The Russian is coming, and much more

It’s been a crazy day for the Silvertips with regards to player news.

The biggest development, at least in terms of players who are confirmed to be reporting to training camp, is the news that Russian forward Ivan Nikolishin will be coming to Everett. Tips general manager Garry Davidson confirmed this afternoon that both of Everett’s picks in this year’s import draft, Nikolishin and Finnish winger Waltteri Hopponen, will report on Aug. 19. Both are heading into their 17-year-old seasons.

Hopponen, Everett’s first-round pick, was always expected to report. On the other hand Nikolishin, Everett’s bonus second rounder because Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller was a first-round NHL draft pick, was considered questionable at best. Nikolishin is a top-end talent, a small and skilled forward who’s generally projected to go in the first two rounds of next year’s NHL draft. He slipped into the second round of the import draft because it was expected he would remain with his team in Russia, CSKA Moscow. However, Davidson said Nikolishin was not given assurances from CSKA Moscow that he would receive time in the KHL this season, so he’s coming to Everett instead, where he theoretically will receive plenty of ice time to showcase himself for the NHL draft.

This is a big pick-up for the Tips, who can use all the offensive boosts they can get. It does, however, mean Everett will probably have to make a difficult decision. Teams are allowed two Euros. Mueller is currently exempt from that restriction, but as soon as he returns from training camp with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks — and he’s fully expected to return — the Tips will have to get back down to two. If I’m interpreting the rules correctly, neither Hopponen nor Nikolishin can be traded, so that’s another factor in the equation. Nevertheless, it’s a good problem to have.

While Nikolishin was the biggest confirmation, potentially the biggest development involves Jujhar Khaira. Khaira, a 19-year-old power forward who was a third-round pick in the 2012 NHL draft by the Edmonton Oilers, was slated for his sophomore year at Michigan Tech. However, he signed a professional contract with the Oilers today, therefore forfeiting his NCAA eligibility. His WHL rights happen to be held by Everett.

This doesn’t mean he’s destined for Everett, and Davidson didn’t comment about Khaira beyond saying Everett’s chances of landing him are better now than they were before. But the options for where Khaira can play next season just narrowed. He could stick with the Oilers, but that’s considered unlikely. I’ve also received conflicting reports with regards to his status vis-a-vis the pros. Players selected in the NHL draft out of college are eligible to play professionally in the minors, whereas players drafted out of the CHL can’t play professionally in the minors until they’re 20. But Khaira wasn’t in college yet when he was drafted, he was still in the BCHL. So I’m not sure if he can play in the pros as a 19-year-old or not.

The Tips would have to surrender a fourth-round bantam pick to Prince George if Khaira reported, but given that Khaira would be expected to be a major impact player, I suspect the Tips would be quite happy with that tradeoff.

But wait, there’s more:

– Davidson confirmed that listed player Linden Penner will be coming to training camp. Penner, an 18-year-old power forward, has seen his stock skyrocket in the past six months. He had a good year in the AJHL, then was invited to development camp with the NHL’s Calgary Flames. Penner impressed so much during development camp that the Flames invited him to play for their team at the prospects tournament in Penticton. He could be an intriguing addition.

– Two top-end Californian forwards are set to attend training camp. Fifteen-year-old Patrick Khodorenko, the team’s second-round pick in this year’s bantam draft, is scheduled to attend. The Tips picked Khodorenko knowing they still had recruiting work to do with him, so getting him to training camp is an important step. Also scheduled to come is 16-year-old Alec Mehr. Mehr was a 12th-round bantam pick in 2012 who was thought to be leaning toward the NCAA, and he didn’t attend camp as a 15-year-old. But he’s coming to check it out, and if the Tips can get him signed he’d be a nice addition.

– One player who won’t be back from last year’s team is winger Lucas Grayson, who has been released. Grayson, who’s heading into his 19-year-old season, was Everett’s most willing player to drop the gloves, and he was immensely popular in the locker room. However, he spent much of last season injured, and when he was healthy he was a part-time player, so he wasn’t likely to make the type of contribution teams expect from their 19-year-olds. But he and his lion’s mane will be missed.

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