Moose Jaw Warriors general manager Jason Ripplinger is going diamond hunting.
With the Western Hockey League club having landed the 48th and 108th overall picks in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, finding players who can have an impact can be a bit of a process.
And selecting that late means you’re almost certainly looking for a diamond in the rough.
But the Warriors have had success finding skill and ability in late rounds recently, and Ripplinger will be looking for the same when the Draft takes place on Wednesday, July 5.
“At this point, I’m just talking to some agents and finding out who is willing to come to the Western Hockey League and play,” Ripplinger said. “I haven’t really narrowed it down to what positions we’re going to look at, but we’ll be looking to get the best player available when it’s our turn to pick.”
One thing that’s for certain is the Warriors will be using both their selections after sitting out completely in 2022. Both Czech forward Martin Rysavy and Slovakian forward Robert Baco are overagers in the 2023-24 campaign and will be moving on to play professionally.
“They’re both ready for pro, they were both good soldiers for us and good people, but it’s time for them to move on to the next level,” Ripplinger said.
Rysavy played 92 games for the Warriors over two seasons and put up 19 goals and 59 points, while Baco suited up in 117 games and had 21 goals and 48 points to go along with 148 penalty minutes.
It’s that latter category that has Ripplinger confident he can find quality at the 48th pick. Baco was taken by the Warriors at 50th overall in the 2021 Import Draft and brought a hard-nosed physical presence to the team that earned him the nickname ‘Bobzilla’ and made him a bit of a fan favourite.
“He was a different European than most people are used to seeing and did what we needed him to do,” Ripplniger said. “So you can find players at that point in the Draft.”
The key is relying on your scouting system and especially on player agents, who play a large role in bringing players over to play in North America.
“It all depends on your connections with agents, it’s kind of an agent-driven draft so you have to trust the guys and believe in what they see and what they’re giving you,” Ripplinger explained. “You can watch them on video as well, and while it’s better to see them live, we don’t have the resources to do that.”
The 48th overall pick unfortunately hasn’t panned out all that often -- players generally fall into a sub-point-a-game category with rare exceptions. QMJHL Baie-Comeau found a bit of a hit with Russian forward Denis Gorbunov, who put up 21 goals and 51 points in 61 games during the 2013-14 season.
There’s also the chance of landing an NHL-drafted player who might not be convinced about coming over to play in North America. That was the case with Finnish goaltender Leevi Merilainen, who was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2020, selected by OHL Kingston in 2021 and played that season with the Frontenacs in addition to representing Finland at the World Juniors.
Regardless of how things shake out, Ripplniger will be looking for someone who can produce immediately upon taking the ice with the Warriors.
“When you’re drafting Euros, you’re not really looking for someone who is going to be a third-line grinder, that’s not what you really want, you want them to be as high-end skilled as possible. If you’re looking for grinders and hard-working people you can find them in Canada.”