July 29, 2022

Prospects you need to watch at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup

The Hlinka Gretzky Cup is one of the first events on the scouting calendar, and kicks off the 2023 NHL Draft’s scouting marathon.

Some of the premier under-18 talent comes together for a showcase event that allows them to make their first impressions on the hockey world.

With the 2023 draft being regarded, early, as one of the stronger classes in recent memory, this year’s event will allow scouts to get a first glimpse at some of the top talent that will be available next summer.

This event is always atop the calendar and usually marks the start of the scouting season for many. Obviously, there are wrinkles in the event every year — Team USA is made up of players outside of the NTDP, giving other top American prospects a chance to represent their country at the under-18 level and this year there is no Russian entry this tournament.

There’s no shortage of players to watch, though.

Here are some of the names that FCHockey scouts are keeping an eye on at this year’s Hlinka (in alphabetical order):

Andrew Cristall, RW, Canada

Andrew Cristall is coming off an impressive rookie campaign in the Western Hockey League. The Kelowna Rockets winger scored 69 points (28 goals, 41 assists) in 61 games and will be looking to be a key member of the Canadian squad.

“He’s a smaller forward who also has a knack for putting the puck in the net,” Western-based FCHockey scout Mitch Savard said. “I want to see if he’s able to create offense for linemates through puck possession or if he’s going to be more of a recipient of his linemates doing work.”

Noah Dower Nilsson, C, Sweden

Noah Dower Nilsson played at both the J18 and J20 levels last year for Frolunda, carving out a nice role and finding a way to produce positive results at both ends of the ice. He netted four points (two goals, two assists) in 12 games as a 16-year-old in J20 Nationell in 2021-22.

“Dower Nilsson has the potential to be a high-end two-way forward,” FCHockey scout Austin Broad said. “His skating and skill allow him to beat defenders one-on-one while on the attack and his active stick makes him a handful to battle against in loose puck situations. He may not be the flashiest player but he has the makings of a responsible player who can drive play at both ends of the ice.”

Jakub Dvorak, D, Czechia

Jakub Dvorak participated as an underager at the 2022 IIHF World Under-18 Championship for Czechia in the spring. He wasn’t the most productive player for his country in that tournament but he will be looking to have a much bigger impact at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. The now-17-year-old had 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in 19 games for Bili Tygri Liberec in the Czechia U20 league last season.

“Dvorak is not as talented and not as offensively gifted as the 2022 draft prospect from Czechia David Jiricek, but is also big and a smooth skater for his size,” European-based FCHockey scout Miroslav Simurka said. “Defending he may look like a man against kids at this category. He has also some puck skills and impacts the game all over ice. I expect to see him on the ice at every important situation for the Czechs.”

Kasper Halttunen, LW, Finland

A returnee from last year’s Finnish squad, Kasper Halttunen has the physical characteristics that scouts will love in a prospect. With his size and strength combination he has the potential to turn into a high-end power forward. While his first stint at the Hlinka wasn’t fruitful, he was a strong performer for Finland at the Under-18s in the spring and should play a prominent role at this event. Halttunen had 38 points (24 goals, 14 assists) in 42 games with Jokerit in U20 SM-sarja last season.

“Halttunen caught my eye last season in some crossover viewings and at the U18s as an underager, and what he brings to the table is really appealing,” said Western-based FCHockey scout Derek Neumeier.  “The Finnish winger is athletic, mobile and can make an offensive impact both off the rush or in the cycle. I think his upside is really high and expect him to cement his status as a top prospect at this event.”

Riley Heidt, F, Team Canada

Riley Heidt is a skilled offensive player who produced on a struggling Prince George team in the WHL. His 21 goals and 37 assists (58 points) made him the top scoring player last season. He finished just two points short of the team record for points by a rookie, set by Brett Connolly in 2009. If he can perform for Team Canada the way he did for the Cougars last year, Canada is going to be very happy that Heidt is on their roster.

“Heidt is highly talented and will be expected to help his team turn around its fortunes, but his circumstances will be very different in Red Deer, surrounded by a ton of talent on the tournament’s frontrunner,” Neumeier said. “It will be good to see how he performs in contrasting situations.”

Ondrej Molnar, LW, Slovkaia

Ondrej Molnar is no stranger to the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, serving as a vital member of last year’s silver medal winning Slovakian team. Molnar has represented Slovakia at the U18 level twice already and should feel very comfortable at this event. Look for him to be one of the standout members of the Slovakian roster this year. He had two points, both assists, for HK Nitra in Slovakia’s men’s league last season, and 19 points (13 goals, 6 assists) at the U20 level.

“Molnar is a flashy player with the puck skills, the skating, and the ability make plays at speed,” Simurka said. “Molnar was very good as an underager at Hlinka Gretzky Cup and World Under-18 Championship 1A last year. If he can prove repeat these performances this year as the best 2023 NHL draft prospect and leader on the team I will not be shocked if he will be in first round discussions after the Hlinka.”

Calum Ritchie, C, Canada

One of the best rookies to play in the Ontario Hockey League in 2021-22, Calum Ritchie is a gifted offensive creator who helped drive the Oshawa Generals attack whenever he was on the ice. He finished with 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in 65 games. Canada is a loaded team, with tons of talent but Ritchie has the potential to be their best player and should play a vital role for them all tournament long.

“Ritchie was one of the most exciting D-1 players in the OHL last season,” Broad said. “He has the offensive prowess and puck skills to turn into an offensive player driver. Oshawa relied on him a lot last year, and will heavily lean on him again this year. With his puck skills and offensive instincts, I think he can be one of the better players Canada has at this event.”

Eduard Sale, LW, Czechia

Eduard Sale might be the most intriguing player at this year’s event. He was a force in Czechia’s U20 league last year producing 89 points (42 goals and 47 assists) in 39 games for his team. If Czechia has any shot at medalling at this event it will be because Sale is leading the charge for them game in and game out.   

“Sale dominated the Czechia U20 league and even found a way to produce in his limited pro stint,” Broad said. “He has all the tools you look for in a high-end prospect and seeing how he fares against some of the better U18 talent the world has to offer will really help gauge where he’s at as a prospect. He’s my number one prospect to watch at the tournament this year.”

William Whitelaw, F, Team USA

One of the most exciting players in the Hlinka, William Whitelaw torched the high school circuit for Shattuck St. Mary’s U18 Prep team last year with 110 points (46 goals, 64 assists) in 55 games. The undersized forward has loads of offensive skill, but has limited experience against competition of this level yet in his young career.

“I’m looking forward to see how Whitelaw fairs in this tournament,” US-based FCHockey scout Douglas Larson said. “He’s quick on his feet with and elite motor, and a pure goal scorer with a wicked release. If Team USA is going to go far, I’d expect him to be a focal point of their offense.”

Matthew Wood, LW, Canada

Matthew Wood has everything you want in a forward prospect. He’s got the size, shooting ability and offensive prowess that can allow him to blossom into a premier NHL prospect.  He was a goalscoring machine for the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Hockey League last season, scoring nearly a goal-per-game and led the league with 85 points (45 goals, 40 assists) in 46 games.

“Wood absolutely torched the BCHL last season as a 16-year-old, putting himself high on draft radars,” Neumeier said.  “You have to love the skill package he brings, with plenty of size and offensive ability with the puck. However, competition in the BCHL can be a little mixed. This tournament will probably provide the best competition he will face this year until the IIHF U18s in the spring of 2023.”

Brayden Yager, C, Canada

One of the most complete players in the Hlinka, Brayden Yager has the ability to take over the game at both ends of the ice. The reigning WHL and Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year should be a focal point for Canada after netting 59 points (34 goals, 25 assists) in 63 games. He should be near the top of scouts lists for this event and has the potential to turn into a top-five selection at the 2023 NHL Draft.

“He’s a dynamic, all-around player who creates offense for himself and others,” Savard said. “I’m looking for him to really standout in both ends of the ice and play a huge role for team Canada with his blend of speed, shot, and high-end offensive knack.”

The long road to the 2023 NHL Draft is just getting underway, and this event always provides some interesting storylines to follow throughout the year.

Just last year the Slovakian squad captured the attention of the world as they fought their way to a silver medal and followed that up by having three of their members go in the first round of the 2022 draft.

It will be interesting to see the storylines that begin as this year’s event gets underway.


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