Nino Kinder has spent less than a week in Canada, but he’s convinced his decision to move thousands of kilometres from home will be a good one.
The 18-year-old German left-winger was the Winnipeg Ice’s second-round selection in this summer’s Canadian Hockey League import draft.
The Ice, which also drafted the rights to Czech forward Michal Teply in the first round, are counting on substantial contributions from their Europeans. Both are expected to fill spots on the club’s top two lines.
Kinder, a 6-0, 183-pounder from Berlin, has high expectations for himself, despite not coming from a traditional hockey hotbed.
He had 17 goals and 41 points in 33 games for the Eisbaren Under-20 Juniors in 2018-19. He’s also suited up for two consecutive years for Germany’s under-18 nats as a left-winger and centre, and is a candidate to play for his country’s under-20 national team at the world juniors in the Czech Republilc this winter.
"It’s tough to be so far from my parents, but I think it’s a good decision," Kinder said.
"I’m happy to be here. I talked a lot with my agent last year — what’s the best for me? And we thought the best decision was to come here."
Kinder, who passed through the 2019 NHL draft without being chosen, attended the Los Angeles Kings’ development camp last month. He has been a frequent visitor to Canada in the past, travelling to Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver for tournaments as a 15- and 16-year-old with his Berlin club.
His ambition is straightforward.
"To play my game, to settle in with the team and have a good start," Kinder said. "Its faster. It’s better hockey than in Germany in juniors and I’m excited to be here."
EXPANDING HIS GAME: Ice forward Connor McClennon learned to adapt his game when he suited up for Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Under-18 Cup in the Czech Republic earlier this summer.
The 17-year-old from Wainwright, Alta., was disappointed with the result — Canada lost 3-2 to Russia in the gold-medal game — but happily accepted a support role on a talented Canadian squad.
"We didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but it was a great experience," said McClennon, who played on a line with Prince Albert Raiders right-winger Ozzy Weisblatt and Shawinigan Cataractes centre Mavrick Bourque in the tournament.
"I learned a lot about my game, actually. I’ve always been put in more of a scoring role, and there I was in more of an energy role. I think I played it well, so I can try to add that to my game (in the WHL) as well as put numbers up."
McClennon, the Ice’s No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 bantam draft, grew half an inch in the off-season and now stands 5-8, 160 pounds. He’s planning to help the Ice overcome the absence of captain Peyton Krebs, who is expected to miss a month or more of the 2019-20 season while he recovers from off-season surgery to repair a partially torn Achilles tendon.
"It’ll be a good challenge for me and some of the other guys to bring our games up a level," McClennon said. "Obviously, with Peyton missing, it’s a lot of talent and leadership gone, so I’m just going to try and do what I can to help."
NOTEWORTHY: one of today’s training-camp highlights should be the first head-to-head competition between 2019 No. 1 bantam pick Matt Savoie and No. 2 choice Conor Geekie during the 11:15 a.m. instrasquad game at the Rink Training Centre. Both players are 15-year-old centres, with Savoie slated to play about half a season with the Ice and the other half with the RHA midget prep team. Geekie, who hails from Strathclair, will return home after training camp to play for the Yellowhead Under-18 Chiefs, but he is expected to be recalled on a temporary basis during the WHL regular season.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.