The 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup is all wrapped up and we have our champion: Team Russia. Despite dominating during the preliminary round, Team Canada fell to the Russian team in the final 3-2. The Russian gold medal was their first since 1995.
The Hlinka Gretzky has become one of the premier tournaments for under-18 prospects. It’s used to showcase some of the top players in the world, whether they are well-known names, or prospects that haven’t really received the attention they deserve – yet.
This year’s tournament featured a number of highly-ranked prospects for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and even some from the 2021 and 2022 drafts. There was a lot of skill on display to watch and enjoy.
If you watched any of the games, you saw some prospects that were expected to perform do so, with some absolutely dominating performances. However, you also saw some players who haven’t been talked about as much, whether they’ve been hidden behind a different name on the team, they weren’t highly ranked, or they are a younger player. A few of these players took over games and showed up in critical moments.
There were so many players that could have been on this list so I decided to pick at least one from each team. Just because a player isn’t on this list doesn’t mean they didn’t have a great tournament. The point of the list is to highlight the top performances, so some players just missed the cut. Or, if some players had a noticeably bad game or didn’t perform as they were expected to (Quinton Byfield and Zion Nybeck), they didn’t make the list. I think both Byfield and Nybeck had flashes of what they can do, but I hoped for more from both.
Team Canada: Drysdale, Lapierre & Perfetti
Frankly, you could include all of Team Canada on this list. They were absolutely dominant throughout, barely giving their opponents anything to build on until the final against Russia. However, Jamie Drysdale, Hendrix Lapierre and Cole Perfetti were on an entirely different level.
Perfetti led the way with eight goals and 12 points through the five games played, showing his fantastic speed and elite shot, including five goals (two in regulation and three shootout goals) in the semi-finals versus Sweden. He’s made his mark in the Hlinka Gretzky history books, tying the most goals all-time in the tournament with Vasili Podkolzin from last year.
Right behind Perfetti comes Lapierre, who finished second on Team Canada and in the tournament with three goals and 11 points. He showed a tremendous amount of creativity in the tournament, making numerous plays and forming a dangerous duo with Perfetti.
Finally, there’s no question that Jamie Drysdale was the best defenseman in this tournament. He finished the week as the top-scoring defender with five assists in five games. He made great passes both up the ice and in the offensive zone, showing great patience with the puck. He was solid at both ends of the ice and showed why the team named him captain.
Honourable Mentions: Quinton Byfield, Jean-Luc Foudy, Justin Sourdif, Seth Jarvis, Jeremie Poirier, and Tristian Lennox.
Team Czech Republic: Gut
Finishing fifth in the tournament, Team Czech Republic didn’t have a great performance this year. They went winless through the week, finally topping Team USA in the fifth-place game. However, one of their players stood out on their lineup: Michal Gut.
Eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft, Gut led the Czech team in goals and points, scoring three goals and adding an assist. He was even the first player to score against Team Canada. He showed great speed through the week-long tournament and proved he has an ability to finish. It was a solid outing for a player that may not have been on everyone’s radar. He definitely is now.
Honourable Mentions: Pavel Novak and Jan Bednar.
Team Finland: Hirvonen, Lambert & Raty
Team Finland finished fourth in this tournament, but the future is looking bright. Each one of their top players in this tournament is from a different draft class with Roni Hirvonen in 2020, Aatu Raty in 2021 and Brad Lambert in 2022. Those second two look to be top-three picks in their respective drafts.
Hirvonen led the way for Finland, leading the team with four goals and two assists – fifth in the entire tournament. He showed off a great shot throughout the week. That being said, he got some help from the next player in Raty. The younger Finn showed his elite playmaking abilities in the tournament, collecting two assists on top of two goals including the assist to Hirvonen shown below.
If there’s one Finnish player that stole the show though, it’s Lambert. The 15-year-old was not out of place at all, scoring a hat trick against Switzerland. Lambert showed off an incredible shot, great playmaking and quick feet throughout the tournament. Again, he’s just 15. Expect the excitement around his game to grow as he stands a good chance of playing in the top Finnish league, the Liiga, this season.
Honourable Mentions: Oliver Suni and Kasper Puutio.
Team Russia: Askarov, Pashin & Ponomaryov
When you come into a tournament as the top goaltender, there’s a lot of pressure to perform. Yaroslav Askarov made it look easy this week, entering and leaving as the best goalie. He helped lead the Russians to their first gold medal since 1995.
Askarov finished the tournament with the best performance ever at the Hlinka Gretzky (with at least four games played), finishing with a .960 save percentage (SV%0. He also had a 1.25 goals against average (GAA). He faced the dangerous Canadians in the Final and stopped 35 of 37 shots. He showed off his elite positioning, movement, reflexes and rebound control throughout the week.
Alexander Pashin only got better as the tournament went on, finishing one goal back of the Perfetti’s lead. He had five goals in the Semifinals (3) and Final (2) to go with his two preliminary goals and one assist. He’s someone who made sure scouts will pay attention to him moving forward.
Finally, Vasili Ponomaryov was just as expected throughout the tournament, showing off great vision, playmaking ability, and great decision making. He finished with two goals and four assists through the tournament. He’s looking like a mid-first round pick at this point.
Honourable Mention: Daniil Gushchin and Bogdan Trineyev.
Team Slovakia: Chromiak & Myklukha
Despite finishing in seventh place, Team Slovakia had a number of players to like, headlined by Martin Chromiak. Chromiak is another player available for the 2020 NHL Draft and led the Slovakian team with two goals and five points in his second Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
He drove the team’s play throughout the week, showed great decision making, stellar playmaking skills and solid speed. His speed and hands were on display on the breakaway goal shown below in the seventh-place game versus Switzerland.
Another standout was 16-year-old Oleksii Myklukha, who finished with two goals and two assists. Eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft, Myklukha showed off his creativity and soft hands on this play that embarrassed Swiss defender Giancarlo Chanton. He has a high hockey IQ, reading the play well, resulting in numerous takeaways through the week. He also saw time on the penalty kill to show off an impressive two-way game.
Honourable Mentions: Matej Kaslic, Marko Stacha, and Samuel Knazko.
Team Sweden: Eklund & Wallstedt
The Swedish team went home with the bronze medal in the tournament, with big performances fro William Eklund and goaltender Jesper Wallstedt. Eklund finished the tournament with one goal and four assists. His one goal being the overtime-forcing goal the led to the Swedes eliminating Team USA. Eklund, a 2021-draft-eligible prospect, stood out on his team with his playmaking ability and clutch performance.
Goalie Wallstedt played three games for the Swedes, recording 2.46 GAA and a .928 SV%. A part of the 2021 draft class, the netminder is already looking like the top goaltender available, seeming nearly as comfortable as Askarov. An example of his high-end stance and rebound control can be seen in this video.
Honourable Mentions: Emil Andrae, Daniel Ljungman, Zion Nybeck, and Oskar Olausson.
Team Switzerland: Goaltender Patenaude
Switzerland finished last this year and didn’t have a very strong tournament from most of the team. However, goaltender Noah Patenaude deserves some recognition. Going up against the dominant Canadians, the 2021-draft-eligible goaltender stood in front of a barrage rubber. He faced 48 shots and while he did let in eight, he showed flashes of brilliance including this buzzer-beating glove save.
Honourable Mention: Noah Delemont.
Team USA: Ellis & Schoen
Finishing in second-last isn’t what Team USA was hoping for, but here we are. They still had some standout players though, led by defender Noah Ellis. Ellis led the team with two goals and two assists through the tournament. He showed off a great shot on this goal and came up clutch with his other goal that forced overtime in the fifth-place game versus the Czech Republic.
Ben Schoen is another top performer for Team USA. Finishing with a goal and two assists, Schoen was the American’s top forward throughout the week. He has great speed and proved difficult to handle for defenders. He’s another player that wasn’t on my radar before but definitely is now.
Honourable Mention: Alex Gaffney and Blake Biondi.