We’re only halfway through the summer but one of the most important tournaments for draft eligible players is just around the corner. Many including myself consider the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament the first real test for the 2020 NHL prospects. It’s a great chance to get eyes on the European players in particular who normally don’t get a lot of exposure, and form an initial opinion on their game and NHL translatable skills. The tournament is being held in the Czech Republic & Slovakia and it starts August 5th and runs through August 10th.
Last year, three players in particular really stood out in the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup tournament and caught the attention of many draft enthusiasts around the world – Philip Broberg, Vasili Podkolzin & Kirby Dach. All three had outstanding tournaments for their respective countries, and quickly found themselves near the top of many “experts” 2019 NHL Mock drafts. That momentum carried them throughout their draft year as all three were selected in the Top 10 of the NHL entry draft. So needless to say, this tournament IS important. As we’ve seen (especially in the case of Podkolzin), a great first impression can make a lasting one.
With that in mind, there is tremendous talent in this year’s draft. There are a few glaring exemptions who aren’t eligible technically being late 2001 birthdates, so they are playing in the U.S. Summer Showcase instead. But, overall this tournament it is still a loaded with several potentially high NHL draft picks. Here is a quick breakdown of who to watch for:
Glaring omissions: Alexis Lafreniere, Justin Barron, Braden Schneider
The OHL is absolutely loaded this year and this team has a heavy dose of OHL players on it’s final roster. Last season, FOUR Canadian-born rookies had 25 goals or more in the OHL and all four were in camp. Sudbury’s Quinton Byfield and Saginaw’s Cole Perfetti were locks to make the team. Windsor teammates Will Cuylle, and Jean-Luc Foudy who had 41 assists to lead OHL rookies, also made the team. Erie’s Jamie Drysdale should be the top CHL defenceman this year and will lead the Canadian squad on defence. He is accompanied by Kitchener’s Donovan Sebrango and the Soo’s Ryan O’Rourke. Saginaw goaltender Tristan Lennox likely gets the starting gig after looking real good in camp. All in all, 8 OHL‘ers on this roster with the big three of Byfield, Perfetti & Drysdale expected to lead the way offensively. A full OHL preview of the top prospects in this year’s draft can be found here.
Two highly touted prospects from the QMJHL weren’t eligible for this tournament – Alexis Lafreniere and Justin Barron. However, Chicoutimi’s Hendrix Lapierre had a great camp and secured a spot on this talented squad. His junior teammate Theo Rochette will also join him as will Shawinigan’s Mavrik Bourque. D Lukas Cormier played his way onto the team and Jérémie Poirier also made the final. Five players total from the QMJHL in total. A full preview of the top prospects for the 2020 draft can be found here.
Our number one ranked WHL‘er in Kaiden Guhle of Prince Albert, had a strong camp & really proved to be a physical presence on defence. He’ll be joined by Moose Jaw’s Daemon Hunt. Up front, Vancouver’s Justin Sourdif & Edmonton’s Jake Neighbours had excellent camps and should help provide some secondary scoring. The hard working Ridly Greig of Brandon (son of former NHL‘er Mark Greig) secured one of the final spots on the team. Prince Albert’s Ozzy Wiesblatt, Winnipeg’s Connor McClennon, and Seth Jarvis of Portland also A full WHL preview of top prospects for the 2020 draft can be found here.
This is an extremely talented team who should go as far as their big guns will take them. Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti and Jamie Drysdale are all projected Top 10 picks in this year’s NHL draft. This is their first step towards solidifying their rankings.
The full roster is listed here.
The Co-host for this tournament, the Czechs don’t have a lot of highly touted prospects though Jan Mysak might be the closest to 1st round potential at this point. Drafted by the Hamilton Bulldogs in the 2019 CHL Import draft, Mysak has represented the Czech Republic internationally at the U16, U17 & U18’s so he has plenty of tournament experience. Pavel Novak is known as a goal scorer with good speed and could impress. He was drafted by Kelowna 13th overall. Ivan Ivan, who might have one of the strangest names, is also one of the youngest and skinniest prospects in this tournament but has plenty of skill and could be a guy to keep an eye on. He will be playing in Cape Breton of the QMJHL next season.
If the Czechs are going to have a chance in this tourney, they will have to rely heavily on their goaltending. Nick Malik (son of former NHL’er Marek Malik) and Jan Bednar carry a 2nd-3rd rd grade right now. It appears they’ll have to carry this team if they want to medal. Link to rosters here.
Glaring omissions: Anton Lundell, Kasper Simontaival (injured)
With Lundell and Simontaival not playing, there is no doubt everyone’s eyes will be on Aatu Räty. Projected to be a potential #1 overall pick in 2021, Räty is the next big thing coming out of Finland. An absolute wizard with the puck, he already has good size and should do well in this tournament. Samu Tuomaala is also not draft eligible till 2021 but is an excellent skater and loves to shoot the puck. Expect him to pot a few at least. Another exciting player to watch out for is Brad Lambert. The 15 yr old Canadian/Finn is actually not draft eligible till 2022 but has a terrific shot & release along with good poise and vision for his age.
Slick puckmover D Kasper Puutio was the 1st overall pick in the CHL import draft so he’s a guy to keep an eye on. He was drafted by Swift Current of the WHL. Roni Hirvonen should also make a good impression with his solid 2 way game and playmaking ability.
All in all, the Finns are very young but are still very talented. Link to rosters here.
Glaring omission: Theo Rochette
There’s not a lot to get excited about with this Swiss team especially considering Swiss born C Theo Rochette is actually in Team Canada’s camp. Simon Knak is the most highly rated player for this upcoming draft so he’s the main guy to focus on. He’s got good size, real quick hands and a big shot. He was also a Import draft selection of the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL & has signed so will be playing for them this fall. Plus, he scored a couple dynamite goals last year at the Hlinka-Gretzky so he’s experienced too. Probably one of my favourite sleepers in this tournament.
D Noah Delemont is another familiar name. He can absolutely fly and is a terrific puck mover. He was drafted 3rd overall by Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL and should see plenty of ice time for an underwhelming Swiss team.
After his stellar performance in last year’s World Juniors, there’s no doubt all eyes will be on Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov. He’s currently projected to be a Top 15 pick in this year’s NHL draft so the pressure is on early to impress. Based on how he was able to shut down a loaded American team at the WJC, he should be just fine.
Vasya Ponomaryov could be this year’s Vasili Podkolzin. He is a strong skater with terrific puck skills and a big shot & release. He also appears to be a highly energetic puck hound. He’s my pick to lead the tournament in scoring. If he doesn’t Daniil Gushchin might. Gushchin is a speedy playmaker and scorer who seems to always be around the puck. He had an excellent showing at Hlinka-Gretzky tourney last year & played in the USHL last season. He is currently ranked as a 1st round prospect while Ponomaryov a 2nd rd prospect. Andrei Bakanov is a huge prospect and is commited to Michigan in 2020 despite being drafted by the Guelph Storm of the OHL in this year’s Import draft. He could surprise.
Bottom line, Russia’s hopes likely rely solely on the shoulders of Askarov. They’ll go as far as he carries them. Roster listed here.
Like the Swiss, there’s not a lot to get excited about with this team but they do have home field advantage so maybe someone steps up. Everyone will be watching Martin Chromiak who was recently taken 2nd overall by the Kingston Frontenacs in the Import draft to likely be Shane Wright’s trigger man. He’s a smart player who has a good shot and release.
Samuel Krajc is a player flying under the radar. He has a good size and skill. He represented Slovakia at the WJC last year and was taken by the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL in the import Draft.
Oleksii Myklukha is the other intriguing player on this team. Born in Poland, he is a really good skater with dynamite hands and has tore up every league he has played in last couple years. He was drafted in the 2nd round by Rouyn-Nouranda of the QMJHL.
Glaring omissions: Alexander Holtz, Lucas Raymond, Noel Gunler
With Holtz and Raymond backing out and Gunler ineligible to play in this tournament, Zion Nybeck becomes the focal point for Team Sweden. Projected to go in the 1st round of the NHL entry draft, Nybeck is a nifty playmaker and forechecking demon. He has good hands but not sure about the footspeed. Big tourney for him with some other big names absent.
Emil Andrae and Helge Grans are two defencemen worth watching. Both are excellent skaters and puck movers. Very intrigued by Grans in particular who looks and plays like a pro already. Very smart, heady player.
Jesper Wallstedt is a big goalie who got into a couple games last year at the same tournament. He was drafted by Moose Jaw of the WHL and has talent though the pressure will be on to compete for a medal.
Still a talented team but missing a couple of their big dogs. Link to rosters here.
Glaring omissions: Antonio Stranges, Dylan Peterson, Tyler Kleven, Ty Smilanic.
Due to the U.S. Summer Showcase going on right before this tournament, the U.S. rarely sends their top prospects to this tourney anyways. That being said, there is some nice talent on this team to keep an eye on.
Ryan Kirwan, Blake Biondi, Jack Williams, and Alex Gaffney of Muskegon of the USHL are probably the best of the group. Jake Ratzlaff has a nice size, skill combination too.
No idea how this team will fare as so many good players are missing. Probably a disappointing finish is in the cards. Full roster listed here.
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