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Warriors stand pat in CHL Import Draft, Rysavy and Baco to return

Solid seasons by Czechia and Slovakian imports leads general manager Jason Ripplinger to bring both back for 2022-23 campaign

Moose Jaw Warriors general manager Jason Ripplinger probably won’t have a more relaxing draft day than what he and the Western Hockey League club went through on Friday morning.

Enter ‘PASS’ on your first pick, and call it day.

That’s how things turned out during the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft on Canada Day, as the Warriors opted to sit out the proceedings and not make any selections in 2022.

The reason for that is a solid one if folks took in games at Mosaic Place this past season -- both Czechia forward Martin Rysavy and Slovakian forward Robert Baco had an impact in their first seasons in Moose Jaw and were natural fits to return to the team.

“We’ve made it clear we don’t want to be making changes all the time and these two guys, it usually takes a year to adapt to this league and I thought they came on really well,” Ripplinger said. “I think coming in next year there will be higher expectations on them and they’ll be able to meet them.”

Rysavy was selected by the Warriors in the first round, sixth overall in the 2020 Import Draft and ended up waiting a season back home when the WHL was forced to play a limited campaign due to the pandemic. The following summer, the 6-foot- 4, 218-pound winger was selected in the seventh round, 197th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the NHL Draft.

The 19-year-old Prerov product put up eight goals and 26 points in 45 games for the Warriors and also suited up for Team Czechia at the abbreviated World Junior Hockey Championship.

It didn’t take long for Baco to become a fan favourite with his fearless playing style and willingness to enter the fray on behalf of teammates, with the 6-foot-2, 213-pound forward racking up 12 goals and 28 points to go along with 98 penalty minutes in 63 games. 

A native of Kosice, Baco was selected in the first round, 50th overall in the 2021 Import Draft and was ranked as high as 66th overall among European skaters heading into the NHL Draft but went unselected.

A major factor in retaining the rights of both players was the sheer size they bring to the line-up, something Ripplinger hopes will be a benefit when the games get down to the nitty-gritty.

“They’re both big and heavy guys, and that figures into a long playoff run next year,” Ripplinger said. “It’s harder to play against guys like that, and we’ve seen what they can do and how they fit in with team, so it just makes sense to have them back.”

As Ripplinger touched on, the duo will have some higher expectations to live up to, especially as second-year veterans.

“Baco has that physical presence where he creates room for other guys, and I think he could score 20 goals next year,” Ripplinger said. “For Rysavy, I think he could score 30 or more. I don’t want to put really high expectations on guys, but at the end of the day if they’re playing in our top six or top nine, they’re going to have to produce, so that kind of pressure is good for them.”

WHL teams selected a total of 23 players in the two-round draft, with each CHL team allowed to carry two import players on their roster. The Prince Albert Raiders and Winnipeg Ice also opted to keep their current imports and didn’t make a selection.

Medicine Hat held the top pick and selected Slovakian forward Adam Sykora, who is ranked 42nd overall by NHL Central Scouting heading into the NHL Draft next weekend.

Russian and Belarussian players were disqualified from the 2022 Import Draft due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.