Hlinka Gretzky Cup Preview
Making an early impression at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup tournament may enhance a player’s draft stock. Such was the case a season ago, for both Canucks prospect Vasili Podkolzin and Oilers draft pick Philip Broberg. Strong tournaments impacted the pair to the extent of being top ten selections in the 2019 NHL Draft, despite both having somewhat mediocre regular seasons.
Alexis Lafreniere, Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, and Anton Lundell, four of the consensus top-five prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft, are unlikely participants in the tournament due to current commitments to their respective U20 teams. With those four absentees let’s look at other candidates whose performances may elevate, or solidify their current draft rankings. The Czech Republic and Slovakia will be co-hosting the 2019 event. Games will take place in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia August 5-10.
This is a tournament that has seen Team Canada win gold ten of the last eleven years. The only hiccup coming in 2016 when the Czech Republic won gold in their home country. Canada finished out of the medals that year for only the third time in the 28 year existence of the tournament. Team Canada has not yet announced its official roster from the 44 players that were invited to camp. Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, and Jamie Drysdale are expected to be players that will be heavily counted on for Team Canada. Especially if they hope to repeat their gold medal performance of a year ago. Previously, all three of these players were featured in an article that I wrote on CHL players to watch for the 2020 NHL Draft.
Traditionally, the Czech Republic shows very well at this event, having won medals in four of the last six Hlinka Gretzky Cup tournaments. Players to watch for are Jan Mysak, Pavel Novak, and defenseman Marek Blaha. All will be hoping to improve their current draft rankings.
Despite the recent dominance by the Finns at most junior events, this tournament isn’t one they’ve been successful at. The last time they won a medal was in 2012 and they have never won gold. Roni Hirvonen, defenseman Kasper Puutio and Brad Lambert are players to keep an eye on for Finland. Hirvonen is currently ranked #36 by Future Considerations, while Lambert is just 15 years old and considered a top prospect for the 2022 NHL Draft. Puutio was selected first overall in the CHL import draft. He has recently signed with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League.
Never having medalled at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, the Swiss will be in tough to do so this time around. In fact, they will be lucky to escape the cellar in Group A. Portland Winterhawks’ forward Simon Knak is one player that I would expect to be on the roster that I will be watching closely. Defenseman Noah Delemont, who will suit up this fall for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, is another player available to play for the Swiss. Delemont was selected #3 in the 2019 CHL import draft. Keanu Derungs is another 2002 born player who should be on the Swiss roster. Derungs was selected by the Victoria Royals in the CHL import draft and is another player to keep an eye on.
The defending silver medallists will be without Raymond and Holtz but still have some talented prospects of interest to follow. Zion Nybeck is their most prominent forward that I will be paying attention to. Nybeck is currently ranked #19 by Future Considerations. Defensemen Emil Andrae and Helge Grans are two other prospects that I am eager to see play. Both are projected to be first-round picks at the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Russian squad has won bronze at three of the last four Hlinka Gretzky Cup tournaments. Once again I expect they will be a medal contender. Goaltender Yaroslav Askarov is the premier netminder available for the 2020 NHL Draft and one of the best to come along in years. Daniil Gushchin, who spent last season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League is expected to provide some offense. Vasili Ponomaryov is yet another prominent Russian prospect to keep an eye on.
The Americans do not send their National Team Development Program players to this event and thus have only taken home gold once at this event. Players to watch nonetheless are: Alex Gaffney, Ryan Kirwan, and 6-foot-3 205 pound right-handed defenseman Jake Ratzlaff.
Martin Chromiak is the most prominent Slovak prospect to watch. Although they are a co-host for this tournament, it would be considered an astonishing feat if they were to finish in the medals.
With the 2020 NHL Draft class being considered as one of the best of all-time, the talent on display at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup will be top-notch. The players mentioned above are just a small sample size of the amazing prospects taking place at this year’s tournament. Many of which will enhance their draft rankings and leave a lasting impression on scouts and fans alike. I know I will be watching with much anticipation to see which prospects emerge from this event.
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