A record five Latvian juniors have been selected In the 2006 Canadian Hockey League draft, according to media reports and team Web sites.
The June 28 CHL draft placed players in Canada’s three top junior leagues: the Ontario Hockey League, the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Kaspars Daugaviņš, 18, a recent third round draft pick of the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators, was picked up by the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors. The Majors alos chose Kris Grundmanis, 17. Daugaviņš made his debut in Rīga during the World Hockey Championship and, together with Grundmanis, was on Latvia’s U-20 team that played last winter at the World Championship in British Columbia.
The Peterborough Petes took seventh round Atlanda Thrashers draft pick Arturs Kulda, 17, while the Guelph Storm selected Artūrs Ozoliņš, 18. Kulda and Ozoliņš were on Latvia’s U-18 squad that won the Internatonal Ice Hockey Federation’s Division 1 and was promoted earlier this year to the elite level.
Nineteen-year-old Kaspars Saulītis was drafted by the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Saulītis also was on the U-20 squad.
Given that each of the 54 teams in the CHL can draft only two imports from Europe, having five Latvian juniors drafted is a huge accomplishment for Latvian hockey. That means Latvians will fill 5.5 percent of the CHL’s available import slots going into the 2006-2007 season.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Oscars Bartulis, who played two seasons with this year’s QMJHL champions, the Moncton Wildcats, has been traded to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, who play out of Sydney, Nova Scotia. He has been drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL. Teamate Oscars Bartulis, a Boston Bruins draft pick, will be at the Bruins’ rookie camp and will either play in the Boston system or be returned to Moncton for one last season as an over-age junior.
Nashville Predators draft pick Laurins Dārziņš is getting a lookover at the Predators rookie camp. He graduated from the junior ranks having played several seasons with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Dārziņš was on Latvia’s starting lineup in Rīga championship. The jump from the juniors to the NHL is a big leap even for those drafted and many don’t make the cut.
The success of Latvia’s junior teams and the attention its top players are getting bodes well for Latvian hockey as a new generation of players steps forward. Latvia has about 3,000 registered hockey players.
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