Just 24 hours after pulling off three trades, Windsor Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler continued to work on his roster for the 2022-23 season. On Friday, he made one of his biggest decisions of the summer, making a selection in the 2022 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft.
After the Spitfires lost in Game 7 of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Championship in mid-June, Bowler knew there were areas to focus on, including overage (20-year-old) limits and the Import Draft. He took care of some business on Thursday morning with a trio of trades, including acquiring forward Colton Smith (son of former Spitfires’ great D.J.), but there was a major task at hand on Friday. When it was time to make the big decision, the club didn’t hesitate.
Bowler Selects Czechia Defenceman
Coming into the 2022 CHL Import Draft, Bowler was in a pickle. In 2020, he took then 17-year-old Russian defenceman Daniil Sobolev (Montreal Canadiens). A year later, he took then-17-year-old Russian forward Avval Baisov. Each made the club this season; the limit is two Imports per team. Sobolev was the only one who made a real impact, though, creating a tough decision.
When the Import Draft started on Friday morning, the Spitfires had the 56th and 116th picks. While some teams ahead of them passed on their first selection, Bowler did not, as he quickly selected Czechia-born defenceman Tomas Hebek.
The 6-foot-4, 187-pounder played for HC Dynamo Pardubice U20 this season, where he finished with four assists in 41 games. They’re located in the City of Pardubice, which has a population of about 88,000 in the north-central part of Czechia. With the Spitfires losing multiple defencemen to graduation or trade, Bowler told the Windsor Star that he was leaning towards the blue line if possible.
“We were looking at defence, if the right player was there,” Bowler said.
“We expect him to come in and play. He’s a big man that defends with a purpose and makes a good first pass” (from ‘Spitfires size up on defence with addition of Czechia defenceman Hebek in import draft’, Windsor Star, 7/1/22).
Unfortunately, players don’t always report. However, Hebek watched some games this season because his buddy, Frantisek Formanek, was drafted in the first round (Import Draft) last year by the Red Deer Rebels, so he’s eager to come over to North America.
“I watch some matches because my friend played (in CHL), but I’m really interested to play there,” he said.
The selection marks just the third time the Spitfires have gone to Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic) since 2000. Bowler did not use his 116th pick.
Spitfires Release Baisov
While selecting Hebek would normally be an easy situation, where he signs, comes over, and everyone is content, that’s not the case here. Coming into the draft, the Spitfires still had Sobolev and Baisov on their roster.
Sobolev has been a success story for the Spitfires. While it took him a bit of time to adjust to the OHL game, he had a solid rookie season. He finished with 17 points in 62 games, was physical in his own end, and improved as the season went along. Bowler and head coach Marc Savard are expecting big things from him in 2022-23.
Baisov is another story, though. He had tremendous energy and tenacity on the ice and was well-liked in the room. However, he had issues getting into the lineup and had just five points in the 29 games he dressed for. While he’s still just 18, something had to give. Bowler said the club had areas that needed improvement and this was the result.
“Avval was a great teammate and has a ton of potential,” Bowler told the Star.
“But, at this time, we thought we needed a defenceman and had to release Avval.”
Losing Baisov wasn’t easy for the club, but they needed to make a move to bolster the defence. They lost three veteran defencemen to graduation or trades but now replaced two of them (including 2022 OHL first-rounder Anthony Cristoforo), which will help in both the short and long term.
Hebek is eager to come to Canada and may even show up before the club’s 2022-23 training camp starts on Sept. 1. In the meantime, he’s ranked 113th among European skaters for the 2022 NHL Draft later this month.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.