Tips pick a pair of wingers in import draft

EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips got what they wanted early in Wednesday’s Canadian Hockey League import draft, then rolled the dice late.

Everett added two wingers to the mix when they selected Waltteri Hopponen and Ivan Nikolishin.

The Tips grabbed Hopponen, a 17-year-old from Finland, with their first-round pick (10th overall). then used their second-rounder (61st overall) to take a flyer on Nikolishin, a highly regarded 17-year-old from Russia.

Everett has struggled offensively the past three seasons, finishing in the bottom two in the Western Hockey League in goals scored all three years. The Tips hope they addressed that issue in Wednesday’s draft.

“I think it went fairly well,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said about the way the draft unfolded for the Tips. “We did our homework, and Waltteri Hopponen was certainly at the top of our list.”

Hopponen is a player the Tips hope will help energize an offense that’s struggled for three seasons. The 6-foot-1, 181-pound resident of Helsinki played for the Espoo Blues last season, splitting time between the Blues’ U-20 and U-18 teams. He had 12 goals and 11 assists in 20 games for the U-18 team, then added five goals and three assists in 18 games with the U-20 team. He also played for Finland at this year’s U-17 World Hockey Challenge, registering a goal and two assists in five contest.

Davidson said Hopponen is committed to coming to Everett. He is the third Finn drafted by Everett, following defenseman Rasmus Rissanen in 2009 and winger Jesse Huhtala in 2010.

“He’s a good-sized winger who my sources say has a good upside offensively and is supposed to be a very good skater,” Davidson said. “He wanted to come (to North America), Everett has done business with his agency before with Rissanen, and my sources say he could be a mid-round NHL pick next year, with the potential to go higher. We think we’ve brought in a guy who will give us what we need to improve our offense.”

The Tips then decided to swing for the fences in the second round. Teams are allowed just two European players, and the Tips already have Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller on the roster. However, Everett found itself in a unique situation as a new rule allowed the Tips to draft a third European because Mueller was selected in the first round of Sunday’s NHL draft. Therefore, Everett took a chance by picking Nikolishin.

Nikolishin, the son of former NHLer Andrei Nikolishin, is considered a potential first-round pick in next year’s NHL draft. The 5-foot-9, 154-pounder was Russia’s captain at this year’s U-17 World Hockey Challenge and he finished as the co-leading scorer for the silver medalists with eight points in six games. He was also selected in the first round (29th overall) of the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) junior draft by CSKA Moscow.

“He’s very skilled,” Davidson said. “Right now it’s iffy if he’ll come. I spoke to his father, and he was also drafted into the KHL, so they’re talking with the general manager of (CSKA Moscow). I’ll talk with his dad over the next couple days, and we’ll see how it plays out.”

If Nikolishin comes to Everett, and Mueller doesn’t make the San Jose Sharks, the Tips will either have to trade Mueller or release either Hopponen or Nikolishin. If Nikolishin doesn’t come to Everett this season, Davidson said Nikolishin will remain on the Silvertips’ protected list in case he chooses to join the team in the future.

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

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