If you’re a fan of prospects, the summer is just about to heat up for you.
While many top 2020 draft prospects were off playing at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, the rest of the draft class was busy preparing for the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, set for August 5-10 in Breclav and Piestany, Czech Republic. Compared to the U-18 World Championship in April, the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup typically features more high-level talent due to the junior hockey cycle still taking place during the championship in the spring, while playing this event in the summer allows prospects to be available.
Canada returns as favorites for gold, having won gold in 22 of the 28 tournaments held since 1991 and 16 of the 19 events since 2000. Canada’s roster in 2019 looks stacked at every position and should have no issue chasing the main prize once again. Sweden always is a contender at this event, falling short of gold last year. But with Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond playing in Plymouth instead, they’ll have to dig a bit deeper to find offense. Finland will be without a few key players due to injuries, while Russia simply doesn’t have the firepower they typically do.
The best part about the summer tournament – other than a competitive hockey event taking place in early August – is the draft factor. Many players you’ll see go in the first round in 2020 (one of the best draft classes we’ve ever seen) will play in this tournament. One interesting name is Canadian forward Theo Rochette. This isn’t his first time at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup: actually, he represented Switzerland at the tournament in 2018. He’s a dual citizen, and because he has yet to play in an official IIHF tournament for either country, he’s eligible to play for both teams.
What about the rest of the class? Who are the guys you need to be following ahead of Monday’s opening night? Here are the top 10 prospects to watch before the talent-stacked event gets underway in the Czech Republic:
Quinton Byfield, C (Canada)
Depending on how you feel about the Terror Twins, Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond, Byfield could go anywhere from No. 2 to No. 5 next June. What’s amazing about Byfield is that, for a 6-foot-4, 214-pound beast, Byfield skates with grace and confidence that allows him to elude much smaller opponents. He can completely take over a shift and has the ability to be a 40-45 goal-scorer in the NHL someday with a heavy shot. Byfield will be Canada’s go-to center and even if he doesn’t end up putting up big numbers on the board, his two-way play and physical acumen will make the Sudbury Wolves star effective regardless.
A beautiful effort by Quinton Byfield to keep the play alive results in Canada taking the 3-2 lead. What a release on his wrist shot, so much power. What a play by the @Sudbury_Wolves star. #WorldU17 pic.twitter.com/S2GCG0g4xk
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) November 6, 2018
Cole Perfetti, C (Canada)
Perfetti’s game is all about offense: he led the OHL in rookie scoring with 37 goals and 74 points and his seven assists topped everyone at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge. Perfetti’s awareness on the ice allows him to make smart plays with the puck and he doesn’t tend to miss scoring opportunities in front of the net. If he can improve his top speed just a bit, he would have all the traits to be a star first-line sniper and could hit the 100-point mark in Saginaw this season.
Jan Mysak, LW (Czech Republic)
Mysak is set for his second season of pro hockey in the Czech league after proving to be too dominant for the U-19 division, scoring 13 goals and 21 points in just nine games with Litvinov. While he had just seven in 31 games with the big club, Mysak really came alive during the relegation round with nine points in seven games to lead all players. Mysak started the U-18 World Championship playing limited minutes in the 13th forward spot but later climbed up the lineup to finish with three points in five games as one of the Czech Republic’s top players. He’s a legitimate threat to play at the World Junior Championship in December and is a true top 10 draft contender at this point.
Yaroslav Askarov, G (Russia)
Could this be the year that a goalie goes in the top 10 of the draft? Since Carey Price went No. 5 in 2005, no goalie has made as much of an argument to do so than Askarov, who was dominant at every international tournament he played in last season – including the U-18 World Championship against kids a year older than him. Few goalies his age track the puck like him and He moves quick from post to post and his speedy lateral movement allows him to win most 1-on-1 situations. Best Russian goalie prospect since Andrei Vasilevskiy? Absolutely.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) December 9, 2018
Zion Nybeck, RW (Sweden)
No Holtz or Raymond? No problem, says Nybeck, yet another example of Sweden’s impressive development of 2020 draft talent. When you watch Nybeck, the first things you notice about him is his incredible work ethic and his high top speed. He makes openings through tough areas in the ice due to his poise with the puck and confidence in his own abilities to make a challenging play. His 43 points this season would tie him with William Nylander for fourth among U-17 forwards in the Swedish U-20 league scoring and he’s ready for some pro action with HV71 this season. Look for an electrifying performance out of him at the Hlinka.
Helge Grans, D (Sweden)
With many high-level forwards from Sweden, it’s easy to overlook Grans’ abilities from the point. The big 6-foot-3 defender skated in five SHL games last year with Malmo (the second 2002-born player in the league), showing great poise and confidence for a young kid playing against men. While Grans isn’t overly creative with the puck, he’s extremely smart defensively and can move the puck well enough to control a power play. He was a heavy minute-muncher with Malmo’s U-20 team and should play the majority of the season at the level again while throwing his name into the World Junior Championship conversation later on in the year.
Roni Hirvonen, C (Finland)
He might be small at 5-foot-9, but Hirvonen is ready for big boy time in the Finnish Liiga. His 55 points in 50 games blew away any U-17 player in the Finnish U-20 league last season and fell just behind Sebastian Aho (59) and Mikael Granlund (57) – while tying Kaapo Kakko – for production by any player at that age. His numbers internationally last year were not mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but he played key roles with the U-17 and U-18 Finnish teams and will be vital in Finland’s success next week.
Cross Hanas, LW (USA)
Hanas may not be a top prospect yet, but after a fantastic summer camp with the United States and a tremendous two-goal game against an older U-20 Hungarian junior team on Thursday, it seems like the Texas native has a lot to prove heading into his draft season. Given that the American talent pool is significantly smaller than it was with the star-studded 2019 draft, Hanas will look to be an offensive leader on the team despite an average rookie season in the WHL where he recorded 22 points in 67 games. If he can replicate what he was able to do against Hungary in the real tournament, watch out.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) August 1, 2019
Jamie Drysdale, D (Canada)
Drysdale took the OHL by storm in 2018-19, finishing second among U-18 defensemen with seven goals and 40 points on a bad Erie team. He topped that off with a four-assist effort at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge and another two at the U-18 World Championship, where he played a big role on a team with older talent. Drysdale’s quick legs make him elusive in 1-on-1 battles and he can run a power play better than anyone else his age. He’ll be Canada’s most important defender over the next week and should use the momentum for a 60-point sophomore campaign in major junior to keep him in the top 10 draft consideration.
Vasili Ponomarev, C (Russia)
Russia’s offense isn’t loaded with top talent, but Ponomarev is a player that many see rising up as the season goes on. Many believe Ponomarev will play in the QMJHL with Shawinigan in 2019-20 after his 29 points in 37 games were the best among all U-17 players in the MHL during his freshman effort– not to mention his 20 points in 23 games with Russia’s U-17 team made him the second-highest scorer on the team. Ponomarev will make you suffer if you’re caught watching the play and his wrist shot is deadly, so he’ll be in charge of producing a lot of the team’s offense.
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