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London Knights select German forward J.J. Peterka in CHL Import Draft

London, Ont. - London Knights forward Luke Evangelista celebrates his first career OHL goal in a game against the Kingston Frontenacs at Budweiser Gardens on October 19, 2019.
London, Ont. - London Knights forward Luke Evangelista celebrates his first career OHL goal in a game against the Kingston Frontenacs at Budweiser Gardens on October 19, 2019. Jim Van Horne/980 CFPL

Routines and schedules are key in sports.

Sleeping, eating, playing and travelling are performed at precisely particular intervals.

So are things like playoffs and drafts.

The 2020 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft was held on schedule on Tuesday and the London Knights added forward J.J. Peterka with their pick in the first round.

Peterka played for Germany at the 2020 world junior hockey championship in the Czech Republic and had four goals and two assists in six games. Peterka helped Germany beat the host team and then survive the relegation round to remain in the top pool for 2021.

“He’s a player that comes with a lot of hype given where he is slated to go in the draft and for the fact that he played at the world juniors as an underager,” said London Knights associate general manager Rob Simpson.

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Many scouting services, including Hockeyprospect.com, have Peterka rated to go late in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

“He’s an exciting player to watch,” said Simpson. “He has skill, hockey sense and speed that we want. He played in the professional league in Germany as an underager and that’s very difficult to do.

“He is a double threat. If you give him the opportunity, he’s got a great shot and he can also make plays. He’s a very high-end, talented player and he has shown that he can play against older players and compete and still produce at that level.”

The five-foot-11 winger spent the rest of the year in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga with EHC Munchen. The DEL is the main professional league in Germany and Peterka was the youngest player on a club that featured former National Hockey Leaguers Chris Bourque, Derek Roy and Bobby Sanguinetti. as well as St. Thomas, Ont., native Mark Voakes.

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While the timing of the import draft went unchanged on Tuesday, some aspects of it were very different.

If this had been any other year, the newest crop of National Hockey League draft picks would be preparing for development camps with the teams that called their names in Montreal this past weekend.

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But 2020 has not been like any other year.

The NHL draft has been postponed and that means some serious uncertainty for players who are eligible to be selected by CHL teams.

Simpson says being chosen by an NHL club may provide a player with a clearer path.

“Teams might want to have a player come over here because they want to develop him close to home,” Simpson said. “It definitely adds a new element this year in trying to understand which guys have legit interest.”

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The regularities of hockey in North America will see players playing at junior levels or in the NCAA. In Europe, players of the same age might already be signed to a contract to play professionally. If you select them, they might choose to remain with their club team.

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Not knowing when seasons will begin or how they will play out are other unknowns that complicate the process.

“If things clear up and we were able to start ahead of other leagues, it might impact (CHL teams) as far as players that get picked wanting to come sooner,” Simpson said. “It is going to be interesting to see after the draft what happens with player signings. Who decides to come right away and who is going to wait?”

WHL commissioner responds to class action lawsuit against Canadian Hockey League
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The Knights have had great success selecting import players in past seasons. They have Kirill Steklov on their current roster and their recent picks have included NHLers Adam Boqvist (Chicago) and Jesper Bratt (New Jersey) and NHL prospects Matvey Guskov (North Bay) and Vladislav Kolyachonok (Flint).

CHL teams are capped at two import players.

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The hope is that Peterka can fill out the second import roster spot when the 2020-21 OHL season is able to begin.

“We are going to continue to talk to J.J. We spent time speaking to him about our program and why it makes sense to come over and get used to (North American) ice before playing professional hockey, whether it be in the NHL or the AHL,” added Simpson. “Hopefully we can get him signed and committed to play here next year.

“With this draft, it is a bit different. Players are going to see which leagues are going to be going and how all of that pans out. It’ll be something that myself and Mark (Hunter) and Dale (Hunter) keep an eye on and keep talking about with (Peterka and his agent).”

As with so many things happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Knights will continue to wait, see and hope for the best.