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CHL Import Draft nets Thunderbirds Slovakian defenseman Samuel Knazko

With Simon Kubicek the only import on the roster, the Thunderbirds selected Samuel Knazko during Tuesday's CHL Import Draft. (Brian Liesse, T- Birds)

The Seattle Thunderbirds selected a defenseman during Tuesday morning’s CHL Import Draft and will begin the process of convincing him to sign with the team.

With the 21st pick in the first round, Seattle nabbed Slovak defenseman Samuel Knazko, a player who was selected by the Vancouver Giants during last year’s draft but chose not to play in the WHL.

“We like his frame and he’s an offensive defenseman that will help us on the power play,” Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge said. “He’s going to add something to our defense that we don’t have an abundance of yet. He’s going to fit with the group we’ve already assembled.”

After turning down an offer to join Vancouver last season, Knazko stayed in Europe and played for TPS Turko in the Finnish Jr A league. In 32 games he scored six goals while adding 16 assists for 22 points. The six-foot, 191-pound left-handed shot also represented Slovakia internationally, appearing in five games at the World Juniors this past season and in back-to-back Hlinka-Gretzky tournaments.

He ended the season ranked 42nd among European skaters by NHL’s Central Scouting Service for the 2020 NHL Draft. La Forge and the Thunderbirds will have to work on recruiting him to come over for the upcoming season.

“We’re going to have those conversations,” La Forge said. “We’re going to present our development plan and hopefully he agrees to come this year. I don’t think there’s a guarantee with anyone in this climate.”

With the uncertainty surrounding the return of hockey due to the COVID-19 disease, CHL teams will have to deal with unprecedented hurdles in convincing European players to come play in North America. There are questions around travel and it is unknown when European leagues will begin play, when the NHL Draft is going to happen, or when the WHL will ultimately get back on the ice.

All are factors players weigh while deciding where they want to play.

If Knazko were to sign he would join what is quickly turning into a crowded Thunderbirds blue line where all seven defensemen on the roster at the end of last season are eligible to return.

Adding to that mix will be 2019 first-round pick Kevin Korchinski, 2019 second-round pick Spencer Penner and 17-year-old offseason signee Jeremy Hanzel.

“We love the fact that we’re going to have competition,” La Forge said of his defensive group. “We were going to have that same competition no matter where we made a selection, it’s the same up front. We just went into the draft saying we would take the best player at that spot. We didn’t want to bring in a guy who would muddy the water and is just like the guys we have.”

There is the possibility that Knazko stays in Europe which would leave Seattle with one import in defenseman Simon Kubicek.

With the way the Thunderbirds roster is set up, there are not a lot of roster spots available and La Forge added that they would be comfortable going into the season with an open import slot.

“If something doesn’t work out and for some reason, Samuel doesn’t come over, we are confident in our group and we like where we are going,” he said.