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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Portland selects Swiss forward, Danash defenseman in import draft

The Portland Winterhawks selected two players who have been captains for their country at international tournaments in Thursday's Canadian Hockey League import draft.

Portland selected Simon Knak, a 2002-born forward from Switzerland and Jonas Brondberg, a 2001-born defenseman from Denmark.

To make room on the roster, Portland released 19-year-old Czech forward Michal Kvasnica.

Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston described Knak as a power forward in the mold of Nino Niedereitter, a Swiss forward who had great success in Portland on his way to the NHL.

"I was really excited he was there when we had a chance to pick," Johnston said.

Knak was the 39th player selected in the draft, which involved the teams of the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Johnston and assistant GM Kyle Gustafson first saw Knak play as a 16-year-old at last summer's Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Despite being among the younger players, he was captain for Switzerland at that tournament.

Knak turned 17 in January and will be eligible for the NHL draft next summer. Playing in an under-20 Swiss league last season, Knak posted 14 goals and 11 assists in 37 games.

"He's a big, strong forward," Johnston said. "He's got good skills, good leadership."

The Winterhawks saw Brondberg while watching games online from the Under-18 World Championships in France. The captain of his team, Brondberg had three assists in five games to help Denmark to a bronze medal.

Brondberg (6-4, 180 pounds) spent last season playing in Sweden for the Växjö Lakers, mostly for that club's under-20 team. It is a well-respected club that Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson played for before winning this season's Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL.

Johnston said that Joachim Blichfeld, last season's WHL Most Valuable Player who will turn pro this year, knows Brondberg.

The next step is to get both players signed.

"There are a lot of steps to go through as always," Johnston said. "Both kids are excited that Portland picked them, so that's a start."

CHL teams are allowed two players from outside North America.

Johnston called it a tough decision to part with Kvasnica, who had eight goals and 12 assists in 66 games as an 18-year-old forward for Portland last season. Johnston hoped Kvasnica might get picked by another CHL club on Thursday, but he wasn't.

Johnston said Kvasnica and his agent will explore opportunities in the United States Hockey League or in Europe for next season.

"I always felt Michal was a really good player. We could never seem to get the most out of him for some reason," Johnston said, adding that maybe a new environment will help Kvasnica raise his game.

WHL clubs drafted 30 players. Swift Current had the first pick in the draft and selected 17-year-old Finnish defenseman Kasper Puutio.

Four WHL teams selected players who went in the recent NHL draft: Winnipeg took forward Michal Teply, a fourth-round Chicago Blackhawks pick; Spokane took goalie Lukas Parik, a third-round Los Angeles Kings pick; Brandon took forward Marcus Kallionkieli, a fifth-round Vegas Golden Knights pick and forward Vladislav Firstov, a second-round Minnesota Wild pick.

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