By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips found themselves in a unique situation with regards to their European players. Unfortunately, it was Waltteri Hopponen who had to pay the price.
Everett cleared up its European logjam by making the difficult decision to release Hopponen on Monday. The 17-year-old winger from Finland was Everett’s first-round pick in this year’s Canadian Hockey League import draft.
By releasing Hopponen, Everett will go with 18-year-old Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller and 17-year-old Russian center Ivan Nikolishin as its two import players this season.
Everett made one more roster move Monday, reassigning former first-round bantam pick Ty Mappin. The 17-year-old center, who spent all of last season with the Tips, was the seventh-overall selection in the 2011 bantam draft.
The Tips were compelled to make a decision on their European players after Mueller was reassigned back to Everett by the NHL’s San Jose Sharks on Sunday. Hopponen will be joining the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League.
“We’re only allowed two, so it was a tough decision,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “We could have put it off for another game, but that didn’t make sense. Hopefully this will give (Hopponen) a chance to establish himself.”
Everett found itself with an unusual embarrassment of riches with its Europeans. Teams in the Canadian Hockey League (the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) are allowed just two European players. However, an obscure rule states that if a team has a European player selected off its roster in the first round of the NHL draft, that team can draft a third European as insurance against the first rounder sticking with his NHL team. Mueller, who was a rookie with the Tips last season, was taken 18th overall by San Jose, meaning Everett became eligible for a third import.
Everett therefore selected two players in July’s CHL import draft. The Tips took Hopponen in the first round, knowing he was committed to play in North American this season. Everett then took a flyer in the second round by picking Nikolishin, who wasn’t committed to coming over. The Tips thought they had a chance of recruiting Nikolishin for next season, but Nikolishin instead decided to come over this season, leaving the Tips with three quality players for just two roster spots.
Hopponen and Nikolishin, because they were selected in this year’s import draft, were ineligible to be traded. Therefore, once Mueller returned the Tips had the option of either trading Mueller or releasing Hopponen or Nikolishin. Davidson said trading Mueller, the team’s No. 1 defenseman, was not a consideration. Therefore, it came down to a choice between Hopponen and Nikolishin. Both excelled during the preseason. Nikolishin, a smaller skilled player, had three goals and four assists in six preseason games. Hopponen, a bigger and more physical player, had two goals and three assists in six games. Both played in Everett’s season-opening 8-3 victory over Prince George, with Nikolishin tallying two assists and Hopponen going pointless.
“It was certainly not an easy decision,” Davidson said. “We like both Nikolishin and Waltteri Hopponen. It just came down to Nikolishin being a center, and the importance of being strong down the middle, giving him the upper hand. But both are really good European kids. Also, Nikolishin has some potential to be a high-point man at some part of his WHL career. But Hopponen is a bigger, stronger guy with pro potential.”
Davidson said that if Mueller had still been with the Sharks for the Oct. 1 start of the NHL season, the Tips would have been able to trade Hopponen to another WHL team. Instead, Hopponen had to be released, and the rule states that a released third Euro cannot be claimed by another CHL team. Everett had inquired about changing the rule so that Hopponen could be claimed by another WHL team and remain in the league, but to no avail.
“That’s a change that has to be made by the whole CHL,” Davidson said. “I believe the rule will be re-looked at. It’s on the agenda for our general manager meetings in Calgary in October. But you need all three leagues, so it wasn’t going to happen this year.”
Instead the Tips steered Hopponen to Sioux City, which is coached by former Silvertips associate head coach Jay Varady.
The other move Everett made Monday was reassigning Mappin to the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The team is yet to be determined.
Mappin was one of the team’s brightest prospects a year ago. He had an up-and-down rookie season, notching five goals and 12 assists in 63 games. Then he was passed on the depth chart this season as he went pointless in four preseason games.
“It’s one of those things where we had 16 forwards and had to make a decision,” Davidson said. “And I think he was a little concerned about what his role would be this year as well. I think he was comfortable with going somewhere where he’ll play a lot.”
Davidson said the door wasn’t closed on Mappin returning to Everett in the future.
“We want him to develop and work his way back here.”
Monday’s moves leave the Tips with 26 players on the roster — 15 forwards, nine defensemen and two goaltenders. Everett still has four overagers, one more than the limit. The Tips have until Oct. 15 to resolve their overage situation.
Mueller rejoined the Tips on Monday morning. Center Jujhar Khaira, who was reassigned to Everett by the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, was scheduled to arrive in Everett on Monday night. ? Everett had three representatives among the 35 WHLers on the NHL Central Scouting Service’s preliminary watch list for the 2014 NHL draft, which was released Monday. Nikolishin was listed as a B skater, forward Tyler Sandhu was listed as a C skater, and goaltender Austin Lotz was listed as a C goalie. Hopponen was also listed as a B skater.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.