The Hlinka Gretzky Cup always impacts my preseason rankings for the NHL draft.
This year was no exception, with several prospects on the rise for 2020 thanks to their performances at that best-on-best showcase to start the draft year.
Others improved their stock, even if they didn’t rise much in my rankings. That includes the tournament’s two biggest standouts in Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov and Canadian sniper Cole Perfetti. I already had both of them in my top 10 heading into that tournament.
I won’t be highlighting any fallers from the Hlinka, but some of the higher-profile prospects were mediocre and missed their opportunity to make a statement. That includes Quinton Byfield, who was good but not great with three goals and five points. He didn’t dominate the way Lucas Raymond did at the under-18 worlds in April or the way Alexis Lafreniere did at last year’s Hlinka. Raymond had a hat trick in the gold-medal game for Sweden and Lafreniere also led Canada to gold in tying the tournament scoring record before Perfetti broke it this year. Byfield was better in the final than in the semi — when he was mostly invisible against Sweden and missed on his shootout chance — but he didn’t do enough to establish himself as Lafreniere’s biggest challenger for first overall. I still have Raymond ahead of Byfield in that 1-3 tier heading into the season.
As for other prospects that underwhelmed at this year’s Hlinka, Jan Mysak and Zion Nybeck could have cracked my top 10 if they stole the show from that 8-21 tier, while Connor McClennon, Daniil Gushchin, Helge Grans, Theo Rochette and Ruben Rafkin failed to impress in trending down — at least slightly — for my preseason rankings. None of them fell too far because the Hlinka is a summer tournament and not all the prospects are up to speed coming out of the offseason. Those kids obviously weren’t in midseason form, so I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt based on their body of work prior to stepping on that international stage.
However, those who excelled and exceeded expectations did get a bump in my preseason rankings. Here are 15 risers from the Hlinka Gretzky Cup:
This Russian forward was one of the breakout stars of the tournament, scoring the golden goal after netting a hat trick in the semifinals. Pashin lit the lamp twice in the gold-medal game, also opening the scoring, and finished with a team-high seven goals — one shy of the Hlinka record.
Pashin was on my radar, projected as a third-rounder — around No. 75 — heading into the tournament, but he rocketed up my rankings to No. 40 — and into my tier of potential first-rounders (28-42) — in drawing comparisons to Artemi Panarin by the end. Their last names rhyme and there are similarities in their game.
This Swede stole the spotlight from Nybeck and became his country’s go-to guy, as evidenced by taking three straight shootout attempts in the semifinal against Canada. Ljungman scored three times in that losing effort — once in regulation and twice more in the shootout — and then opened the scoring in the bronze-medal game en route to a 5-1 win over rival Finland.
Ljungman led Sweden with four goals and five points in five games. He was something of a revelation for me but was a consistent threat with a wicked wrister, doing enough damage to debut at No. 51 in my preseason rankings. He certainly looked capable of becoming a second-rounder.
Forming a dynamic duo with Perfetti, Lapierre was every bit as impressive from start to finish. He was arguably Canada’s most consistent forward and drew some favourable comparisons to Patrice Bergeron. Lapierre led the tournament in assists, with eight, and would have tied the single tournament scoring record with 11 points if Perfetti’s shootout winner didn’t count towards setting new Hlinka records of 12 points and eight goals.
Lapierre entered as a mid-first-rounder for me — pencilled into my 15-20 range — but forced his way into my top 10 at No. 9. Some will call that a momentum play and claim recency bias, but Lapierre was an offensive catalyst for Canada in all five games as Perfetti’s set-up man. I saw a ton of top-10 talent in Lapierre.
Coming on strong in the second half of the tournament, Hirvonen led a young Finnish team in scoring while serving as their captain. Despite getting outshone at times by a couple of first overall candidates for future drafts in Aatu Raty (2021) and Brad Lambert (2022), Hirvonen thrived in his leading role and looked like a first-rounder.
I had Hirvonen on the bubble for the top 31 prior to the tournament but bumped him up to No. 21. He has the potential to work his way into the teens.
Emerging as Sweden’s top defenceman at the Hlinka, Andrae finished with four assists but could have had twice that many with more finishing ability from the forwards that he was setting up with stretch passes and power-play feeds. He was a real playmaker from the back end, impressing as a distributor as well as a transporter of the puck.
Andrae outperformed Grans and overtook him in my rankings — rising into that tier of potential first-rounders at No. 41, while Grans slipped into the next tier at No. 52. Grans is much bigger, right-handed and was more touted coming into the Hlinka, but Andrae was simply better — especially with the puck on his stick.
Finland’s top defenceman on paper and on the ice, Puutio proved his worth as an all-situations workhorse at the Hlinka. He produced three assists in logging big minutes, with a similar role awaiting him with WHL Swift Current as the first overall pick in this year’s CHL import draft.
Like Andrae, Puutio did enough to round out that tier of potential first-rounders at No. 42. They weren’t huge risers by any means, with both projected as second-rounders — around No. 50 for me prior to this tournament — but their stock went up in my eyes.
The Americans’ most noticeable forward on a roster of relative unknowns, Schoen used the Hlinka as his coming-out party. It’s probably too soon to call him this year’s Bobby Brink, but Schoen was buzzing in similar fashion.
Schoen wasn’t in my top 100 prior to the tournament but came out at No. 60. He was that good and will be one to watch at USHL Youngstown.
A real catalyst for the Czech Republic, Novak gave the host crowd reason to celebrate by scoring the overtime winner in the fifth-place game against the United States. He was as much a playmaker as a scorer in this tournament — despite his lopsided stat-line from last season, with 29 goals in 31 games but only 16 assists for 45 points — and has a little of Ales Hemsky’s flair in his game. He’s also got a go-to move when he gets in all alone, as evidenced by his penalty shot and shootout goals at the Hlinka.
Novak will be in the spotlight all season long upon joining WHL Kelowna — the Memorial Cup host for 2020. Providing he makes a smooth transition to North America, Novak should be a good bet as a second-rounder. I had him pegged closer to No. 75 prior to the Hlinka but he’s now at No. 55 for me. I’m looking forward to watching him live in the Dub, assuming he reports to the Rockets.
Ditto for Gut, who is coming over to WHL Everett and could have an impact similar to fellow Czech centre Krystof Hrabik with WHL Tri-City. Hrabik scored 21 goals and put up 51 points in 63 games as a WHL rookie and really should have been drafted in 2019 — and probably would have been had he not been an overager by a matter of nine days.
Gut burst onto the scouting radar at the Hlinka and is young for the 2020 class as an August birthdate. He scored three nice goals there, including one in front of his new coach Dennis Williams — Everett’s bench boss who was serving as an assistant under Mike Dyck on Canada’s staff.
Another incoming WHL import for Victoria, Derungs was dangerous for a Swiss team that was lacking offensive weapons. Derungs also scored his country’s nicest goal in outshining the more touted Simon Knak for much of the tournament.
Knak could pull away again once he gets to WHL Portland — and gets working with Mike Johnston, who got the most out of fellow Swiss forwards Nino Niederreiter and Sven Baertschi during their junior days — but Derungs closed that gap at the Hlinka. I had Knak knocking on the door of the second round — the top 62 — heading into the tournament, but he dropped to the bottom of the third round at No. 91, while Derungs gained ground in getting into my top 124 at No. 113. It’ll be interesting to see how both develop in the Dub.
This Slovakian centre might still be flying under the radar despite having a breakout tournament as a point-per-game player with four points, including a team-high three goals. Kaslik passed the eye test beyond that production and looked really good considering how young he is as another August birthdate.
Kaslik is still a wild card for the 2020 draft, but I liked what I saw in giving him a generous ranking at No. 66. That Slovak team was better than their seventh-place finish would suggest, having taken both the United States and eventual champion Russia to overtime in the round robin while dropping another one-goal game to Sweden.
Slovakia’s top defenceman at the Hlinka was Samuel Knazko — as expected, he’s No. 43 for me — but Stacha also had a very solid tournament, posting a team-best plus-5 rating in cracking my top 124 at No. 100. That stat isn’t always the most telling, but Stacha stood out in positive ways for a team that was outscored 14-13 overall.
Finland had firepower up front — with the aforementioned Hirvonen, Raty and Lambert — but Maenpaa emerged as an offensive sparkplug. An undersized centre, he certainly created his share of chances despite finishing with only two points (one goal, one assist).
Maenpaa was labelled a pleasant surprise by even the most astute Finnish scouts — such as Jokke Nevalainen — and he was a total revelation for a foreigner like me. If he wasn’t so small, I would have ranked Maenpaa a little higher — perhaps inside my top 100 — but he managed to make my list at No. 118 and that was an accomplishment in itself.
Another revelation from that Finnish squad, this right-winger replaced Oliver Suni on the top line for the bronze-medal game and wound up scoring Finland’s lone goal on a power play. Jokke tweeted that was a well-deserved promotion and Korkalainen made the most of his opportunity.
Korkalainen didn’t stand out as much to me as Maenpaa from what I saw of Finland, but he definitely got better as the tournament progressed in also finishing with two points (one goal, one assist). That was just enough to squeeze into my top 124 at No. 119.
Last but not necessarily least, Blaha had both good and bad moments during the Hlinka in reminding some scouts of Anttoni Honka with his skating style — particularly his edge work — but also his risky decision-making at times. Overall, there was a fair bit to like about Blaha — the good outweighed the bad for this right-handed Czech defender. The upside was evident, which pushed Blaha up into my top 100 at No. 99.
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.