Earlier today two highly touted Lightning prospects, 2011 2nd round pick Nikita Kucherov and 2012 1st rounder Andrei Vasilevski, were both selected in the Canadian Hockey League’s annual Import Draft. Kucherov went first, chosen 43rd overall by the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL, while Vasilevski went off the board when selected 69th overall by the the Mississauga Steelheads.

Presumably, this is welcome news to the Lightning as having both in major juniors next season would allow both players get a jump-start in adjusting to the cultural and on-ice differences from playing abroad and potentially accelerate their development, as Lightning European scout Anton Routa explained when pondering Vasilevski’s future:

“Personally I would like to see him play over here because he needs to adjust as soon as possible for the game on the smaller ice, which is totally different.”

It would also make their development much easier for the Lightning to monitor but, though drafted, neither is a lock to play in North America next season. Vasilevski is presently under contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL and it is unclear what Kucherov’s status with CSKA Moscow is for next season; even the good folks over at BoltProspects are unsure. If Kucherov is under contract, he would essentially be in the same boat as Vasilevski.

That said, the buzz surrounding the immediate futures of both has at least been positive. Vasilevski is reportedly keen on the idea of playing in North America next season and “exploring” the possibility of buying out his KHL contract and Russian hockey journalist Igor Eronko (hat tip to BoltProspects for re-tweeting this) thinks it’s likely Kucherov will be coming over, perhaps an indication Kucherov doesn’t have a contract to worry about after all:

Again, there is nothing definite yet but today’s import draft was one step was one major hurdle towards getting one, or both (if the Lightning are very fortunate) to actually leave Russia.

Written by Michael Gallimore

Michael was born, raised and still lives in the Tampa area. His coverage of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL and hockey in general appears at Bolt Statistics (which he founded) and Bolt Prospects (as a staff writer). His analysis and opinions have also been featured at Raw Charge and as part of a “Blogger Roundtable” on the Lightning’s official site.

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