Canada opened the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup with a convincing 6-0 victory over a young Finland squad in Breclav, Czech Republic.
Cole Perfetti and Seth Jarvis paced Canada with two goals each, Will Cuylle and Ridly Greig also scored, and Tristan Lennox posted a 17-save shutout.
Perfetti, Jarvis and Greig were among the biggest standouts for Canada and could have been the game’s three stars — Greig was named player of the game, though Lennox also deserved consideration for keeping Finland off the scoreboard.
Here’s what stood out to this scout in Monday’s opener:
Byfield Doesn’t Disappoint
It was a strong start for Quinton Byfield, the only projected top-five pick on display at this tournament since fellow Canadian Alexis Lafreniere, Sweden’s Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, and Finland’s Anton Lundell aren’t at the Hlinka. Lafreniere and Lundell are too old as late-2001 birthdates, while Raymond and Holtz skipped this event to focus on last week’s WJC Summer Showcase.
All five are forwards, with Byfield and Lundell being the top two centres for the 2020 NHL draft. Lafreniere is the frontrunner to go first overall, but Byfield and Raymond are expected to challenge him — and Byfield is expected to be the best skater at this tournament.
He didn’t disappoint in Canada’s opener, showing plenty of jump from the initial puck-drop and making several high-end plays punctuated by a dominant shift in the final minute of the opening frame that resulted in his first point of the tournament — setting up Seth Jarvis in the slot with a behind-the-back pass from below the goal-line after attempting a between-the-legs shot in driving the net moments earlier. That late goal gave Canada a 3-0 lead at the first intermission.
Raty Also Delivers
Aatu Raty, a late-2002 expected to be in the conversation for first overall in 2021, was clearly Finland’s best player in centering his country’s top line and controlling their power play too.
Raty’s best shift came midway through the first period when he carried the puck into the Canadian zone and maintained possession for nearly a minute before drawing a penalty on Greig to end that impressive sequence.
On the man advantage, Raty’s vision stood out as he distributed the puck to his teammates in prime scoring positions for a couple close chances. That power play — featuring four forwards on the top unit, with Roni Hirvonen, Roby Jarventie and Oliver Suni joining Raty, and quarterbacked by Kasper Puutio, the first overall pick in June’s CHL import draft who is committed to WHL Swift Current for his draft year — looked potent despite not scoring on two opportunities in the first period.
Shades of Caufield
The first name is the same and Perfetti sure looked like Cole Caufield with his power-play snipe to open the scoring for Canada, roofing a perfect shot over the shoulder of Finnish goaltender Joel Blomqvist.
That goal was a glimpse into why many have Perfetti projected as a top-10 pick in their preseason rankings. And it wasn’t just the wicked finish since Perfetti started that play by preventing a clearing attempt along the boards, holding the zone before being the recipient of some nice puck movement from Hendrix Lapierre and Jamie Drysdale.
Perfetti netted his second goal off the rush early in the third period and would have had a hat trick if not for a phenomenal glove save by Blomqvist to rob him on a power play. Caufield might have buried that one, but Perfetti certainly flashed the form that made him the OHL’s rookie goal-scoring leader last season.
In addition to Raty, the youngest players for each country also had their shining moments in Brad Lambert for Finland and Lennox for Canada.
Lambert, a 15-year-old forward that isn’t draft eligible until 2022, generated plenty of offence and didn’t shy away from the physicality against older competition, absorbing a hard hit from Kaiden Guhle in the second period but still getting to the net for a chance on the same shift.
Lennox stoned Lambert late in the third period to preserve his shutout and was solid throughout, proving sharp when called upon and likely cementing himself as Canada’s starter ahead of Dylan Garand.
Lennox, a late-2002, is Canada’s only player that isn’t
Lambert is expected to be part of a three-horse race for first overall in 2022, along with two Canadian forwards in Shane Wright, who was granted exceptional status to play in the OHL this coming season, and Matthew Savoie, who went first overall in this year’s WHL bantam draft despite getting denied exceptional status.
Wright and Savoie weren’t considered for Canada’s roster at the Hlinka, so this showcase could give Lambert a leg up on them if he continues to show well. Lambert could also be teammates with Wright and Savoie in future tournaments — such as the World Juniors — since Lambert’s father, Ross, is Canadian but has been raising his family in Finland while working as a skills coach in the Liiga.
Canada next faces Switzerland on Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. ET (6:30 a.m. PT), then wraps up the
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.
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.