Hlinka Gretzky Cup: Canada Proves Too Powerful For Host Czechs

Canada stayed unbeaten — and nearly stayed unblemished — in downing the host Czech Republic 7-1 in Wednesday’s round-robin finale at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Quinton Byfield led Canada with his first two goals of the tournament, including what stood up as the winner. Cole Perfetti, with his tournament-leading fifth, Hendrix Lapierre, with his third, Ridly Greig, with his second, and Connor McClennon and Jean-Luc Foudy, both with their first, also scored for Canada, which led 2-0 and 4-0 at the period breaks.

Michal Gut snapped Canada’s shutout streak at 161 minutes by scoring the lone goal for the Czech Republic early in the third period before Canada responded with three more.

Tristan Lennox backstopped the victory with 20 saves after previously blanking Finland with 17 stops in Monday’s 6-0 tournament-opening win. Dylan Garand had an eight-save shutout in Tuesday’s 8-0 rout of Switzerland.

Byfield was named Canada’s player of the game against the Czech Republic — and deservedly so, with one of his goals sure to be TSN’s highlight of the night — but Jamie Drysdale was also worthy of that honour despite only getting credited with one assist.

Here’s what stood out to this scout in another dominant display for Canada:

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Big 3 on the Board Again

It didn’t take long for Canada’s big three to find the scoresheet again.

Perfetti opened the scoring with his fifth goal of the tournament — after scoring twice in each of Canada’s first two games — then Byfield finally got his first in following up Lapierre’s shot off the post to give Canada a 2-0 lead with only two seconds left in the first period.

All three were on the ice for that late power-play marker and all three could go in the top 10 of the 2020 NHL draft. Byfield is a projected top-five pick and potential challenger to Alexis Lafreniere for first overall, while Perfetti and Lapierre have been playing their way into the preseason top 10 with standout performances in every game of this tournament.

Byfield showed why he’s considered a cut above by going between his legs for another power-play goal in making it 3-0 in the second period. That was an elite goal — one for the highlight reel — and it wasn’t the first time that Byfield attempted a between-the-legs shot in this tournament. He previously tried it on a partial break off the rush against Finland in Monday’s opener, a high-skill move that seems to come natural to Byfield. It’s certainly part of his repertoire and attacking mentality.

Lapierre’s goal came on a shorthanded breakaway in which he chipped the puck past a Czech defender in the neutral zone and pulled away with impressive acceleration before firing five-hole on Jan Bednar. That gave Canada a 5-1 cushion in the third period.

Drysdale the Top D

Drysdale had a hand in both of Canada’s first-period goals and has been their top defenceman in serving as his country’s captain.

He could also be the top defenceman taken in 2020, potentially in the top 10. Drysdale could be competing with another Canadian defender for that distinction, with 2001-born Justin Barron also a candidate to be the first blueliner selected after impressing again at last week’s WJC Summer Showcase. Both Drysdale and Barron are right-handed, which will make them that much more attractive to NHL teams.

Against the Czechs, Drysdale was solid defensively while creating all kinds of offence — both on the rush and within the attacking zone. He set up Perfetti’s goal with a perfect centering pass from below the goal-line to the top of the crease. Drysdale also had the zone entry on Byfield’s goal and worked the puck to Lapierre, whose shot beat Bednar with Byfield depositing the rebound.

Drysdale has been the lone defenceman on Canada’s top power-play unit, with Lapierre playing the other point. Byfield, Perfetti and McClennon have been the forwards, though that 2-0 goal was scored during a 4-on-3 advantage without McClennon.

Canada’s second unit featured two defencemen against the Czechs in QMJHLers Jeremie Poirier and Lukas Cormier, with Will Cuylle, Seth Jarvis and Justin Sourdif as the forwards.

Goaltending Highlights

Bednar kept this contest relatively close for two periods with several big saves in showing why some scouts have him ranked as high as the second round for 2020. He’s trending towards being a top-100 pick as one of two Czech goaltenders in that range, along with Nick Malik, the son of former NHL defenceman Marek Malik who missed this showcase due to injury.

Bednar’s best saves in the first period came off Cuylle on a 2-on-1 chance, Greig on a shorthanded breakaway, and Cormier on a cross-ice one-timer that he swallowed up without a rebound. Bednar was among the best players for either team in the opening frame before succumbing to Canada’s onslaught.

Lennox had a couple notable saves, with his best stop coming in the second period when he stared down and snared the shot of Jan Mysak, the Czech’s top forward who could be a top-20 pick in 2020. Lennox isn’t draft eligible until 2021 as a late-2002, the only player on Canada’s roster who isn’t eligible for 2020.

Unsung Standouts

Canada had a few unsung standouts against the Czech Republic in Jake Neighbours, Kaiden Guhle and Mavrik Bourque. Those three had their best games of the tournament, with Neighbours springing Greig for his breakaway and also teeing up Cormier’s aforementioned one-timer, before blocking a shot that led to Lapierre’s shorthanded goal in the third period. Neighbours has yet to score at the Hlinka but has been getting his chances on the top line with Byfield and Jarvis. He seems to be developing chemistry with Byfield, so that goal may be coming in the semifinals.

Guhle was very strong defensively — reminiscent of another defender with the same first name from the same junior league in 2019 second-rounder Kaedan Korczak — while also getting more involved offensively than in the first two games and getting an assist on Canada’s final goal. Guhle also blasted a big slapper in the first period that might have left a mark on Bednar. Guhle was the first overall pick in the 2017 WHL bantam draft and is the younger brother of Anaheim defence prospect Brendan Guhle, who was a 2015 second-rounder for Buffalo.

Bourque picked up his first point of the tournament against the Czechs with a nice assist on McClennon’s ugly 4-0 goal. That was a fluky one, with McClennon’s pass attempt redirecting off a Czech defender’s stick and past Bednar, but Bourque’s play in getting the puck to McClennon was a thing of beauty. Bourque was pretty invisible through Canada’s first two games, but he came to play on Wednesday and started looking more like the kid that put up 54 points for QMJHL Shawinigan as a 16-year-old rookie last season.

WHL Imports

The Czechs of note or of particular interest to me — besides Mysak — were two forwards coming to the WHL as import draft picks. Those being Pavel Novak, the 13th overall selection in June’s draft for the Memorial Cup host Kelowna Rockets, and Gut, who was taken 57th by the Everett Silvertips.

Both looked promising against Canada, with Gut scoring in front of his soon-to-be coach Dennis Williams, who is serving as an assistant under Mike Dyck on Canada’s staff. Gut buried his own rebound after using a Canadian defender as a screen for his initial shot off the rush. Lennox kicked that out, but Gut beat his defender to the loose puck for the finishing touch. 

Novak was certainly noticeable as one of the few offensive catalysts for the Czechs while skating on the top line with Mysak and also manning the point for his country’s top power-play unit. Novak’s best chance against Canada came on a third-period man advantage, but his shot was partially blocked and appeared to glance off the outside of the post in going wide.

Novak netted 29 goals in 31 games in the Czech under-19 league last season — producing a lopsided stat-line with 16 assists for 45 points — but he’s been a playmaker as much as a scorer in this tournament. He’s got excellent vision and can find the open man, which might make Novak a good fit with Nolan Foote in Kelowna. Foote, a left-winger, needs a set-up man and Novak could be that guy as a right-winger.

Novak has flashed high-end skill throughout this tournament — looking a little like Ales Hemsky at times — and has twice shown off his go-to move in scoring a shootout goal as well as a penalty-shot goal in pre-tournament action. Yes, those are two different goals.

Gut was also a shootout hero for the Czechs against Switzerland in Monday’s tournament-opening triumph, scoring twice in that tiebreaker — including this winner. His other goal was worth watching too.

Remaining Schedule

Canada will face Sweden and Russia will take on Finland in the semifinals on Friday (both 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT), with the medal games on Saturday (both 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT) to end this weeklong event.

Canada is the two-time defending champion and has won gold in 10 of the last 11 years and 22 of 28 times over the history of the Hlinka tournament.