Foreign investment

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

The risks are high but the rewards are just as lofty. Juraj Simek is proof of that.

When it comes to the annual import draft in the Canadian Hockey League, there is a certain amount of uncertainty clubs face when drafting young prospects from overseas. Unlike the bantam draft, where clubs like the Brandon Wheat Kings can send scouts across Western Canada to watch and evaluate a player, the process of choosing a youngster from Sweden or the Czech Republic is a similar to Russian Roulette.

'Fortunate'

You could get hurt. Or you might get lucky -- like Brandon did with Simek.

"The import draft is much different in that there are so many unknowns and in many cases these are players being selected that you have never seen before," Wheat Kings coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon said earlier this week. "You're dealing with scouts and player agents and those types of people to try and figure out how to rank players in terms of their ability and secondly, what their availability might be. It's as much of an art as it is a science. Some years it works, and you end up with good players. Other years ... it just doesn't work.

"We were fortunate with Juraj (this season)."

The 19-year-old Simek, who was born in Slovakia but is skating for Switzerland in the 2007 World Junior Hockey Championships (making him the first BWK player since Jordin Tootoo in 2003 to take part in the event), came to the Wheaties via the import draft last July. A gifted scoring threat, Simek is one of the premier offensive players in the WHL this season, netting 22 goals and 18 helpers for 40 points in 32 games and is third in team scoring. He also scored twice for Switzerland yesterday in a 4-1 win over Belarus.

"He's as good a European player as we probably have ever had," McCrimmon said. "We had real good reports on him in terms of his ability and he was pretty open with the fact that he wanted to come and play junior hockey to prepare himself for pro. Until players get here and make the transition and you see how they adjust, you never really know for sure."

And that adjustment is what separates a good import selection from a poor one.

Coming to a foreign country, having to learn a new culture and a different way to do things on a day in and day out basis is just as unnerving and uncertain to the player as it is for the team selecting him. The long bus rides, the ability to fit in right away with teammates, overcoming homesickness -- these are all obstacles facing a teenage European player.

The Brandon boss dismisses the suggestion a player like Simek (who speaks decent English) is forced to be more mature than a Western Canadian kid under those circumstances, but does respect an import's desire to come to small-town Canada to play hockey.

"I've always felt those players have to have a certain level of courage to do what they do -- to move away to another country to play hockey at a young age -- that really takes something special in each of those players," McCrimmon said.

The Wheat Kings, minus Simek, are in Red Deer and Calgary this weekend.


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