The Tips wasted no time resolving their glut of Euros, releasing Finnish winger Waltteri Hopponen today. Everett would have loved to have kept Hopponen, the 10th-overall pick in this year’s import draft. But he’s the unfortunate victim of the numbers game. That leaves Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller and Russian center Ivan Nikolishin as Everett’s two imports this season.
Everett found itself in a unique situation with its Euros. An obscure CHL rule allowed the Tips to select a third Euro in the import draft because Mueller was selected from Everett in the first round of the NHL draft. The Tips selected Hopponen in the first round, knowing he was coming to North America, then took Nikolishin in the second round, thinking they might have a chance to bring him over next season. However, Nikolishin decided to come over right away, giving Everett three really good players for two spots. Further complicating matters was the rule that prohibits teams from trading players just selected in the import draft, meaning Mueller was the only one of the three the Tips could trade.
Mueller was reassigned back to Everett by the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, thus starting the clock for making a decision. Everett wasn’t going to trade Mueller, its 18-year-old No. 1 defenseman, so it came down to a decision between Hopponen and Nikolishin. They’re different types of players, as Hopponen is bigger, stronger player who uses his body well, while Nikolishin is a smaller, skilled player. Both are 17-year-olds and both performed well in the preseason. Tips general manager Garry Davidson said it was a difficult decision. However, he said Nikolishin’s ability to play center, along with his offensive potential, tilted the decision his way.
The truly unfortunate part of this story is that Hopponen was not eligible to go through WHL waivers. Davidson said that if Mueller was still with the Sharks at the start of the NHL season (Oct. 1), the Tips could have traded Hopponen to another WHL team. Instead Hopponen, who just today was named on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s watch list for the 2014 NHL draft, is ineligible to play in the WHL (or anywhere in the CHL) this season. I think this tweet pretty much sums up what I think about that:
Forcing a good prospect like Waltteri Hopponen right out of the CHL is a stupid consequence of the new import rules IMO. They need to fix.
— Alan Caldwell (@smallatlarge) September 23, 2013
The good news is the Tips did find a way to allow Hopponen to play in North America this season. The Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL had placed Hopponen on their protected list, the same Sioux City Musketeers who happen to be coached by former Kevin Constantine assistant Jay Varady (think there was a little back scratching there?). So Hopponen is headed there today.
The other roster move Everett made today was reassigning center Ty Mappin to a yet-to-be-determined AJHL team. Mappin was Everett’s first-round pick in the 2011 bantam draft, and he spent last season with the Tips, notching 17 points in 63 games. Therefore, this move may cause an eyebrow to be raised.
That said, Mappin seemed to have been passed on the depth chart, as he went pointless during the preseason and was a healthy scratch for the season opener. Davidson said he thought Mappin needed to play somewhere this season where he will get a lot of ice time so he could develop, and that may have been difficult in Everett. He also said Mappin also expressed some concerns about his role with the team this season. Davidson said this doesn’t close the door on Mappin for the future, and he’s looking for Mappin to develop and work his way back to Everett.
Meanwhile, Mueller has rejoined the team and Jujhar Khaira is arriving tonight, meaning the Tips are still at 26 players — 15 forwards, nine defensemen and two goaltenders. The Tips still have four overagers, one more than the limit, meaning another tough decision still needs to be made. The overager deadline is Oct. 15, so Everett still has some time to make that decision.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, the NHL Central Scouting Bureau released its watch list for the 2014 NHL draft this morning. With Hopponen released, Everett has three players among the 35 WHLers listed. Nikolishin was listed as a B skater, Tyler Sandhu was listed as a C skater, and goaltender Austin Lotz was listed as a C goalie. Lotz’s inclusion is noteworthy, as he was eligible for this year’s draft, but went unselected.