Cam Russell finally got a chance to make the trek to Switzerland last February to get a firsthand glimpse of then 16-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers.
The Halifax Mooseheads general manager had heard lots of good things about the Danish forward. After watching the five-foot-10, 176-pounder suit up with Swiss-A league’s EHC Biel, Russell was determined to get him in a Mooseheads jersey.
“First of all, he’s a ‘96 born player and he was playing in the best league over there,” said Russell. “As a 16-year-old, I was just impressed with the way he played against men.”
It didn’t hurt that he’d played alongside NHLers Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin during the lockout.
Fast-forward to Wednesday’s CHL Import Draft and Russell got his man with the Mooseheads’ sixth overall pick.
“He’s got great speed and quickness and good hockey sense,” said Russell. “He’s got a little bit of salt and jam to him. He plays with a lot of passion and skill.”
In seven playoff games with Biel, Ehlers picked up three points. After spending most of last season playing in Switzerland’s top junior league, he collected 49 points in 32 games and racked up 21 points in 13 games with Denmark at the under-18 championship.
The Mooseheads used their other first-round pick, No. 12 overall, on 16-year-old left-winger Timo Meier of Switzerland. Another talented forward, the six foot, 194 pounder registered 30 points in 33 games with the country’s top under-20 squad Rapperswi last year. He also scored four goals in eight games representing Switzerland at the U-18 championship.
“He’s a big, very skilled hockey player,” said Russell of Meier, who was second on his list. “He’s a guy along the same lines as Nikolaj.”
Since CHL rules allow teams just two import players, the Mooseheads had to choose carefully, especially given the void left by two outgoing imports: overage defenceman Konrad Abeltshauser and Marty Frk, a 19-year-old first-line forward, who is expected to turn pro next season.
Both players, who Russell projects as at least top six forwards, have given the organization their word that they’ll report to training camp next month.
“These are guys who want to be professional hockey players,” said Russell. “They’re hungry and motivated.”