By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips are about to create yet more European player intrigue.
For the second consecutive year Everett is receiving a bonus pick in the Canadian Hockey League import draft, which takes place today, and that extra selection will give the Tips one European player too many.
Everett already has its allotment of two European players: 19-year-old Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller and 18-year-old Russian center Ivan Nikolishin. However, because Mueller was a first-round NHL draft pick, the Tips receive an extra selection.
“We’re going to pick someone,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson confirmed.
Everett again finds itself in an unusual situation. A rule implemented by the CHL a year ago says if a team has a European player who was picked in the first round of the NHL draft while playing in the CHL, that team can draft an extra import. The rule serves as insurance against teams unexpectedly losing a Euro to the NHL as an 18- or 19-year-old.
The 19-year-old Mueller was selected 18th overall by the San Jose Sharks in the 2013 NHL draft following his rookie season in Everett, thus making the Tips eligible to draft a third Euro. Should Mueller be returned to the Tips by San Jose, Everett will have pare one of the Euros from its roster.
Everett found itself in the same situation last year. Mueller had just been picked in the first round of the NHL draft, and Czech winger Stathis Soumelidis was released, leaving the Tips with just one Euro. Everett subsequently selected two players in the import draft, picking Finnish winger Waltteri Hopponen in the first round and Russian center Ivan Nikolishin in the second.
When Mueller was returned to the Tips by San Jose, Everett had to get down to two Euros. Mueller was the only one of the three who could be traded as Europeans cannot be traded until a year after being picked in the import draft. Nikolishin edged out Hopponen during the preseason, and Everett was forced to release Hopponen, who was ineligible to be picked up by another CHL team. Hopponen ended up playing for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League, a team coached by former Tips assistant coach Jay Varady.
There are some slight variations to the situation this year. Everett will have two players eligible to be traded should the Tips find themselves with one Euro too many since both Mueller and Nikolishin have been in the league for a year. Also, the CHL modified the rule about a released third Euro. If the player Everett selects today is ultimately released, he will go on waivers and be eligible to be picked up by another WHL team instead of being barred from playing in the CHL that season, thus avoiding Hopponen’s fate.
Davidson said he doesn’t know what Mueller’s chances are of making the Sharks this season. As a 19-year-old selected from the CHL, Mueller is ineligible to play professionally in the minor leagues. Therefore, his only options are either to play in the NHL or be returned to the Tips.
“It’s difficult for me to make a statement,” Davidson said when asked about Mueller’s chances of sticking with the Sharks. “I’m not aware of what openings they have in San Jose or what kind of competition he’s up against. We’re not going to worry about it because it’s out of our control. I certainly see Mirco Mueller as an NHL player at some point, but when exactly that may be would be speculation.”
Whomever Everett selects today will be challenged to make the team, should Mueller be returned to the Tips. Last season, Mueller had five goals and 22 assists in 60 games while serving as Everett’s No. 1 defenseman, and Nikolishin finished second on the team in scoring with 59 points (18 goals 41 assists) in 72 contests.
Even though it’s Mueller who has a chance to stick in the NHL, Davidson said picking a defenseman today to guard against losing Mueller is not a priority.
“I think what we’re going to do is pick the best player available to us as opposed to picking a position,” Davidson said. “It’s still up in the air what we’re going to do, but it’ll probably be the best player available, whether its a forward or a defenseman.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.