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Thunderbirds add offense in CHL Import Draft

The Thunderbirds hope Sami Moilanen's production can be made up with import pick Andrej Kukuca (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – The Seattle Thunderbirds were looking to add some offensive firepower during Thursday’s CHL Import Draft.

Making two selections, the club feels that they got what they needed.

“We think we’ve got some scoring that will add to our top six,” Seattle vice president of hockey operations Russ Farwell said after. “And we think we’ve got a guy who can grow to be a real good player.”

In the first round, with the 29th pick, the Thunderbirds took forward Andrej Kukuca from Slovakia and then added Czech defenseman Simon Kubicek with the 89th pick. Kukuca is the fourth Slovakian player selected by Seattle in the Import Draft and Kubicek becomes just the fourth defenseman the team has taken.

After losing Sami Moilanen, who will return to Finland for the coming season, the Thunderbirds needed to add some scoring. As a potential 30-goal scorer, Moilanen would have been counted on to play on the team’s top line.

Farwell, along with new general manager Bil La Forge, like what they’ve seen and heard about Kukuca’s scoring prowess, which on paper looks promising. Playing for Trencin in the Slovak Junior League last year the 6-foot-2 winger potted 43 goals in 44 regular season games and then added 18 more in just 18 post-season contests.

“Really good scorer over his history the last three, four years,” Farwell said of Kukuca. “He scores and scores all kinds of goals. We’ve got quite a bit of experience, but we really felt we needed real offense. It lets everyone play in their right spot. To have to generate it without having a pure goal scorer is hard, so that was our hope, to get scoring in the draft.”

Born late in 1999, this coming season will be Kukuca’s 19-year-old campaign which means that the Thunderbirds will most likely have him for just one year. In the past couple of import drafts the Thunderbirds have taken younger players that could develop along with the roster in place.

Had Moilanen returned he would have been playing in his 19-year-old season as well and Seattle would still need to make another pick in the 2019 draft.

“I think we mostly looked at what this team needed right now,” Farwell added. “We think he’ll be able to help us right now and we’ll be in the market (for an import) next year.”

In Kubicek, the Thunderbirds are getting a defenseman who has offensive potential as well.

Playing mostly in the Czech U18 league for Ceske Budejovice the 2001-born blue liner scored nine times while compiling 19 points in 29 games. With a late birthday, his NHL Draft eligible year won’t be until 2020 but Kubicek also already spent time with the Czech national team at the World Hockey Challenge.

“We had him quite high,” Farwell said of the team’s ranking of Kubicek coming into the draft. “We think he can be (a puck-moving defenceman). I don’t know that we’re handing him the power play yet, he’ll have to earn that like everyone else. But we think there’s potential to do that.”

The addition of Kubicek sets up quite the competition for playing time on the Seattle blue line this fall. At the top of the defensive rotation the Thunderbirds have Jarret Tyszka, Jake Lee, and Reece Harsch as established players returning. Kubicek has the potential to fit into the top four which would set up battles in camp to find out where players like Tyson Terretta, Owen Williams, Cade McNelly, and Tyrel Bauer will slot in.

This year’s Import Draft saw the CHL once again allow goalies to be drafted and seven were selected overall. Seattle did not look at goaltender in this draft despite trading away back up Dorrin Luding earlier in the summer.

Farwell says that it wasn’t much of an option for them because they are happy with returning goalie Liam Hughes and their overall depth in the position. That depth includes Carl Stankowski, who missed the entire season last year due to injury and illness.

“Carl thinks he’s going to be ready,” Farwell said. “We as a team have to be kind of careful but we think have some depth there. Carl’s a possibility and we know he can play if he’s healthy. (Cole) Schwebius has really taken a step, he was impressive at spring camp.”

Schwebius played in the preseason for Seattle last year but did not appear in any games during the regular season. If Stankowski is not ready to go, Schwebius and rookie Eric Ward will be in the mix to back up Hughes.