For players dreaming of being selected in the annual National Hockey League entry draft, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament is a big deal. Held annually since 1991, the Hlinka Tournament is the first major event of the draft cycle – pitting the top under-18 players from eight countries against each other in a rare best-on-best event. Since the annual IIHF Under-18 World Championship tournament falls in April, during the Canadian Hockey League playoffs, the Hlinka Tournament is often the only chance for some prospective NHLers to show their stuff on the international stage during their draft year.
Canada has fared very well at the Hlinka Tournament historically, with medals in 23 of 26 tournaments including 20 championships. Heck, the country finished fifth last year, snapping a championship streak that dated back to 2007. Because of Canada’s dominance, the annual selection camp takes on a lot of importance for players with NHL aspirations. But does surviving camp and making Team Canada guarantee a future NHL Draft spot?
Team Canada takes two goalies to the Hlinka Tournament every year. Of the six goaltenders who made the club over the past three installments, five of them were drafted. The lone exception? Zach Sawchenko, who was overlooked in two consecutive NHL Drafts and opted to head to Canadian university rather than immediately pursue a pro career.
Canada brings seven blueliners to the tournament each year. Of the 21 they’ve taken over the past three years, 20 of them have been eligible for selection in at least one NHL Draft – Evan Bouchard was on last year’s team but because of his late birthday was too young for the 2016 NHL Draft. Of the 20 defenders who could have been drafted, 17 have been. The three eligible defenders not taken were all from last year’s team: Jonathan Smart, Antoine Crete-Belzile and Elijah Roberts.
Canada brings 13 forwards with them every year. Of the 39 they’ve taken over the past three years, 37 have been eligible for selection in at least one NHL Draft – Joseph Veleno and Ryan McLeod were both too young for the 2016 Draft, Veleno by a full year. Of the 37 eligible for selection, 34 were taken at some point in the NHL Draft. 2015 Canadian team member Zach Poirier was overlooked in two NHL Drafts, while 2016 representatives Greg Meireles and Jordy Bellerive weren’t selected in the 2016 Draft but remain eligible. Tyler Soy was on Canada’s 2014 team and was drafted in his second year of eligibility.
Looking broadly at the past three Canadian teams from the Hlinka Tournament, 63 players were named to those teams that have been eligible for selection in the NHL Draft. Of those 63, 56 were selected at some point by an NHL club – that’s a selection rate of 89%. However, the data is skewed a bit by the disappointing 2016 Hlinka performance by Canada that saw them finish fifth – their worst result ever. Whether that performance is reflective of the team’s talent level or not is up for debate, but members of the 2016 roster have been selected at a much lower rate than in previous years.
- 2013: 21 of 22 – won gold
- 2014: 21 of 22 – won gold
- 2015: 21 of 22 – won gold
- 2016: 14 of 19 – finished fifth
If you look only at the three gold medal-winning teams, the selection rate jumps to 95%.
The sample size is obviously rather small, but the main takeaways from the broader Hlinka roster trends for Team Canada are two-fold: If you make Team Canada, you likely have a better than average chance of being drafted into the NHL. And if the team performs well at the Hlinka Tournament, you stand a very good chance of being drafted into the NHL.
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.