2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup: The Top-9 Performers
The first major international tournament of the 2019-20 hockey season is officially in the books, as Team Russia knocked off Team Canada to claim the Gold Medal at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. This Cup, which is held annually, signals the beginning of the 2019-20 season, as the crop of young prospects eligible for the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft will begin to take their respective game’s to the next level in hopes of being chosen by an NHL franchise.
However, the elite of the elite who competed within this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup should have little issue in attracting the attention of numerous NHL organizations. Widely regarded as one of the strongest and deepest draft classes in recent history, the 2002-born crop of NHL prospects varies widely in position and age — yet more than fifteen of which hold the skill set and potential necessary to evolve into dynamic and game changing players at hockey’s highest level.
Not surprisingly, it was these players who wowed the hockey world during the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Despite their varying nationalities, upwards of fifteen players stated their cases as legitimate NHL prospects with blindingly bright futures in the game. However, who exactly were these top performers and what did they put forth in order to be included within this “top performers’ article?
Let’s take a closer look.
The Top Performers
The 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup proved to be an outstanding display of skill and ability, as a number of jaw-dropping goals were scored and highlight-reel saves were made. However, consistency is the key in the world of hockey prospects, and these youngsters listed below in particular exuded exactly such throughout this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Tournament Statistics: 4GP: 1.25 GAA, 960% SVP
It’s been a tremendous 24 months for Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, as the youngster has led his nation to a medal in four major international tournaments — the most significant of which being a Gold Medal in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Described by Craig Button of TSN as a potentially generational goaltender, Askarov has done nothing other than solidify this belief through his incredibly consistent and capable play despite the continually improving strength of his competition.
The stacked USA team in April, and now this Canada Hlinka team, Yaroslav Askarov has helped take down some elite U18 teams.
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) August 10, 2019
Already projected by many independent scouting services as a potential top-15 choice in the 2020 NHL Draft, Askarov put forth an impressive display all throughout the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Utilizing his impressive 6-foot-3 frame to his advantage, Askarov regularly stymied his opponents owing to his stellar mobility within the crease and his ability to cut down shooting angles with a sense of calm typically reserved for seasoned veterans. Slated to star for SKA-1946 St. Petersburg of the MHL in 2019-20, it goes without saying that Askarov will be a constant in international competition for Russia now and long into the future.
Tournament Statistics: 5GP: 3G, 2A
The first overall choice in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection wasted little time before showcasing himself on the international stage, using his size, strength and skill to dominate his opponents on a game by game basis. Owing to his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, Byfield commanded possession of the puck for his nation and was seemingly impossible to knock off of the puck when in possession — which was the majority when he was on the ice.
— Caitlin Berry (@caitlinsports) August 7, 2019
The defining moment of the tournament for Byfield came in Team Canada’s round robin victory over Team Czech Republic, when the native of Newmarket, Ontario put his electrifying skill and creativity on display. After receiving a pass to the right of his opponents’ goal, Byfield routinely put the puck between his legs before firing a crafty shot to the far side of the net. Despite the complexity of the play itself, Byfield’s elite skill set and confidence made the play itself appear remarkably easy — a goal which came to define has play throughout the tournament.
Tournament Statistics: 4GP: 2G, 3A
In his second showing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Martin Chromiak displayed the elite skill set which made him the second overall pick in the recent 2019 CHL Import Draft. Although he won’t report to the Kingston Frontenacs this coming season, Chromiak’s abilities will surely be on full display for the hockey world to enjoy in the years to come.
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) August 9, 2019
Despite his average stature, Chromiak plays a big game on the ice owing to his stable and purposeful skating stride. Not afraid to take the puck to the net, Chromiak can protect possession with relative ease and drive hard to the goal in order to generate offensive opportunities for his team. What’s more is that Chromiak boasts soft hands, ample confidence with the puck, and the ability to thrive when short-handed as well as on the power play. This impressive versatility — which was on full display during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup — has added even greater value to Chromiak’s stock as an NHL prospect.
Tournament Statistics: 4GP: 2G, 2A
It wasn’t a spectacular showing for the United States at this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup, however, there was one particular bright spot worth noting. On defence for the U.S.A. stood Noah Ellis — a sizeable and well-rounded defender who brought stability and a sprinkling of offensive flair to his nation’s blue line. Although somewhat of an unknown in America’s ever-growing hockey program, Ellis competed tirelessly on a game-by-game basis during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and proved why he recently committed to play for the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the NCAA in two season’s time.
— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) August 7, 2019
Standing 6-foot-1 and 185-pounds, Ellis’ intimidating frame was on full display for Team U.S.A. throughout the tournament, as the youngster acted as a pillar on his team’s blue line while helping to fuel his nation’s transition game. Known for his calmness under pressure and ability to fire crisp first passes, Ellis was crucial in driving Team U.S.A.’s offensive attack and was able to contribute too — adding a team-best two goals and two assists for a total of four points.
Tournament Statistics: 5GP: 3G, 8A
Hendrix Lapierre was chosen by the Chicoutimi Saguenéens first overall in the 2018 QMJHL Entry Draft, and for good reason. In his rookie season of major-junior play in 2018-19, Lapierre blasted home 13 goals and a total of 45 points in just 48 games played — an output which saw him take home the Michel Bergeron Trophy as the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Fortunately for Team Canada during the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Lapierre continued his torrent offensive pace by collecting a whopping 11 points in a mere five tournament contests.
— Caitlin Berry (@caitlinsports) August 7, 2019
The facets of Lapierre’s game which shone the brightest during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup were the native of Gatineau, Quebec’s purposeful skating stride, speed, and confidence when in possession of the puck. As a strong and stable skater, Lapierre displayed his willingness to charge hard to the goal in search of offensive opportunities. Once in close, Lapierre routinely showcased his crisp and accurate wrist shot. Moreover, Lapierre’s raw skating speed allowed him to close and maintain gaps with ease as well as act as a menace on both the penalty kill and power play. Once of greater strength, Lapierre will surely become an impact player within the professional ranks for years to come.
Tournament Statistics: 3GP: 3G, 0A
Although of Canadian descent, Brad Lambert has spent the last few years of his life competing in Finland and therefore skates for Team Finland in international competition. In a few years’ time, however, Canada will surely be wishing for Lambert to suit up for their nation — the late 2003-born forward has all the makings of a future superstar at the NHL-level. Despite competing against players two years older than him at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Lambert showcased an elite package of skill and ability which will see him in contention for first overall come the 2022 NHL Draft.
The nephew of former Canadian NHLer Lane Lambert, Brad Lambert, spent his life in Finland🇫🇮 and as a 15-year-old debuted for @leijonat at the #HlinkaGretzkyCup helping his team reach the semi-finals with a hat trick. We talked with him after the game: https://t.co/v4EYMkFIN3
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) August 8, 2019
In his three games played for Team Finland at this year’s tournament, Lambert totalled three goals — all of which coming in a quarterfinal matchup against a highly competitive squad from Switzerland. Despite skating as the second-youngest player within this year’s cup, Lambert’s sizzling shot and ability to pound the puck on-goal with authority helped to springboard Finland to a semi-finals matchup with Team Russia. Although Finland would ultimately place fourth in the tournament, Lambert — alongside Aatu Räty — stand as two gems within their nation’s developmental program.
Tournament Statistics: 5GP: 1G, 5A
Team Sweden took home the Bronze Medal at this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup, but they surely wouldn’t have been able to do so without the tenacious play put forth by William Eklund. Consistently one of the hard-working players on the ice, Eklund netted one goal and four assists in his five games played during the tournament — a number of which came during crucial points in time. In fact, not only did Eklund score a game-tying goal late in the third-period against the United States, but he also fashioned a jaw-dropping assist which gave his nation an early 1-0 lead in their Bronze Medal battle with Finland.
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) August 10, 2019
What aspects of Eklund’s game stood out the most, you ask? Well, firstly there was Eklund’s unwavering energy level and determination to generate offence with each passing shift. Tenacious in his pursuit of the puck and virtually impossible to dis-possess once in possession, Eklund displayed an outrageous ability to protect the puck despite his small stature and the innate ability to use the aggression of his opponents against them. Having created time and space for himself, Eklund’s creativity and confidence with the puck shone bright — the youngster executed highlight-reel passes with apparent ease and wasn’t afraid to blast his shot on-goal when opponents failed to respect its velocity and lethality.
Tournament Statistics: 5GP: 7G, 1A
Although Cole Perfetti led the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in goal scoring with eight, Alexander Pashin’s tallies were arguably more valuable given their timeliness. In fact, not only did Pashin record a hat-trick in Team Russia’s 4-1 victory over Team Finland in the semi-finals, but the youngster added another two of his seven total goals in the Gold Medal game versus Team Canada. Known for his lighting quick release and ability to pick corners with impressive velocity, Pashin’s goal scoring prowess proved to be nothing short of critical to Team Russia’s U18 success.
— Here’s Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) August 10, 2019
While he is of a smaller stature given his 5-foot-8, 155-pound frame, Pashin has continued to display the ability to raise his game to the next level when the situation demands. As a big time player who excels on the international stage, Pashin should quickly become a staple within Tolpar Ufa’s lineup when he returns to the MHL in Russia for the upcoming 2019-20 campaign. If able to play with both poise and consistency against physically intimidating competition, Pashin could draw comparisons to Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft.
Tournament Statistics: 5GP: 8G, 4A
On ice intelligence is increasingly being viewed as more valuable than size and strength in the world of hockey — a fact which will undoubtedly play into Cole Perfetti’s favour ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft. Widely viewed as one of the smartest and easily adaptable prospects poised to compete in the OHL this coming campaign, Perfetti can process any given play at a remarkable speed and has the ability to stand one step ahead of his competition as a direct result.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) August 6, 2019
This reality was on full display throughout the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, as Perfetti regularly outsmarted his opponents in all three zones of the ice. This ability proved to be most effective in the offensive zone, as Perfetti routinely evaded his foes before moving to open spaces in order to take passes and fire his vastly underrated shot on goal — decision making which allowed him to single-handedly drive Team Canada’s offensive game. Once stronger and of greater foot-speed, Perfetti will be down-right unstoppable.
Five Honourable Mentions
Here are an additional five players who enjoyed tremendous showings throughout the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. In short, all of which should be viewed as elite prospects ahead of their respective NHL Drafts.
- Jamie Drysdale – Team Canada: (5GP: 0G, 5A)
- Roni Hirvonen – Team Finland: (3GP: 4G, 1A)
- Daniel Ljungman – Team Sweden: (5GP: 4G, 1A)
- Aatu Räty – Team Finland: (3GP: 2G, 2A)
- Justin Sourdif – Team Canada: (5GP: 1G, 4A)