Hlinka Gretzky Cup: Canada Slays Switzerland, Improves to 2-0

Canada cruised to an 8-0 win over Switzerland on Day 2 of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in the Czech Republic, improving to 2-0 with an easy victory against an overmatched opponent.

Jeremie Poirier, Ryan O’Rourke and Hendrix Lapierre staked Canada to a 3-0 lead at the first intermission, mirroring the start of Canada’s tournament-opening 6-0 triumph over Finland.

RELATED: Canada Routs Finland in Opener

Cole Perfetti took over in the second period against Switzerland, with two goals and an assist in forcing a turnover that resulted in a rebound for linemate Justin Soudif, as Canada ran the score to 6-0 through two frames.

That line continued to dominate in the third period, with Soudif setting up Lapierre’s second goal of the game, before Will Cuylle tacked on a power-play tally to round out the scoring.

Dylan Garand of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers was rarely tested in his tournament debut — facing only one shot in the first period — but managed to match Tristan Lennox’s shutout from the opener. Lennox made 17 saves against Finland to Garand’s eight against Switzerland, who got outshot 48-8 by Canada.

Here’s what stood out to this scout in Tuesday’s lopsided tilt:

RELATED: 5 Storylines for Scouts at Hlinka Gretzky Cup

Perfetti Strikes Again

Seriously, cue the Cole Caufield comparisons (as I suggested yesterday), and tell Corey Pronman to start the goal counter for Perfetti. He’s up to four through two games at the Hlinka after finishing with 37 last season to lead all OHL rookies in goals.

Perfetti’s first against Switzerland was one for the highlight reel as he dangled around a defender and went backhand shelf to make it 4-0. Canada’s captain Jamie Drysdale picked up his second primary assist of the game on that goal — both coming in 4-on-4 situations after previously feeding Lapierre for the 3-0 marker — but the latter was all Perfetti in taking it to the net from the blue line.

Perfetti’s second was simply a good shot from the slot. Not a snipe, but a well-placed shot. A shooter’s goal and one that had the commentators suggesting he could score 50 for Saginaw in his draft year, which seems well within the realm of possibility. 

Arthur Kaliyev scored 51 and Perfetti appears to be a superior talent, certainly a more complete player as evidenced by his assist in hounding and stripping a defender on an aggressive forecheck that isn’t part of Kaliyev’s game. Perfetti looks closer to Caufield in this scout’s eyes but bigger and more well-rounded than him too. Perfetti is a top-10 prospect for 2020 as of today and could push for the top five if he keeps filling the net.

For the second straight game, Perfetti had his hat-trick bid foiled by a stellar save late in the third period, though this time Noah Patenaude got a little lucky as Perfetti’s shot towards a gaping net glanced off the butt end of the goaltender’s stick and went wide. No matter, he was named Canada’s player of the game.

Lapierre is Legit

Through two games, Lapierre is playing his way into my top 10 for 2020. He was really impressive against Finland but got overshadowed by his linemate Perfetti’s two-goal performance in that opener. Against Switzerland, Lapierre matched Perfetti’s output and shone again thanks to his vision and playmaking.

Lapierre’s first goal of the tournament came off a 4-on-4 rush by cutting to the middle and snapping a shot from the high slot past Patenaude, while his second was a quick release on a centering feed from Sourdif.

Also of note, Lapierre is playing the point on Canada’s top power-play unit, alongside Drysdale, with Perfetti, Quinton Byfield and Connor McClennon up front as part of a four-forward configuration. Lapierre does a lot of the distributing with the man advantage, looking like a player who will be putting up a lot of points in the NHL in the not-too-distant future.

Byfield Best Player on the Ice

This will probably be a common theme throughout the tournament, but Byfield was a force again. Not so much in the physical sense but in terms of generating offence for himself and his WHL wingers Jake Neighbours and Seth Jarvis, who previously netted a pair of goals against Finland.

Byfield has yet to score through two games, but he notched his second assist in as many contests by setting up childhood friend turned OHL rival Ryan O’Rourke for a tap-in on the 2-0 goal. Byfield nearly opened the scoring on an early breakaway but lost control of the puck on his backhand deke attempt at the top of the crease, which resulted in a goaltender interference penalty.

OHL, Sudbury Wolves, Quinton Byfield
Quinton Byfield of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves has been showing he is the real deal during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. (CHL Images)

There were several other glimpses of brilliance from Byfield, with TSN’s commentators Gord Miller and former NHL GM Craig Button making a favourable comparison to Evgeni Malkin. That looks to be a better comparable than Eric Staal, who I had mentioned in previewing this tournament, but Byfield will become his own player and could be even more dynamic than Malkin with better skating.

Byfield has been billed as a budding power forward, but his playmaking ability has been on full display thus far. He’s looking like the total package, but he’s supposed to be the best player on the ice here as the only projected top-five pick at the Hlinka. He knows that and Byfield might have another gear for the medal round, but he hasn’t disappointed by any means through two games despite being limited to just the two assists on Canada’s 14 goals.

Quick Hitters

Full credit to Patenaude for his 40-save performance in keeping Canada to single digits despite facing a barrage of quality chances that could have doubled the score. Patenaude saved his best for last in robbing Jarvis at the final buzzer with a glove save that was even flashier than Finland’s Joel Blomqvist on Perfetti.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek tweeted an interesting tidbit on Patenaude: “His dad is from Chateauguay, Quebec, and Noah has been a Canadian citizen since 2009. And nobody knew. Patenaude grew up playing in the Swiss program but is leaving to play with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. Nothing official yet, but I’d expect an announcement at the end of the tournament. The CHL has already approved the deal.”

Patenaude presumably wouldn’t count as an import for Saint John. In another twist of fate, the first goal that he allowed in the Hlinka came off the stick of his soon-to-be teammate in Poirier, who beat him with a long-range wrister through the screen of a Swiss defender. They will be able to laugh about that one in a few weeks’ time at Saint John’s training camp.

Tuesday’s game was also significant for Canada’s Theo Rochette in playing against the country he previously represented at last year’s Hlinka tournament. A dual citizen, it was Rochette’s first time facing Switzerland, who certainly could have used him on this day. Rochette would have been Switzerland’s top forward, but he had a quiet outing for Canada and hasn’t established much of a presence in this year’s tournament coming off a productive rookie campaign with QMJHL Chicoutimi.

One QMJHLer who has been making a lasting impression is undersized defender Lukas Cormier. He’s looked like a young Samuel Girard with his offensive instincts. Dave Reid liked him as an intermission analyst and so did I against Switzerland — perhaps likening him more to Jordan Spence from the 2019 draft class.

There weren’t many bright spots for Switzerland — as can be surmised by the shot-clock and final score — but three of their better skaters were all CHL import draft picks in defenceman Noah Delemont (Acadie-Bathurst QMJHL) and forwards Simon Knak (Portland WHL) and Keanu Derungs (Victoria WHL). They couldn’t accomplish much against Canada but could all be selected in the top 100 of the 2020 NHL draft. 

Derungs is outside that range right now but rose a little thanks to his highlight-reel goal in Switzerland’s opener against the Czech Republic on Monday, while Knak and Delemont could both be second-round picks if they continue to develop in the CHL. 

Worth noting, Knack will be playing under Mike Johnston in Portland, for whom fellow Swiss forwards Nino Niederreiter and Sven Baertschi excelled with the Winterhawks en route to becoming NHLers.

Remaining Schedule

Canada wraps up the round robin against the host Czech Republic on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT). The semfinals are 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.