Top 5 WHL Import Players Who Succeded in the NHL
The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) is set this week for another Import Draft. It is an opportunity for young import players to come to the CHL and experience the North American style of hockey, while also heightening their exposure to scouts and potential NHL teams. Here is a look at five successful NHLers who were Western Hockey League (WHL) Import Players.
Born in Stara Lubovna, Slovakia, Marian Hossa brought his skills to North America and joined the Portland Winterhawks for the 1997-98 season. The 1997 first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators helped power the Winterhawks all the way to a WHL and Memorial Cup Championship that season. In 53 regular-season games in the WHL, he recorded 85 points (45 goals, 40 assists), along with 19 points (13 goals, 6 assists) in 16 playoff games.
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In the Memorial Cup, he continued his production with 5 goals and 4 assists in 4 games. To go with the championship, Hossa was also awarded the Jim Piggot Trophy for WHL Rookie of the Year, while being named to the CHL All-Rookie Team, CHL and WHL First All-Star Team and CHL Memorial Cup All-Star Team.
After his single season in the WHL, Hossa went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NHL. Playing for the Ottawa Senators, Atlanta Thrashers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Arizona Coyotes, Hossa played in 1,309 regular-season games over his 19-season NHL career. The former Winterhawk won the Stanley Cup three times, all with the Chicago Blackhawks, and recorded a total of 525 goals and 609 assists for 1,134 points.
In 1996, Zdeno Chara joined the Prince George Cougars after being selected 6th overall in the 1996 CHL Import Draft and prowled the blue line for one season in the WHL. Drafted into the NHL in the third round by the New York Islanders, playing in the WHL was an opportunity for the Trencin, Slovakia product to learn the North American style of play. Considered a raw talent at the time, the huge defenceman played 49 regular-season games with the Cougars, recording 3 goals and 19 assists. In the playoffs, Chara had 8 points in 15 games as Prince George went all the way to the Western Conference Final, where the Seattle Thunderbirds defeated them.
With 22 seasons and counting in the NHL, Chara has established himself as one of the greatest players in league history. The 2010-11 NHL Stanley Cup Champion has played 1,553 games, with 656 points (205 goals, 451 assists) over his career.
The Swift Current Broncos struck gold in the second round of the CHL Import Draft when they selected Rozsival with the 49th pick. The Czech product from Vlasim would play two seasons for the Broncos, recording 108 points (22 goals, 65 assists) in 134 WHL games. This included a notable 1997-98 season where he was selected to the CHL Second All-Star Team, WHL (East) First All-Star Team, and was presented the Bill Hunter Trophy as WHL Top Defenseman.
Rozsival would continue to a successful NHL career, which saw him lift the Stanly Cup twice with the Chicago Blackhawks, first in 2013 and then again in 2015. Over 17 seasons in the NHL, Rozsival would play 963 games, splitting his time with Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Phoenix Coyotes and Blackhawks.
Pavel Kubina was selected by the Moose Jaw Warriors with the 30th pick in the 1995 CHL Import draft. In the 1996-97 season, he played 61 games for the Warriors and led their defence in scoring with 44 points. After a single season with Moose Jaw, the native of Celadna in the Czech Republic played professional hockey in 1997-98, splitting time between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the American Hockey League.
Kubina went on to play 14 seasons in the NHL, with time spent with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Atlanta Thrashers and Philadelphia Flyers. His most notable season was 2003-04, where he helped the Lightning with the Stanley Cup, had most goals by a defenceman (17) and was named to the NHL All-Star Game.
Another former Portland Winterhawks player makes the list as Richard Zednik from Banska Bystrica, Slovakia was selected 18th overall in the 1994 CHL Import Draft. In two seasons from 1994 to 1996, Zednik was highly productive in the WHL, recording 167 points (79 goals, 88 assists) in 126 games with Portland.
A 10th-round pick by the Washington Capitals in 1994, Zednik would go on to play 745 games in the NHL with the Capitals, Montréal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Florida Panthers. The forward would score 199 goals while adding 179 assists for 378 points in his NHL career. Zednik was also memorably injured in 2008 when he received a severe cut to his throat by a teammate.
Jiri Hrdina played two seasons in the WHL after being selected 16th overall in 1994 by the Seattle Thunderbirds. While with Seattle and the Spokane Chiefs, he would torch the league for 173 points (70 goals, 103 assists) in 117 games played. The Czech native from Hradec Kralove would play 513 games in the NHL with time spent as a member of the Penguins, Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets.
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Vaclav Vrada played for the Tacoma and then Kelowna Rockets after being selected second overall in the 1994 CHL Import draft. An offensive force in the WHL, the Czech product from Vsetin put up 173 points (89 goals, 84 assits) in 127 games. Vrada would go on to play 10 seasons in the NHL, with 493 games split between the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators.
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