Tournament Preview: 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup

by Jokke Nevalainen on August 4, 2019

 

The 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup starts on August 5th which is tomorrow! For many, this is the start of the scouting season because most of the world’s top prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be playing in this event.

 

The games will be played on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then the playoff games will be played on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately for North American fans, the games will be played very early because the tournament is played in Czech Republic and Slovakia. The early games start at 3:30 PM local time which means 9:30 AM Eastern Time, and the latter games start at 7:00 PM which means 1:00 PM Eastern Time. The only exception is Saturday when both games are played at 5:00 PM which means 11:00 AM Eastern Time. But for us Europeans, these times work perfectly!

 

 

The tournament includes teams from eight countries, and every country will be bringing their best players that are both eligible and available. Here’s a quick preview where I share the roster details and highlight some players to watch. Many of the prospects mentioned in this article can be found from our brand new 2020 NHL Draft Ranking of European prospects.

 

Team Finland

 

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Finland will be playing without three of their top four prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft because center Anton Lundell and winger Veeti Miettinen are too old for the event (born late in 2001) whereas Kasper Simontaival is currently injured and unable to participate.

 

The fourth member of the group I was talking about is center Roni Hirvonen who is expected to be a top-six center for the Finns. He’s a potential first round pick next summer who will play in the Liiga this upcoming season after destroying the Finnish junior league last season. Hirvonen is undersized but he has a lot of offensive skill, goes hard into all situations and takes care of his defensive responsibilities.

 

A couple of projected top five picks for future drafts will also be playing for Finland. Aatu Räty is currently ranked first overall for the 2021 NHL Draft by some services because of his strong season in the Finnish junior league and strong performances with the U18 team last season. Räty is expected to be the other top-six center for the Finns and likely the top dog on the entire team. He’s a two-way center who can both make plays and finish them. He has great size and good speed for someone his size.

 

Brad Lambert isn’t eligible until the 2022 NHL Draft but he may be the most skilled player on this entire team. On most drafts, he would be the favorite to go first overall but because the 2022 class has two incredible talents from Canada, Lambert is currently ranked third overall in early rankings. Lambert is the youngest forward on this team and the only one of them who is born in 2003 but he is expected to play a top-six role with power play time.

 

Wingers Roby Järventie and Oliver Suni should also get top-six usage with power play time. They are both projected second/third round picks for the upcoming draft, and they should be able to provide a good amount of secondary scoring. There are plenty of candidates for the fourth top-six wing spot because Jesse Seppälä (2020), Eero Niemi (2021) and Valtteri Karnaranta (2021) all bring different things to the table but because of that, there’s enough talent for a good third line as well.

 

On defense, Finland has three excellent two-way guys in Kasper Puutio, Topi Niemelä and Ruben Rafkin. They could all play huge minutes on this team and get ice time on both special teams. All three are currently projected second/third round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft. The only issue is that all three are right-handed shots which could cause some issues. Finland doesn’t have a great amount of talent on the left side, so we could see two right-handed shots on the ice at the same time quite frequently.

 

Joel Blomqvist is expected to be Finland’s number one goalie, and he’s another guy who could be a second/third round pick next summer. He was excellent last season, and he has good size as well.

 

Team Sweden

 

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The Swedes will be playing without their two best players in Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz because both were selected to the World Junior Summer Showcase. They are both projected top five picks for the 2020 NHL Draft, and you could say they are too good for the U18 level anyways, so this allows other players to step up and shine.

 

The most interesting forward for the Swedes will be Zion Nybeck who already won gold in the spring at the U18 Worlds. Nybeck is an undersized winger with lots of offensive skill. He should be their leading scorer. He’s a projected first round pick who could push for top ten if he can convince scouts that his size won’t hold him back at the pro level.

 

On defense, the two guys to watch will be Helge Grans and Emil Andrae. Both guys are potential first round picks next summer, and they should see the majority of minutes on the Swedish blue line. Grans has excellent size, and he already played a few games in the SHL last season which is incredibly impressive. Andrae is much smaller but some are saying he’s the better of the two, so we shall see how they look in this tournament.

 

Goalie Jesper Wallstedt isn’t eligible until the 2021 NHL Draft but he already won gold in the spring. Although he was only the backup on that team, he showed some great things in that tournament. He had an amazing season in 2017-2018 which pushed him to top five in the early rankings back then but he struggled a bit in 2018-2019, so this upcoming season will be important to get him back into where he was. This will be Wallstedt’s last season at the U18 level because he’s a late 2002 birthday, so he needs to make an impression that lasts for the 2020-2021 season as well.

 

Team Canada

 

Canada’s roster can be found from here: https://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/team-canada/men/under-18/2019-20/hlinka-gretzky/stats/team-rosters?teamid=306

 

The expected top guy on this team is Quinton Byfield, the projected top three pick for next summer. This tournament could be the launching pad when he truly starts to challenge Alexis Lafrenière for first overall but Byfield needs to show consistent dominance in this tournament to even get into that discussion. Lafrenière, by the way, is too old for the tournament and he was also one of the top players for Canada at the World Junior Summer Showcase.

 

Besides Byfield, Canada has loads of talent up front. Cole Perfetti, Hendrix Lapierre, Jean-Luc Foudy, Théo Rochette, Connor McClennon and Jake Neighbours and are all worth watching because they are potential first round picks for the 2020 NHL Draft.

 

On defense, Canada’s top guy should be Jamie Drysdale who is also the captain of the team. Drysdale is a projected top ten pick for next summer, and he should see lots of ice time, including on both special teams. Jérémie Poirier and Kaiden Guhle are also potential first round picks who should play a big role in the tournament.

 

On paper, Canada has by far the best roster in this tournament. They have elite talent up front and on defense, and they also have excellent players behind those guys. If they can put it all together, they should win the tournament.

 

Team Russia

 

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Up front, winger Daniil Guschin could be a top player for the Russians in this tournament. He had a good season in the USHL and already played at the U18 Worlds in the spring. He’s a potential first round pick for next summer, even though he is quite small. Center Marat Khusnutdinov also played at the U18 Worlds already, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he was Russia’s top center. He’s a projected second round pick for next summer.

 

Winger Vasili Ponomaryov is another projected first round pick for next summer, and he should see lots of ice time as well. Winger Alexander Pashin is more of a third/fourth round pick but should provide lots of secondary scoring on this team.

 

On defense, the Russians also have one returning player from the U18 Worlds in Shakir Mukhamadullin. He may not be highly ranked at this point but that could all change with a strong performance in a big tournament like this. 2003-born defenseman Artyom Grushnikov was very impressive as an underager at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last season, so it will be interesting to see how well he can play as an underager in this tournament now. He’s looking very interesting for the 2021 NHL Draft.

 

Russia’s biggest start will be in goal. Yaroslav Askarov is a projected top ten pick for the 2020 NHL Draft, and he already showed what he’s capable of at the world stage in the spring when he was voted to the U18 Worlds All-Star Team and took home Best Goaltender honors as well. Askarov could be the best goalie prospect since Andrei Vasilevsky in 2012 – or even since Carey Price in 2005. That’s right, I’m saying he could be better than Vasilevsky.

 

Team Czech Republic

 

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Center Jan Mysak is expected to be the top player for the Czechs in this tournament. He’s a projected first round pick for next summer, and he already played a full season at the men’s level in the Czech Extraliga last season. Mysak has been mostly used as a winger in international tournaments but he played at center in the Extraliga, so I think he’ll be used down the middle in this tournament as well.

 

Other forwards worth keeping an eye on are Michal Gut and Pavel Novak.

 

Unfortunately goalie Nick Malik will miss the tournament because of an injury, so that means Jan Bednar will see the majority of the starts now. Both goalies are projected second/third round picks for next summer but this is a great opportunity for Bednar to prove he can be the number one guy for the Czechs this season.

 

Team Slovakia

 

Slovakia hasn’t announced their official roster yet but the two players who will be worth watching are winger Martin Chromiak and defenseman Samuel Knazko. Both of them are projected mid-round picks for the 2020 NHL Draft and both are very young for that draft class as they are still just 16 years old right now (both turn 17 later this month). Chromiak and Knazko already played big roles for Slovakia at the U18 Worlds in the spring, so their roles should be even bigger this time around.

 

Knazko played in the Finnish junior league last season, and he was actually the highest-scoring U17 defenseman in that league by a wide margin. I was very impressed with his puck-moving abilities and his skills in the offensive zone but he has a tendency to take too many risks which often end up being costly. Hopefully he can improve that part of his game and become a more well-rounded player with better decision-making – he could push for second/third round range if that happens.

 

Chromiak was a player I wasn’t familiar with before this spring but he definitely caught my eye at the U18 Worlds. He’s a goal-scoring winger with an excellent shot. He’s a right-handed shot but likes to play on the left side so that he’s open for shooting opportunities. He hasn’t received a lot of hype yet because he’s played in Slovakia his entire life but hopefully that all changes in this tournament.

 

Another player worth mentioning is center Oleksii Myklukha who is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft because of his late birthday. He should be the top-line center for the Slovaks and one of the most dangerous players offensively.

 

UPDATE: Slovakia’s roster has been released now.

 

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Team Switzerland

 

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Winger Simon Knak already captained the Swiss team in the spring at the U18 Worlds, so he should be their top dog up front and play big minutes in all situations. He’s a left-handed shot who likes to play on the right side. He’s a reliable two-way player with good offensive tools.

 

On defense, Noah Delémont should see huge minutes and play on both special teams. He’s a puck-mover who should see all the power play minutes they manage to get but because he has experience from the past U18 Worlds already, he should be able to handle big minutes in all situations.

 

Both players are projected third/fourth round picks for the upcoming draft, and they’re both moving over to play in the Canadian Hockey League next season after being drafted in the CHL Import Draft.

 

Team USA

 

The US roster can be found from here: https://teamusa.usahockey.com/page/show/5086361-2019-hlinka-gretzky-cup-u-s-roster

 

I know nothing about the players on their roster. None of their top 2002-born players are there.

 

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And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.

 

Main picture and schedule courtesy of hlinkagretzkycup.cz