Ladies and gentlemen, the 2018-19 hockey season kicks off with the 2018 edition of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. The tournament features teams from eight countries comprised of their best 2001-born players, and is seen as the annual kick-off to the scouting season for the upcoming NHL Draft class.
The event has been re-branded the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, in honour of an arrangement that will see it played in Canada every second year. Despite the cosmetic changes, it’ll still be a week of high-end hockey that will allow some high-end prospects from around the globe to make their first impression on NHL scouts.
Here’s a rundown of the teams and what can you expect from them.
Last Year: gold medal
Best Finish: gold medal (21 times, most recently in 2017)
Potential First Rounders: F Peyton Krebs, D Bowen Byram, F Michael Vukojevic, F Dylan Cozens, D Matthew Robertson, F Samuel Poulin, F Ryan Suzuki, F Josh Williams, F Jakob Pelletier, F Sasha Mutala
North American Prospects: Every player on Team Canada plays in North America, primarily in one of the three Canadian Hockey League branches.
The Rundown: The reigning champions of this event, Canada rebounded nicely last year after a disappointing showing in 2016. The Canadian entry is heavy on WHL players and most major prospects from the 2019 NHL Draft class are going – the exceptions are 2000-born defender Nolan Foote and forward Raphael Lavoie. Continuity seems to be the key for Canada’s success this year, as the majority of the top Canadian performers from last year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge are suiting up.
Projected Finish: gold medal. Canada’s got a stacked roster and enough depth that they should be able to rise to the occasion.
— Russian Prospects (@RUSProspects) July 30, 2018
Last Year: fourth place
Best Finish: gold medal (1993)
Potential First Rounders: D Artemi Knyazev, F Vasily Podkolzin
North American Prospects: F Yaroslav Likhachyov (Gatineau, QMJHL), F Oleg Zaitsev (Red Deer, WHL), D Nikita Sedov (Regina, WHL), F Sergei Alkhimov (Regina, WHL)
The Rundown: After a middling performance last year, the Russians have a team that’s a bit deeper with high-end talent than its prior incarnation.
Projected Finish: silver medal. The team lacks the high-end depth that Canada has, but is still likely to be a cohesive unit.
Last Year: sixth place
Best Finish: silver medal (twice, most recently in 2012)
Potential First Rounders: D Mikko Kokkonen, D Ville Heinola
North American Prospects: G Kari Piiroinen (Windsor, OHL)
The Rundown: The Finns have a roster that’s missing potential top 5 pick Kaapo Kakko – he’s trying out for the World Junior team instead – but isn’t lean on talent. Kokkonen and Heinola headline a talented defensive group, but there’s not a ton of drop-off across this roster.
Projected Finish: bronze medal. They might lack the high-end offensive players to out-gun Canada and Russia, but they’re deep enough to give them trouble.
Last Year: bronze medal
Best Finish: gold medal (2007)
Potential First Rounders: D Victor Soderstrom, D Tobias Bjornfot, F Albin Grewe
North American Prospects: none
The Rundown: The Swedes have a handful of strong players on this year’s team, but arguably lack the high-end depth they’ve had in recent years.
Projected Finish: fourth place. The Canadians and Russians look to be deeper offensively, while Finland looks a bit stronger defensively.
Last Year: fifth place
Best Finish: gold medal (2003)
Potential First Rounders: none
North American Prospects: Everybody on Team USA plays in North America.
The Rundown: It’s the usual calibre of Team USA at the Hlinkas, in the sense that the best prospects this year wearing red, white and blue are on the U.S. National Development Team and play in the World Under-18s (in April) rather than the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. As a result, this American squad is their secondary group and isn’t quite as exciting. It’s chock full of potential second, third and fourth round picks, though.
Projected Finish: fifth place. As mentioned, it’s the USA B-Team. They’ll be competitive, but it’s tough to match the star power of the other countries ahead of them.
Ivan Hlinka Gretzky Preview for Slovakia is now up. They have struggled in the past to bring a talented roster but have a stud in Maxim Cajkovic coming this year!https://t.co/SdvbZnngEv pic.twitter.com/APyG8b92t5
— DraftGeek (@DraftGeekHockey) August 4, 2018
Last Year: eighth place
Best Finish: bronze medal (twice, most recently in 1998)
Potential First Rounders: F Maxim Cajkovic
North American Prospects: D Viktor Hatina (Culver Military Academy, USHS), F Adam Kormuth (New Jersey Colonials, HPHL), F Maxim Cajkovic (Saint John, QMJHL), F Artur Turansky (Selects Hockey Academy, USHS)
The Rundown: Slovakia wasn’t great last year, lacking a lot of depth and having their hands full in virtually every game. They’re a better group this year, but they’re still not deep.
Projected Finish: sixth place. They’re better than last year, but will still struggle to win games.
Last Year: silver medal
Best finish: gold medal (2016)
Potential First Rounders: none
North American Prospects: F Erik Cernak (Peterborough, OHL), F Martin Lang (Kamloops, WHL)
The Rundown: The high-end Czech prospects are in attendance, led by forward Majel Toman, but they’re primarily a group of potential third and fourth round picks.
Projected Finish: seventh place. They’re the victim of a tough pool, playing against Finland, Russia and the United States.
Last Year: seventh place
Best Finish: sixth place (several times)
Potential First Rounders: none
North American Prospects: F Dean Schwenninger (Portland, WHL)
The Rundown: Not a lot of high-end talent for the Swiss this year. 2000-born Valentin Nussbaumer is too old for the tournament and behind him the 2019 class is pretty lean.
Projected Finish: eighth place.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.