The Hlinka Gretzky Cup is one of the most important tournaments to watch each year for the NHL Entry Draft. The event kicks off a new season and gives a look at some of the top prospects each year. It is one of the premier under-18 hockey events in the world and ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft, it will give a glimpse of what to expect from some of the top prospects in the world as they begin their draft-eligible seasons.
A strong performance at the Hlinka Gretzky can boost a prospect’s value tremendously, as it did for Philip Broberg and Vasili Podkolzin for the 2019 NHL Draft. They were two of the best players in the tournament and remained high on draft boards through the season.
On top of the standouts, many players in the tournament are selected in the next draft. From last year’s tournament, seven Canadians were taken in the first round, of the 14 taken in the draft total. There were also nine Americans and Finns, eight Russians, seven Swedes, two Czechs and one Slovak.
The tournament taking place in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia Aug. 5-10. As you get ready for puck drop, here are five players who are worth watching (in alphabetical order, by last name). They should each have a strong tournament in this year’s competition as they look towards draft day in June 2020.
Yaroslav Askarov, G, Team Russia
Get ready for the Yaroslav Askarov hype. If you haven’t started to hear it already, the Hlinka Gretzky could be your first glimpse of the goalie that some are already calling the best Russian goaltending prospect – ever. Yes, that does include Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy who was drafted 19th overall in 2012.
This will be Askarov’s second stint in the Hlinka Gretzky, after playing a year younger than the majority of the other players in the tournament last year. In 2018, he helped Team Russia to a bronze medal with a 2.26 goals-against average (GAA) and a .913 save percentage (SV%). He then led Russia to a silver medal at the 2019 U18 World Junior Championship where he was named the tournament’s best goaltender.
The young netminder is an elite prospect due to his movement in the crease and his ability to track the puck. It sometimes seems that he already knows where the puck is going to be because he’s right there and ready. Combined with his form and size, at six-foot-three, you’ll be hearing a lot about the goaltender that HockeyProspect.com already has in their top-10.
Quinton Byfield, C, Team Canada
If you only had a chance to watch one player at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, it should be Quinton Byfield. The young prospect played 64 games with the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL last season, collecting 29 goals, 32 assists and 61 points. It’s important to note that he was nearly a point-per-game player as a 16-year-old rookie.
For Byfield’s performance, he won OHL Rookie of the Year, CHL Rookie of the Year and was named to the OHL First All-Rookie Team. His play continued in the playoffs, adding three goals and five assists in eight games played.
He’s already got the size, at six-foot-five, 215 pounds, he’s got one of the best shots in the draft, speed for days and great puck handling. While Alexis Lafrenière currently stands atop most early draft rankings, Byfield has the potential to push him for that spot.
Jamie Drysdale, D, Team Canada
If you followed the 2019 NHL Draft at all, you know how excited teams were about top-defender Bowen Byram. Not only is Drysdale the top-eligible defenseman for the 2020 NHL Draft, but there’s a chance he could be better than the offensive defenders taken this past June.
Playing with the OHL’s Eric Otters last season as a rookie, Drysdale scored seven goals, while adding 33 assists for 40 points in 63 games. To compare, Byram played 60 games in his rookie season with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, collecting six goals, 21 assists and 27 points in 60 games.
Drysdale is a great skater and decision-maker, which are the qualities you want to see a puck-moving defenseman. His shot is something to be marvelled, and while he’s good in the offensive end, his defensive game is just as good – if not better. He was named the captain of Team Canada and will be the number one defender for the team in the tournament.
Jean-Luc Foudy, C, Team Canada
I swear this isn’t an all-Canadian list. It’s just that Team Canada is loaded with talent, including centreman Jean-Luc Foudy. He’s ranked all over the second half of the first round, but a strong Hlinka Gretzky performance could see him shoot up the rankings.
Foudy played 63 games with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires as a rookie, collecting eight goals and adding 41 assists for 49 points. His assist total led all OHL rookies. He also played in the World U17 Hockey Challenge (U17 WHC), collecting one goal and four points in the five games played.
Foudy is a strong skater, with exceptional hockey IQ. As seen by his impressive assist total, he’s an elite passer that many teams will covet come draft day. He’ll look to take a big step forward this season in a bigger role with the Spitfires, and he’ll get that progression started at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Jan Myšák, C, Team Czech Republic
The top prospect coming out of the Czech Republic for the 2020 NHL Draft is Jan Myšák. Not only that, but he could very well be a top-10 pick. He was drafted to the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs 20th overall in the CHL import draft, but may stay in the Czech Republic this season.
Playing against men in the Extraliga at just 16-years-old, Myšák showed what he was capable of. In a top-six role for HC Litvinov, he scored three goals and seven points in 31 games. In the U19 league, he played nine games and collected 13 goals, eight assists and 21 points. That’s a point-per-game average of 3.0 playing against players up to three years older.
Myšák does it all. He’s got one of the highest compete levels among draft-eligible players, he can skate, shoot and set up plays with ease. As more and more people watch this prospect play, the more they’ll want him on their team. He’s ranked all over the first round in early rankings, but with more eyes on him, he’ll likely remain as one of the top names to watch all season.
Zion Nybeck, RW, Team Sweden
Zion Nybeck will be leading the charge for Team Sweden at this year’s Hlinka Gretzky. Like Myšák, Nybeck could be a player who shoots up the rankings this season as everyone sees what he can do.
The right-winger is coming off a strong season that saw him succeed at every level he played. At the U17 WHC, Nybeck helped Team Sweden to a bronze medal, potting three goals in six games. He had an even better result in the U18 World Junior Championship, getting two goals and five points in seven games en route to a gold medal. He spent most of his season with HV71 J20 in the SuperElit, putting up an impressive 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points in 35 games. All while he was just 16 years old.
Nybeck was one of the best 16-year-olds in the SuperElit, leading the south in assists. He’s one of the hardest workers in the draft, battling the puck away from opponents with every chance he gets. Combined with his speed, playmaking and hockey IQ, he’s going to be receiving a lot of interest over the next year.
Cole Perfetti, C, Team Canada
Yes, another Canadian – but, definitely one you’re going to want to watch. Byfield may have won Rookie of the Year in the CHL and OHL, but Saginaw Spirit’s Cole Perfetti very easily could have, and perhaps should have.
The centreman led all OHL rookies in goals (37), assists (37) and points (74) through 63 games. Then he added eight goals and 14 points in 16 playoff games. He was named to the OHL First All-Star Team for his efforts. He should be one of the top forwards in the league, and the CHL, for the coming season.
Perfetti uses his elite creativity to make something out of nothing, get around defenders, and give himself space. His shot is one of the best in his draft class, and he could very well be a top-five pick in 2020. When looking for one of the most exciting players at the Hlinka Gretzky, look no further. Well, actually, there are a few more on the list.
Vasili Ponomaryov, RW, Team Russia
One of the top Russian prospects in the 2020 NHL Draft is right-winger Vasili Ponomaryov. He will be one of the offensive cornerstones and leaders on Team Russia.
Playing in the MHL last season, Ponomaryov impressed. He played 37 games, collecting nine goals and 29 points as a rookie. He also played in the U17 WHC, where he contributed four goals and eight points in the six games it took Russia to win a gold medal.
The winger is an excellent skater who can make plays at full speed. He’s got a quick and accurate shot that can fool goaltenders, but he can dish the puck out as well. He’s not afraid to throw his body around either. He’s not a player you want to miss.
Aatu Räty, Team Finland
It works out that Aatu Räty comes in last on this list, alphabetically. He’s the lone member on here that is not eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, he’ll be eligible in 2021. Not only that, but he could very well be the first-overall pick in that draft.
Keep in mind that he was 15 to start the season in 2018-19, turning 16 in November. Räty started out playing with the Kärpät U18 in six games, racking up a whopping 10 goals and eight assists for 18 points. It’s safe to say he was ready for the call up to the U20 team. He continued impressing there, scoring 17 goals and adding 14 assists for 31 points in 41 games. He added another four goals and 12 points in 10 playoff games.
Räty is still young but has elite skating ability. He already has good size at six-foot-one, 181 pounds, and another two years before his draft will see those numbers grow. He dominates the ice when he’s out there with his physicality and shot. It’s not too early to start watching.
Believe me, this list could go on and on. The 2020 NHL Draft is already looking jam-packed with talent and the Hlinka Gretzky is providing a look at many of those eligible. Here are a few more players you should keep an eye on as the tournament kicks off Aug. 5.
- Emil Andrae, Team Sweden
- Blake Biondi, Team USA
- Martin Chromiak, Team Slovakia (Roster not yet confirmed)
- Noah Delémont, Team Switzerland
- Alex Gaffney, Team USA
- Daniil Gushchin, Team Russia
- Cross Hanas, Team USA
- Roni Hirvonen, Team Finland
- Hendrix Lapierre, Team Canada
- Jeremie Poirier, Team Canada
- Kasper Puutio, Team Finland
- Théo Rochette, Team Canada
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.