August 2, 2021

10 to watch at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup

With the 2021 NHL Draft behind us, it’s time to start focusing on the 2022 draft. The class is expected to be loaded with high-end talent at the top and a ton of depth throughout the class.

One of the first chances to see some of the talent in the class is coming up with the Hlinka Gretzky Cup ready to kick off on August 2.

Canada will be absent from the tournament, but that doesn’t mean it will be lacking any star power. Even without Shane Wright, there will be plenty of top end talent present and they will get an early chance to show scouts how they fare against their peers before their seasons officially kick off later this year. 

A strong performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup can set the tone for one of the top prospects or could help a later round guy standout and get an early advantage over some of the other members in his age group. 

It’s never too early to start focusing in on prospects, so here’s FCHockey’s 10 players to watch at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in alphabetical order:

Ryan Abraham, C, Team USA

Although small in stature, Ryan Abraham is a ton of fun to watch. He’s an excellent playmaking center with great vision who can create for his teammates in a wide number of ways. The 5-foot-8 center was supposed to play his D-1 year in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires but lost the year when the season was cancelled. He did play in the PBHH Invitational in Erie in June with other OHL talent, but will now have the opportunity to show everyone what he brings to the table. 

With his skating ability and excitement factor, he’s one of the players to keep an eye on throughout the tournament. 

Lian Bicshel, D, Switzerland

Lian Bichsel is a big-bodied defender who brings an interesting set of skills for the Swiss. He can move well for his size and loves to throw his weight around. He was noticeable at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship because of his ability in transition and knack for delivering punishing body checks along the boards. 

The six-foot-five left shot defender can contribute at both ends of the ice and will be an interesting name to follow throughout his draft year. The Hlinka will give us another good glimpse of him against some of the best competition in his age group.

 Kasper Kulonummi, D, Finland

A smooth-skating, puck-moving defender, Kasper Kulonummi will be an exciting player to keep tabs on at this tournament for Finland. He played a role for them at the Under-18s and stood out to me in my viewing of him. He’s disciplined in his own zone and is a capable defender in one-on-one situations. He’s good in the transition game and can jump into the rush to help generate offensive chances for his team. 

“He had the intangibles, he processes the game quickly and plays within his team’s system, if he can work on his skill a bit more he will improve a lot and should be someone to keep an eye on for the 2022 draft,” FCHockey scout Austin Broad said in a recent scouting report.

The 2022 class is loaded with two-way right-handed defenders, and an early Hlinka view could show how Kulomummi stacks up against the competition.

Julian Lutz, F, Germany 

Julian Lutz is one of the more interesting names to watch in the 2022 NHL Draft class. His career path has been unconventional to this point as he’s developed in Austria’s Red Bull hockey academy. If Canada was playing, Germany likely isn’t in this event so it’ll be worth watching to see how Lutz handles the opportunity and how he can boost his early draft status.

Lutz is a strong skater and is most comfortable with the puck on his stick. 

“He has a great low stance and has great first step quickness thanks to his powerful stride extensions,” FC Scout Mat Sheridan wrote in a scouting report. “In transition, he moves the puck quickly up the ice on the counterattack and makes passes that few others would think of.”

Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Russia

While Wright is in a tier of his own, Ivan Miroshnichenko is one of the players who will try and challenge for the second overall selection in the draft. He was a standout at the 2021 Under-18s, where he scored six goals in seven games. He’s an elite skater with an excellent shot that can beat goalies from anywhere. 

“He has a pro-ready body, he knows how to overpower his competition whenever he decides to engage physically,” Broad said. “There is a lot to like about his game, and if he has continued success next season he should be positioning himself well for a loaded 2022 NHL Draft.

Miroshnichenko is the prospect I am most excited to see at this event, without Canada and Wright’s presence I have high hopes for him and fully expect him to be a dominant force for the Russian team. 

Simon Nemec, D, Slovakia

Simon Nemec is one of the top defensive prospects available in the upcoming NHL Draft class. The 17-year-old was a regular on Slovakia’s national rosters, playing in the WJC and the World Championships in the 2020-21 season. Nemec brings a nice blend of size, mobility and puck moving ability that will translate well to the next level. He plays against men in Slovakia’s professional league and this tournament will allow him a chance to shine against players in his own age group.

“Offensively, Nemec shows off a lot of confidence with the puck, he has a good shot and is good at getting it through traffic,” Sheridan said in a recent scouting report. “He is also a good facilitator with the puck, routinely moving it quickly back and forth across both sides of the ice, helping to open up lanes for which his teammates can get a shot off.”

Nemec should be a standout at this event, and I expect him to put on a dominant performance from the back end. 

Noah Ostlund, C, Sweden

Noah Ostlund is a spark plug type of player who brings a ton of skill to the game. He works hard on every shift and has the puck skills and creativity to be a dangerous threat when he gets space. Despite having a small frame, Ostlund brings a ton of energy and pace to the game. He is effective in all three zones, and was able to carve out a nice role for himself at the Under-18s.

“He made quick reads in the neutral zone and was able to disrupt the play by intercepting passes with a quick stick,” Sheridan said in a scouting report. “He was also always moving around in the offensive zone to find open space and was not afraid to go to the front of the net.”

With his skill, high-pace pf play and his overall ‘fun’ factor, Ostlund is definitely a prospect to watch at this event. 

Elias Salomonsson, D, Sweden

Elias Salomonsson is another one of the talented right-shot defenders available in the 2022 NHL Draft class. He has great mobility, can help create offense in the transition game and is a capable defender in his own zone. Despite a few blemishes, Salomonsson was able to display his skating and transition abilities in his appearance with Sweden at the Under-18s. 

“Salomonsson has a lot to like in his game, his physical tools and his passing ability make him an intriguing prospect for the 2022 class,” Broad said.

He has a high IQ and can read the play well in all three zones. Salomonsson’s on-ice skillset and his physical tools have him high on 2022 draft lists. This tournament will be a good way to gauge his progress since the Under-18s in May. 

Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, Team Slovakia

Juraj Slafkovsky is a massive physical specimen who plays a very skilled game and loves to control the puck. He understands his physical advantages and knows how to use his body to his advantage. Along with fellow countryman Simon Nemec, Slovakia has two of the top prospects available in the 2022 NHL Draft.

“Slafkovsky’s patience with the puck allows him to open up passing lanes, as in one instance in this game, he made a quick pass to his point man who had a clear shooting lane,” FCHockey scout Curtis Schwartzkopf wrote in a scouting report. “Slafkovsky is a very large forward that does an excellent job of shielding the puck from attackers and will not give up the puck when pressured.”

He played for Slovakia at the World Championships, and now he will get to play against peers in his own age group. Slafkovsky should standout at this event and he’s definitely a player that should be on people’s radars.

Simon Slavicek, F, Czech Republic

Simon Slavicek is an energy guy, with his skillset he can play the shutdown/checking line forward role perfectly. His speed and tenacity make him a nightmare to play against, he closes in on you when you have the puck and forces you to make decisions under duress. He can sit back and read the play in the defensive zone and knows exactly when to jump into the passing/shooting lane.

This will give a good indication of how he plays the game with a bigger role. Is he merely a shutdown forward or does his game has more to offer? The Hlinka will provide the perfect opportunity to answer that.

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