August 4, 2018

Who to watch at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup

Bring on 2019.

The 2018 NHL Draft took place just over a month ago, but the world of hockey scouting never really sleeps. Even though the summer months are filled with sunshine and warm weather, they also provide a brief window between hockey seasons to schedule camps, tournaments and other events.

One of the biggest of these events is an annual competition that takes place every August, which also serves as something of an unofficial start to the scouting year. Formerly called the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (among other prior titles), the newly-named Hlinka Gretzky Cup is an eight-team tournament featuring many of the world’s best hockey prospects under the age of 18.

Recently held each year in split locations in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the prestigious event is returning to Canada for the first time since 1996, shared between the Alberta cities of Edmonton and Red Deer from August 6th to August 11th.

If you want to get an early look at many of the top prospects of any given draft class, the Hlinka is an excellent place to do it.

Of the 31 players selected in the 1st round of the 2018 draft, 19 took part in the tournament in 2016, 2017 or both.

Here now is a rundown of some of the most notable 2019 draft-eligible prospects to keep an eye out for when the puck officially drops in early August.

Tobias Bjornfot, D, Sweden, 6-0, 185, 6-4-2001
Sweden has shown off an impressive knack lately for developing smooth puck-moving defensemen, and Bjornfot is yet another continuation of that trend. After a regular season that saw him produce 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 42 games for Djugardens in the SuperElit he joined Sweden for the 2018 IIHF U18 World Championship and did not look out of place, despite being a year younger than most of the competition. Expect to see him log a lot of minutes in this tournament.

Bowen Byram, D, Canada, 6-1, 190, 13-6-2001
Speaking of smooth puck-moving defensemen, not only is Byram projected to be the best one of those heading into the 2019 draft, he might be the first defender in general to hear his name get called. Another 2001 birthday to take part in this past April’s U18s, Byram played a regular shift for that Canadian squad and held his own, so he’ll probably be entrusted with a major role against competition his own age. A smart, skilled prospect who also plays with an edge.

Dylan Cozens, F,  Canada, 6-3, 180, 9-2-2001
It’s not often that you see many top hockey prospects who hail from the Yukon, but then again, it’s also not often that you see players at this age who possess the combination of size and mobility that Cozens showcases. He stands 6-foot-3 and can hit an impressive top gear if he finds enough open ice, making him a fun player to watch and a hard one to miss. Was named the 2018 WHL rookie of the year after putting up 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 57 games for the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Kirby Dach, F, Canada, 6-4, 200, 21-1-2001
Already clocking in at roughly 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Dach is a man among boys, which is going to spell a lot of trouble for teams trying to defend against him. Don’t let his size fool you, however: Dach is also incredibly skilled and patient with the puck. Displaying a style of hockey similar to a young Joe Thornton, he uses his large frame and long reach to maintain possession and work a cycle while scanning for opportunities to set up scoring chances for his teammates.

Arthur Kaliyev, F, United States, 6-2, 190, 26-6-2001
It’s not often that a 16-year-old rookie pots 30 goals in a league as good as the OHL, so when Kaliyev did it last season a lot of scouts took notice. The Hamilton Bulldogs sniper has size, smooth hands, a lethal release and a great nose for the net. Members of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program once again won’t be taking part in the tournament, so Kaliyev will likely be one of the go-to offensive players for the U.S.

Mikko Kokkonen, D, Finland, 5-11, 190, 18-1-2001
It was only for a total of 2:50, but Kokkonen played in the Liiga as a 15-year-old in the 2016-17 season, setting a new league record for the youngest player to play in a regular season game. He then spent most of 2017-18 playing against men before joining Finland’s gold-winning U18 team, where he picked up three assists in seven games. Mature and composed well beyond his years, the 5-foot-11 blueliner plays an effective, responsible two-way game.

Peyton Krebs, F, Canada, 5-11, 180, 26-1-2001
The first overall selection in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, Krebs didn’t get much exposure last season while playing on a rebuilding Kootenay Ice team, so the Hlinka Gretzky Cup could be something of a coming out party for him. A fast, dynamic forward who is capable of pulling fans out of their seats and making highlight-reel plays. Keeps his head up and on a swivel and can thread picture-perfect passes to linemates. A prime contender to become the event’s top scorer.

Matthew Robertson, D, Canada, 6-3, 200, 9-3-2001
A native of Sherwood Park, Alberta who now plays for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, Robertson is going to have quite a home-ice advantage going for him as Canada’s round-robin games will be played in Edmonton. He’s a fluid, mobile skater who can make a hard, accurate first pass, but his calling card is his defensive play. Canada’s roster will be thin on shutdown defensemen, so expect Robertson to see a lot of minutes on the penalty kill and when closing out games.

Ryan Suzuki, F, Canada, 6-0, 180, 28-5-2001
The young brother of 2017 Vegas Golden Knights first rounder Nick Suzuki, Ryan was the first overall pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. And like his older brother, the younger Suzuki is a heady pass-first pivot who possesses elite offensive awareness and can make the players around him better. The budding star had 44 points (14 goals, 30 assists) in 64 games last season for the OHL’s Barrie Colts. A natural center, Canada’s depth down the middle might force him to the wing in this tournament.

Oleg Zaitsev, F, Russia, 6-1, 185, 7-1-2001
Zaitsev is going to get acquainted with the city of Red Deer in a hurry. Not only are Russia’s round-robin games being played there, Zaitsev was also drafted by the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels in the 2018 CHL Import Draft and has committed to play for the team next season. A toolsy, versatile forward, he played in a top-six role last season in Russia’s top junior league, a rare feat for a 16-year-old. That experience will likely make him a player the Russians rely on a lot at the Hlinka.

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