July 31, 2023

Which 2024 NHL Draft eligibles to watch at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup

The 2023 Hlinka Gretzky Cup is here.

And it’s ready to kick off the official scouting calendar for the 2024 NHL Draft.

With a plethora of draft talent, the 2023 Hlinka Gretzky Cup is sure to jumpstart plenty of conversation for what’ll inevitably be a long march to the 2024 draft, expected to be held next June in Las Vegas, Nevada — home of the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights.

With the Hlinka set to start, here are some players to keep a close eye on:

Berkly Catton, C, Canada

Berkly Catton is among the top 2024 eligible players at this event and will likely center the top line for Canada at this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Catton, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft, is a high IQ playmaking center who can play the game with pace and skill, able to generate off the rush with his ability to change gears and accelerate quickly and dart into open ice with his agility. He is more of a natural playmaker than a scorer, but he does have a reliable finisher’s touch with an accurate wrist shot and is someone I would anticipate being toward the top of the tournament’s scoring table.

Sam Dickinson, D, Canada

Sam Dickinson is a rangy and mobile two-way defenseman who has an arguable case as the top blueliner in the 2024 draft class at this early stage in the process. Dickinson is a player who prides himself on his hockey IQ, often making steady decisions with the puck, reading play well in his own end to break up plays, and has flashes of offensive touch with strong hands for a player his size and a good shot. It’s hard to get ice time on London as a 17-year-old, and Dickinson was able to earn his coaching staff’s trust quickly. He jumps off the page as Canada’s No. 1 defenseman for this tournament.

Zayne Parekh, D, Canada

Zayne Parekh broke records last year in the Ontario Hockey League with the Saginaw Spirit, setting the mark for most strikes by a U17 defenseman with 21 goals in 50 games. Parekh is an exciting offensive defenseman, constantly looking to join the attack from the offensive blue line and make plays in tight around the half boards and circles. He’s a very skilled player who can handle and protect pucks in tight spaces and has a deceptive bullet of a wrist shot that allows him to beat goaltenders from distance. Parekh is not the most polished player among his peers, but he’s an incredibly fun watch and could be in for a big tournament for Canada.

Mac Swanson, W/C, USA

Mac Swanson, arguably the top pure playmaker at this year’s tournament, led all U17 skaters in the United States Hockey League in assists a year ago with 43 helpers in 57 games for the Fargo Force. He is poised to be USA’s top offensive option at the Hlinka. Swanson is an undersized player — standing at just 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds — but he’s a tremendous facilitator of offensive play with his excellent vision and problem-solving skills. He’s a skilled player who can play quick and utilize his teammates to move pucks through the neutral zone and around the offensive zone, and he should be a staple on USA’s top line and power play throughout the tournament.

Aidan Park, C, USA

Aidan Park dominated prep school hockey this past year for Shattuck St. Mary’s, racking up 38 goals and 82 points in 53 games before getting a taste of USHL at the end of the year with the Green Bay Gamblers. Park is a two-way center who sees the ice very well at both ends of the ice, getting back to support his defensemen while also being able to utilize his teammates well in the offensive zone to create scoring opportunities. Park is more of a scorer than a pure playmaker, but he distributes well and makes generally strong, smart decisions with the puck, and should be a fixture in USA’s top six throughout the tournament.

Adam Jiricek, D, Czechia

Adam Jiricek, the younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets prospect David Jiricek, is an exciting talent on the blue line due to his blend of skill and mobility. Jiricek is not quite the bruiser that his brother is, but he moves pucks very well and can play in the offensive zone with smooth puck skills and strong agility, allowing him to weave through checks and generate offense for his team. Jiricek would easily peg as the top talent on this year’s Czechia team, and should play in all situations for the team — including the top defense pair and top power play unit.

Alexander Zetterberg, C, Sweden

Alexander Zetterberg, the top player on Sweden’s roster on paper heading into this tournament, is a fast and exciting player whom the Swedes will look for to push the pace of play when he’s on the ice. Zetterberg is an undersized forward with a light 5-foot-8 frame, but he’s an excellent skater who can beat defenders on the rush with his speed and fluid agility and can make plays at top speed to drive to scoring areas or find teammates. Zetterberg is more of a pure playmaker than a scorer, and the Swedes will need him to be a key contributor throughout the tournament.

Emil Hemming, RW, Finland

Emil Hemming is the player to single out as Finland’s top player that will be hitting the ice at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with Aron Kiviharju and Konsta Helenius with the U20 club at the World Junior Summer Showcase and Veeti Vaisanen dropping due to injury. Hemming owns good size for a player his age at 6-foot-2 and nearly 200 pounds and can leverage that size with skill to protect pucks and find his way into scoring areas around the goal mouth. Hemming has good skill in tight and can beat netminders with his stick handling or a strong shot from medium range. With so much high-end talent dropping from the U18 roster, Finland will need Hemming to step up as a key contributor.

Tomas Pobezal, C, Slovakia

Tomas Pobezal, the lone 2025 NHL Draft eligible on this list — though Michael Misa, Jordan Gavin, and Porter Martone are worthy of recognition as well — is another exciting talent coming out of Slovakia after a very strong DY-2 season where he played up an age group with Slovakia at the World Under-18 Championship. Pobezal is a highly skilled center who can open space in the offensive zone and weave through tight spaces with crafty puck-handling skills. Pobezal is a natural center who sees the ice well from the center position and is strong on draws. Pobezal is headed to play professional hockey for Nitra in Slovakia this year and should be a focal point on this year’s Hlinka club.

Daniil Ustinkov, D, Switzerland

Daniil Ustinkov, the top talent on this year’s Swiss team, is a mobile two-way defenseman who led all Swiss defensemen in scoring at last year’s World Under-18 Championship, as a 16-year-old and should line up in all situations as the team’s number one defenseman at this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Ustinkov skates well and can transition pucks effectively, able to get the breakout going with a strong first pass or by skating the puck out of harm’s way himself. Ustinkov lacks a true killer instinct on the offensive side of the puck, but has the skills to be a contributor in that area and should have ample opportunity at this year’s tournament for Switzerland.

Honorable Mentions: C Jordan Gavin (CAN), RW Porter Martone (CAN), RW Maxim Masse (CAN), D Henry Mews (CAN), C Michael Misa (CAN), LW Trevor Connelly (USA), D Will Felicio (USA), RW Adam Jecho (CZE), C Lucas Pettersson (SWE), LW Roope Vesterinen (FIN), C Jamiro Reber (SUI).


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