August 12, 2019

Who Impressed from the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup

What better way to kick off a scouting season than an international tournament?

Like years past, the 2019 iteration of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup — hosted this year in Breclav and Piestany, Czech Republic, from Aug. 5-10 — presented hockey fans with a prime opportunity to watch some great on-ice action during the slow summer months. This year’s competition saw Russia claim gold in a hard-fought win over Canada, while Sweden brought down rival Finland to win the bronze.

The annual event is also an ideal time for scouts to get a good, early look at many of the top prospects who will be available in upcoming entry drafts. On that front, this year’s tournament certainly did not disappoint, as many talented players elevated their games and stood out amongst their peers.

Here’s a look at the top 10 performers from this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup:

Yaroslav Askarov, G, Russia, 6-3, 163, 6-16-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 13

Nearly unbeatable throughout the entire tournament, Askarov was the biggest difference-maker for Russia as they skated away with gold. His positioning, rebound control, composure and ability to read how the play is unfolding are all incredibly advanced for a goaltender his age. This gold is his fifth medal in 12 months, and probably won’t be the last one to end up in his trophy case as his career progresses.

“Askarov came up big when it mattered most,” said Future Considerations’ head European scout Dennis Schellenberg. “He carried the Russians to a win in the gold medal game over Canada with a huge performance. He showed, again, how mentally strong he is and showed off his amazing reflexes in almost every game.”

Quinton Byfield, C, Canada, 6-4, 214, 8-19-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 2

A potential candidate to go first overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, Byfield frequently showed why in this tournament. He wasn’t exactly Canada’s most consistent performer, but he was impossible to contain on numerous plays as he utilized his tantalizing combination of size, speed and skill. And for a big man, his soft hands around the opposing net were able to do a lot of offensive damage.

“Byfield’s performance at the Hlinka got lost in the rest of the hype around other players in this tournament,” Future Considerations’ head Eastern scout Dylan Galloway said. “His point totals weren’t as impressive as some of his teammates, but he was able to display a little of why he’s considered a top tier prospect. Byfield is the full package player of size, speed and skill. His potential as a player is phenomenal, though I don’t think he wasn’t the dominating force most were expecting him to be in this tournament.”

Jamie Drysdale, D, Canada, 5-11, 165, 04-08-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 10

Whether it was his own zone or the offensive zone, or on the power play or the penalty kill, Drysdale was an absolute rock on Canada’s back end. Despite logging big minutes and playing in all situations, the well-rounded defender’s ability to make a positive, reliable impact for his team never wavered. Don’t be surprised if Drysdale is the first defenseman to get his named called at the 2020 draft.

Willam Eklund, LW, Sweden, 5-8, 154, 12-10-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 2021 eligible

Short but speedy, Eklund was the sparkplug that ignited Sweden’s offense for most of their games. When he was in possession of the puck — which happened quite often — his hands and feet never stopped moving, including throwing in the occasional spin move to help escape pressure. He finished tied for his team’s lead in scoring with five points in as many games.

“He was one of the most noticeable Swedish players, if not the most,” Schellenberg said. “Although being very small in size, the forward has proved he can be an offensive catalyst. He worked very hard in every shift to make up for his size. Eklund was great in creating space for his linemates.”

Roni Hirvonen, C, 5-9, 154, 1-10-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 36

Hirvonen was indispensable for the Finns at the Hlinka, leading the team in scoring with six points in five games while also staying reliable defensively and without the puck. He lacks size and none of his physical skills are elite, but his hockey sense is excellent. He also showed a lot of fire and intensity in his game, confidently going into board battles against bigger opponents and often coming out with the puck.

“Often, Hirvonen was not eye-catching but was still very present on the scoreboard,” Schellenberg said. “That is because of his great hockey smarts. Read plays extremely well, used his great skating abilities, showed off nice puck-handling skills and used his great decision making to make plays happen all over the ice. Very smart hockey player.”

Hendrix Lapierre, C, Canada, 6-0, 165, 2-9-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 14

Every time Lapierre stepped on the ice in the tournament it felt like you were about to see a beautiful play — or five. A magician with the puck, Lapierre routinely stickhandled through opponents and fed picture-perfect passes to his teammates with ease. Enemy penalty killers could often do little more than watch the puck in horror. His 11 points in five games were second among all players.

“Lapierre was excellent in this tournament, trailing teammate Perfetti by just one point,” Galloway said. “His playmaking ability was some of the best in the tournament and his success came from his innate patience and poise with the puck. He looks like he’s going to be in the top of that second tier of the 2020 draft.”

Tristan Lennox, G, Canada, 6-4, 190, 10-21-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 2021 eligible

The next-best goaltender in the tournament behind Askarov, scouts were denied a goaltending duel in the gold-medal game because Lennox got injured during the shootout in Canada’s semifinal match versus Sweden — but still stayed in the net to see the win through. He was unflappable in the crease up until that point, including some show-stopping saves that he made look routine.

Alexander Pashin, RW, Russia, 5-8, 154, 7-28-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 89

If Pashin wasn’t a well-known prospect before the Hlinka tournament, he certainly is now. He scored seven goals in Russia’s five games, including two in the deciding contest against Canada, and was dangerous much of the time otherwise. A diminutive winger, he used his speed and puck control to both weave through opposing defenders and blow past them wide before driving hard to the net.

Cole Perfetti, C, Canada, 5-10, 185, 1-1-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 8

Even though his team had to settle for silver in the end, Perfetti’s heroic five-goal performance in the semifinal game against Sweden — two goals in regulation and then three more in the shootout, including the sudden-death game-winner — should help enshrine him in Canadian international hockey history. The dynamic winger’s 12 points set a tournament record, while his eight goals tied another.

“Perfetti had one of the most memorable Hlinka performances in a while with eight goals and 12 points,” Galloway said. “Perfetti is incredible at getting to the center of the ice ice and other high danger scoring areas. Not only that, when he does get in tight on the goalie he can raise the puck with quickly and put it past the goalies head. His goal scoring has been evident in his game for a long time, however in this short tournament he showed off the rest of the high end parts of his game.”

Vasili Ponomaryov, C, Russia, 6-0, 176, 3-13-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 37

Ponomaryov wasn’t a player who often caught your eye with a flashy play, but the centre’s strong and consistent two-way game was an essential element in Russia’s success in this tournament. He did, however, score a great goal on an individual effort in the gold-medal game. He had six points in five contests overall, and helped out defensively by playing a regular role on Russia’s penalty kill.

Honourable mentions: Martin Chromiak, Noah Ellis, Michal Gut, Brad Lambert, Daniel Ljungman, Zion Nybeck, Kasper Puutio, Aatu Raty, Jesper Wallstedt

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