Tournament Review: 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup

by Jokke Nevalainen on August 11, 2019

 

The 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup is now over. Russia won, Canada finished second, and Sweden finished third. Here are my thoughts of the most interesting prospects who played in this tournament.

 

Team Russia

 

As mentioned, Russia won the tournament, and the one player who was mostly responsible for their win was their superstar goalie Yaroslav Askarov. He won all four games he played, and his 0.960 save percentage was by far the best we’ve ever seen in this tournament as the previous record was 0.942. Askarov may just be the best goalie prospect we’ve seen since Carey Price in 2005. Goalies don’t usually get drafted in the top ten but he could get there. First he beat the best ever U.S. NTDP team at the U18 Worlds and now he beat what was said to be one of the best Canadian teams at this level. Those are two massive victories that in my opinion no other goalie prospect could have earned.

 

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Winger Alexander Pashin led the Russians in scoring. He had seven goals and eight points in five games. Seven goals was just one behind the tournament record. Pashin was 23rd in our ranking of European prospects with a projected draft range of 60-80. He is an undersized (5-8, 154) winger with excellent speed, very good hands and a great shot. His size might be the only thing holding him back. If he can continue playing the way he did in this tournament, he could be moving up the draft rankings.

 

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Pashin played on the same line with center Vasili Ponomaryov who was second in points with two goals and five points in five games. Even though Pashin had more points, one could argue Ponomaryov was almost as impactful and a big reason why Pashin was able to have such a big tournament. Ponomaryov was ranked 13th in our ranking with projected draft range of 25-45. He’s a very smart player who does a lot of small things that help his team. He is both reliable and creative. He looks like a first round pick to me.

 

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Winger Daniil Gushchin showed some excellent flashes of his speed and puck-skills but he only had one goal and two points in the tournament, so that was a bit disappointing. He played on the same line with team Captain, center Marat Khusnutdinov, who also had a disappointing tournament with just one assist. These are both still very good prospects but they didn’t help their draft stock in this tournament. Khusnutdinov was ranked 17th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 35-55. Gushchin was not ranked because he didn’t play in Europe last season but he’s considered to be one of the top Russians in this upcoming draft class.

 

On defense, Daniil Chayka (2021) was Russia’s top defenseman. He had just two assists but played big minutes in all situations. All in all, I wasn’t overly impressed with his game, though. Russia’s only returning defenseman from the U18 Worlds, Shakir Mukhamadullin (2020), was a disappointment as well. He was getting good usage but his flaws were exposed at this level. 2003-born defenseman Artyom Grushnikov (2021) was mostly invisible as well. None of the Russian defensemen really impressed here.

 

Team Canada

 

Besides Askarov, the top story in this tournament was Cole Perfetti who set the tournament record with 12 points and tied the goal-scoring record with eight. Perfetti showed why he’s considered a top ten prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft and why he’s one of the better goal-scorers in that group. His shot is obviously amazing but it’s also great how he manages to work in tight areas and score from there. Not to mention his ability to get himself open for a breakaway and his finishing skills when he gets there.

 

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Center Hendrix Lapierre was another standout. He tied the old tournament record with 11 points, three of which were goals. Lapierre is a very smart and reliable two-way center who definitely worked his way into the top ten if he wasn’t there already before this tournament. Obviously it helped Lapierre to have Perfetti on his line but at the same time, you could say it helped Perfetti to have Lapierre on his line. If it wasn’t for those two playing so well together, we wouldn’t have seen such lofty point totals.

 

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Big center Quinton Byfield is still ahead in the draft rankings and he did show some flashes of greatness in this tournament as well but only finished with three goals and five points. Part of that was because his play with his linemates didn’t seem to mash all that well but it does raise some questions about his inability to consistently dominate at this level the way Perfetti and Lapierre did. I wouldn’t make any drastic changes to draft rankings based on this tournament alone but it will be something to watch during this upcoming season.

 

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On defense, Canada’s top guy was their Captain Jamie Drysdale as expected beforehand. Drysdale is another projected top ten pick for next summer, and he finished this tournament with four assists. He played big minutes in all situations and showed some flashes of greatness in the offensive end. Another defenseman with a good tournament was Jérémie Poirier who had a goal and three points.

 

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Goalie Tristan Lennox was incredible in this tournament. He isn’t eligible until the 2021 NHL Draft because of his late birthday but he’s definitely one to watch next season. At 6-foot-4, he definitely has the size everyone is looking for in net these days. Unfortunately he was injured during the semi-final shootout – somehow managed to continue despite that and win the game – which meant he missed the final game. But he had a 0.951 save percentage in the three games he played.

 

Team Sweden

 

Center Daniel Ljungman led the team with five points (all goals). He was their second line center and was used on both special teams. He was also Sweden’s top guy in the shootout where he was used frequently and with great results. He has decent size as well (6-0, 161). Ljungman was not ranked in our ranking but if he continues playing this well during the season, he will definitely get some consideration in our next ranking.

 

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Winger Zion Nybeck was second on the team in points with one goal and four points. He played left wing in this tournament which was a bit odd because he’s always seemed to be more dangerous on the right side even though he’s a left-handed shot. Nybeck is an undersized winger (5-8, 176) with great speed and puck-handling skills. He has great vision and a good shot as well. He was ranked eighth in our ranking with a projected draft range of 10-25.

 

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On defense, Emil Andrae had four assists which led the team. He’s an undersized (5-9, 183) defenseman with a left-handed shot, and even though he wasn’t at the top of his game all the time, he seems to have first round talent. He was mostly used on the second power play unit which was arguably their better one, and he was one of the big reasons for that. His even strength play wasn’t always consistent but hopefully that gets better throughout the season. Andrae was ranked 15th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 30-50.

 

Helge Grans was expected to be one of the top defensemen in this tournament because of his great size (6-3, 192) and experience from a few SHL games. But he wasn’t able to rise to the occasion and was a bit disappointing. He got to play on the top power play – partly because of his right-handed shot I think – but didn’t seem to do a whole lot there. He finished the tournament with zero points but he managed to show his great hands in the shootout where he scored a great goal. He was ranked 11th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 20-35 but he needs to show more than this to stay in that range.

 

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Goalie Jesper Wallstedt was very good in the tournament, finishing with a 0.928 save percentage in three games. Like Askarov, Wallstedt is a potential top ten pick and has great size (6-3, 205). But unlike Askarov, Wallstedt isn’t eligible until the 2021 NHL Draft because of his late birthday. Wallstedt isn’t as good as Askarov but he has all the tools to become a franchise goalie. Last season was a bit disappointing but he still has two full seasons to show what he’s capable of.

 

Sweden’s number two goalie Calle Clang only played two games but had an impressive 0.953 save percentage in those games. He was incredible in the bronze medal game against Finland, making a lot of very difficult saves to secure the win for his team. Clang has good size as well (6-2, 176), and he could make a push towards a top 100 selection next summer if he continues playing like that.

 

Team Finland

 

Finland’s leading scorer was their Captain Roni Hirvonen who had four goals and six points. Hirvonen is an undersized (5-8, 163) center with good offensive tools. Despite his small stature, he doesn’t get intimidated by bigger players but instead goes hard into any situation. He played in all situations and was definitely one of the top players on this team. Hirvonen was ranked 14th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 25-45.

 

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Winger Oliver Suni played on the right side of Hirvonen and had three assists in the four games he played – he missed the final game for some reason. Suni has great size (6-2, 187) and he’s very good at using that size to protect the puck. He’s very good at playing the puck-possession game in the offensive zone and finding open players while doing that. Suni was ranked 29th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 70-90. I would probably move his draft range up to 60-80 because of his performance in this tournament.

 

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On the left side of that line was Roby Järventie who had a disappointing tournament, scoring just one goal. Järventie has great size (6-2, 185) and a ton of potential but his effort and consistency are definitely lacking at this point. When he skates up the ice with the puck, you can see the potential of what he could become. But then he skates down the ice very lazily, and you have to wonder if he’s realized just how good he could become. Järventie was ranked 20th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 50-70 but at this point, that draft range probably deserves to be lowered to 60-80 instead.

 

Finland’s second line was arguably their best line in most games. It included two future top five picks in center Aatu Räty (2021) and winger Brad Lambert (2022), both of which played very well. Räty had two goals and three points, and the only negative thing I can say about his game was that he took a couple of totally unnecessary penalties. Räty is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft because of his late birthday, and he could even get to play in the Liiga this upcoming season.

 

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Lambert scored a hat trick in the game against Switzerland, and he also had one assist in that game but it was given to the wrong player. He didn’t manage to get any points in the other games, though. But he’s still just 15, so just being able to play in this tournament was a big thing for him, not to mention how good he looked. He was given the responsibility of running the second power play unit from the half-wall, and he looked great in that role. Even though it’s still very far away, Lambert is looking like a top three pick for the 2022 NHL Draft.

 

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Juuso Mäenpää and Veeti Korkalainen were pleasant surprises for me in this tournament. Mäenpää is an undersized (5-7, 141) center with great speed and good offensive skills. He was used in all situations, and he managed to impress in all those situations as well. Korkalainen was used at right wing but he’s also capable of playing down the middle. He’s not big either (5-9, 150) but he was also used in all situations. Both players finished the tournament with a goal and an assist, and they both look like potential mid-round picks for the 2020 NHL Draft.

 

On defense, Kasper Puutio was Finland’s top guy as expected. He played on the top pair, was a regular on the penalty kill, and was the lone defenseman on their top power play unit as well. Puutio finished the tournament with four points (all assists). Puutio has good size (6-0, 185), and he’s moving over to play in the WHL this upcoming season. He was ranked 21st in our ranking with a projected draft range of 50-70 – maybe that draft range deserves to go up to 40-60 now.

 

Topi Niemelä was in my books Finland’s second-best defenseman. He had three points (all assists) but one of those should have gone to Lambert instead of him. There are a lot of similarities between Niemelä and Puutio – they have similar size (Niemelä is 6-0, 163), they’re both right-handed shots, and they both come from the Kärpät organization. Because they won’t be fighting against each other for ice time anymore this season, Niemelä should play huge minutes for Kärpät U20. He was ranked 22nd in our ranking with a projected draft range of 50-70.

 

Ruben Rafkin was limited to third pair role because of Puutio and Niemelä, and even though he got power play time in the first game of the tournament, that ended quickly and his role was limited even more after that. Rafkin is also a right-handed shot, and he has similar size as Puutio and Niemelä (6-0, 190). He’s a decent puck-mover but just not as good as those other two. Instead, what Rafkin brings to the table is excellent physical play. He wasn’t officially part of our ranking because he didn’t play in Europe last season but I would probably give him a draft range of 70-90 at this point.

 

Joel Blomqvist played all five of Finland’s games. He was incredibly good for the most part but let in a couple of somewhat easy goals. Maybe it was because he played five games in six days – no other goalie did that in this tournament – but his save percentage of 0.905 doesn’t really say the whole story of how well he played. Blomqvist was ranked 28th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 70-90. He’s slightly smaller (6-1, 205) than the other top goalie prospects mentioned below but he has good potential nonetheless.

 

Team Czech Republic

 

Michal Gut was the leading scorer for the Czechs with three goals and four points in four games. Gut is a center with decent size (6-0, 181). He was their Captain, their top-line center, was used on the penalty kill, and ran the top power unit from the half-wall. He also got noticed for his very soft hands in the shootout where he scored a couple of beauties. He isn’t afraid to hit or get hit. Gut looks like a mid-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and he’s crossing the pond to play in the WHL this upcoming season.

 

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Winger Pavel Novak was also good in the tournament, finishing with two goals and three points. He played a top-six role with time on both special teams. Maybe he’s more of a late round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft but he definitely flashed some potential, so it will be interesting to see how his season goes.

 

Jan Mysak was a little bit of a disappointment because he was expected to be a top player on this team but played more of a secondary role and didn’t really show anything to prove he deserved anything more than that either. He was used as the number two center with time on both special teams. He showed some flashes of greatness but it wasn’t just consistently enough. Mysak was ranked ninth in our ranking with a projected draft range of 10-25.

 

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Jan Bednar was supposed to take this opportunity and prove he can be the number one goalie for the Czechs this season but he had a disappointing tournament. His save percentage of 0.828 makes it look even worse than what it actually was but it wasn’t very good. He created a lot of dangerous chances for the opposition by playing the puck and playing it poorly. Bednar was ranked 26th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 60-80.

 

Team USA

 

Defenseman Noah Ellis (2020) led the team in scoring with two goals and four points in four games. Forwards Alex Gaffney (2020), Ben Schoen (2020) and Cross Hanas (2020) had three points each. It is very disappointing that USA refuses to send their top players to this tournament. Moving on.

 

Team Slovakia

 

Winger Matej Kaslik had a strong performance in this tournament, leading the team with three goals and four points in four games. If he continues playing like that, he could be an interesting late round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

 

Winger Martin Chromiak was expected to be one of the top players on this team, and he delivered. He had two goals and four points in four games. Chromiak has an excellent ability to get himself separated from the defender just enough to get open for a scoring chance, and he has a quick release which doesn’t require a lot of time or space. But he’s not just a goal-scorer as he can also create scoring chances for others. Chromiak looks like a mid-round pick for the 2020 NHL Draft.

 

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Center Oleksii Myklukha was Slovakia’s top center and one of their top players as well even though he only had two points (both goals). He’s eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft because of his late birthday but looks very interesting for that draft class. He has average size (5-10, 154) but he’s a quick and slippery player with great hands. Most importantly, though, he is very creative and a quick thinker which makes him very dangerous all over the ice.

 

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Defenseman Samuel Knazko was the team Captain, and he played big minutes in all situations. When I last saw Knazko, it was at the U18 Worlds where he looked nervous and made a lot of bad decisions. But this time around, he looked very poised and confident, and he made mostly right decisions. This was more in line with what I’ve seen in the Finnish junior league where he played last season. Knazko didn’t get any points in the tournament but just seeing him be himself at this level was a great sign of things to come. Knazko was ranked 34th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 90-120.

 

For those of you who like to look far into the future, a name to remember for the 2022 NHL Draft is defenseman Simon Nemec. He’s born in 2004 which means he’s a double-underager at this level but he didn’t look out of place. He played on Slovakia’s second pair, was a regular on the penalty kill, and was even used in front of the net on their second power play unit. He has decent size (5-11, 172) already but obviously there’s lots of time for him to grow. And he also has that right-handed shot which is always valuable for defensemen.

 

Team Switzerland

 

What a disappointing tournament this was for Switzerland. They finished last in the tournament and none of their players really stood out – none of their players had more than two points either.

 

Captain Simon Knak was expected to be an offensive leader on this team but he didn’t manage to rise to the occasion and only had one assist in four games. He got great usage, including lots of time on the power play, but he never really managed to stand out. Knak is a winger with good size (6-1, 187), and he’s crossing the pond to play in the WHL this season. He was ranked 27th in our ranking with a projected draft range of 60-80 but maybe that draft range deserves to be lowered to 70-90 now.

 

Winger Keanu Derungs was one of those players who had two points, scoring a goal and an assist. He is also crossing the pond to play in the WHL this season, and he could be a late round pick for the 2020 NHL Draft.

 

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On defense, it was a bit of the same story because Noah Delémont was expected to be an offensive leader and play big minutes in all situations but he had zero points which is very concerning for a player of his style. His decision-making was very questionable at times and probably caused a lot of grey hairs for his coach. He is an undersized (5-9, 163) puck-mover with good skating ability and very good puck-skills but he needs to work on his all-around game in the QMJHL where he’s going to play this season. He was ranked 32nd in our ranking with a projected draft range of 80-110.

 

Giancarlo Chanton isn’t eligible until the 2021 NHL Draft because of his late birthday but at times, he actually looked better than Delémont even though Chanton made some very questionable decisions as well. Just like the three players mentioned before him, Chanton is also crossing the pond as he’s going to the OHL. It seems like top prospects don’t want to stay in Switzerland. Chanton had just one point in the tournament but it was a real beauty.

 

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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 courtesy of hlinkagretzkycup.cz