skilled winger who’s excelled for Russia in international play. He slipped into the second round because the prevailing belief was he would remain with his Russian team, CSKA Moscow. Now it looks as though the Tips’ gamble is going to pay off.

“Speaking to his father, who had met with his (professional) KHL team, he indicated they didn’t really feel they had a spot for him this year with a legitimate shot to play some in the KHL,” Davidson said. “I think he and his father weren’t really comfortable with what they were presented with there, so they thought coming to the CHL made a lot of sense. It’s his NHL draft year, and this will give him great exposure.”

With both Nikolishin and Hopponen scheduled to arrive, the Tips likely will have to make a decision. Everett can carry three Europeans until Mueller is sent back to Everett by the NHL’s San Jose Sharks following training camp in September. Mueller, who’s 18, is not expected to stick with the Sharks. When Mueller returns the Tips will have to get down to two Europeans, and neither Hopponen nor Nikolishin can be traded because they were picked in this year’s import draft.

“We’ll have to make a decision at some point, but we still have to wait for San Jose to make their decision to send Mirco back, too,” Davidson said.

As for Khaira, he’s not headed to Everett yet, but the odds increased significantly Wednesday.

The Tips acquired Khaira’s rights from Prince George during the 2012 bantam draft, but the 6-foot-3, 198-pounder from Surrey, B.C., who’s headed into his 19-year-old season, decided instead to keep his commitment to Michigan Tech. As a freshman at Michigan Tech last season, Khaira finished tied for third on the team in scoring with 24 points (six goals, 18 assists) in 37 games.

Khaira was selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft by the Edmonton Oilers, and on Wednesday he signed an entry-level contract with the Oilers, thus forfeiting his NCAA eligibility. He’s not expected to make Edmonton’s roster this season, and if the Oilers decide Khaira’s development would best be served by playing a season of major junior, he’ll be headed to Everett.

“It’s a little premature for me to talk about it, though I did talk to his agent on Monday,” Davidson said. “He signed with Edmonton, so there’s a much greater possibility he could be an Everett Silvertip now. Jujhar is a big, strong, quality player and he’d be a very exciting and very welcome addition to our club this year.”

Everett also has received some other significant commitments for training camp. Linden Penner, an 18-year-old power forward who was added to Everett’s protected list late last season, is slated to compete for a roster spot. Penner had an impressive season at the junior A level, and he recently was a standout at the NHL’s Calgary Flames’ development camp.

Also committed to attend training camp are a pair of skilled young forwards from California. Fifteen-year-old Patrick Khodorenko, Everett’s second-round pick in this year’s bantam draft, is a high-end talent who the Tips are hoping to convince to play in Everett instead of the NCAA. Sixteen-year-old Alec Mehr slipped to the 12th-round of the 2012 bantam draft because of the belief he was headed to the NCAA, will attend camp after not attending last year.

One player who won’t be attending camp this year is winger Lucas Grayson, who has been released. The combative 19-year-old Grayson spent the past two seasons in Everett and was a popular figure in the locker room. However, he played sparingly during the first half of last season, then spent the second half injured. In his two seasons with the Tips, which saw him convert from defense to forward midway through, he had one assist and 202 penalty minutes in 76 games.

Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.

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