The 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup wrapped up on Saturday, with Russia taking gold after a 3-2 win over Canada and Sweden claiming bronze over Finland. The week-long tournament showcased some of the best U-18 prospects available across the globe, and they did not disappoint.
Although I intended to watch as many tournament games as I could, it turned out that I was only able to watch games that featured Canada in them. So, when I was compiling a list of players who impressed me last week, it was a lot more Canada-centric than I originally planned. Nevertheless, I was still able to watch five other teams, and there were definitely some standouts there too.
Jamie Drysdale (CAN)
Canada’s captain really couldn’t have done anything more, despite his team falling short of gold. Along with his five points in five games, Canada’s number one defenseman led puck rushes, delivered forwards with accurate outlet passes, and used his mobility to cut off opponents. He quarterbacked the first powerplay and used his skating to open up shooting lanes. Drysdale’s point shot is accurate and heavy, and can find its way through screens to generate second and third scoring chances. Although Drysdale isn’t necessarily the creative offensive defenseman that we’re used to seeing in the NHL today, his intelligence, mobility, and defensive awareness made him a huge asset to Canada and will do the same for his future NHL team.
Daniel Ljungman (SWE)
Ljungman’s lethal wrister was on display this past week, as he put up four goals and two shootout goals and led Sweden in scoring. He uses his agility and powerful stride to lead the rush and force defenders out of position, and has great hands to deke out defenders and create scoring chances. Ljungman’s shot is deceptive, as he can change the angle on it to fool goalies. When he’s not carrying the puck, he anticipates his teammates’ plays well and get himself open for a pass. Sweden’s second line center also played on both special teams, and went shot-for-shot in the shootout against fellow Canadian sniper Cole Perfetti (who will be further down in this article) in the semi-final.
Will Cuylle (CAN)
If there was a player who I wasn’t familiar with at all coming into the tournament who blew me away when it was all said and done, Cuylle was definitely that. A powerful skating winger, Cuylle has a deceptive and elite-releasing shot, and uses his size to open up shooting lanes and push past defenders in the offensive zone. It doesn’t take any time at all for him to shoot the puck and he can get the puck off his stick in any position he finds himself. He is an incredibly reliable player in his own end, using his size and stick effectively in puck battles. Although he only had two goals and three points in five games, Cuylle was always making things happen in the offensive zone and was a critical part of Canada’s depth.
Aatu Raty (FIN)
A 2021 draft-eligible prospect, Raty is the younger brother of Aku, who just played for Finland at the World Junior Summer Showcase two weeks ago. Raty was Finland’s number one center and looked a stronger, faster version of himself from last season. He showed off his excellent hand-eye coordination, skating, and playmaking abilities and finished with four points in five games. Raty’s edges and puck control allow him to create space for himself and his teammates to create offense. He and Brad Lambert (who we’ll get to a bit later) discovered some dangerous chemistry and really took over offensively for Finland.
Donovan Sebrango (CAN)
If you watched the tournament this week, you might be thinking I’ve lost my mind here. Yes, Sebrango perhaps wasn’t a ‘standout’ in the traditional sense, but I was impressed with his play on every shift he played. The two-way defender isn’t flashy, but a strong skater with excellent vision who can rush the puck and play with an edge. Although his skating stride is a little hunched, Sebrango’s two-step quickness makes him difficult to catch on the forecheck. His ability to read and react to his defense partners allows him to develop good chemistry with anyone he’s paired with, especially defenders who like to blow the zone or pinch in on the cycle. Sebrango was always in the right areas on the ice, using his stick to intercept passes or poke the puck away from opponents, never overplayed situations, and was not afraid to use his body to separate players from pucks.
Alexander Pashin (RUS)
Pashin finished second in the tournament goal scoring with seven goals in five games. He scored a hat trick in the semi-final against Finland and added two more in the gold medal game. I refer to Pashin as Russia’s Cole Caufield, but perhaps that’s an oversight. They both are undersized, highly skilled forwards. Pashin also helps defensively by creating turnovers along the boards and cutting off passes from opponents, and is an effective penalty killer. He’s an extremely intelligent forward who is always moving, unafraid to play physically, who can score from anywhere thanks to his lethal shot.
Jean-Luc Foudy (CAN)
Three words to describe Foudy: speed, speed, and speed. The former high school track star was flying this week at the Hlinka-Gretzky. He would lead rushes, go in on the forecheck, go for skates with the puck in the offensive zone, and never be stripped of the puck. He’s also willing to drive straight to the net if a linemate has the puck, and can be guilty of a pass-first mentality every now and then. However, Canada steamrolled through their opponents in the round robin due to their never-ending forecheck and time in the offensive zone, and Foudy was instrumental in sustaining that.
Brad Lambert (FIN)
Lambert is a late-2003 birthday, which means he won’t be eligible until the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. However, he was one of Finland’s best players of the tournament, and that was as a 15-year old playing against 17-year olds. He’s an exceptional finisher; his only three goals of the tournament came from his hat trick against Switzerland. He demonstrates great poise with the puck and can score from anywhere, and was such a dominant player by the end of the tournament that he was the driving force on the powerplay. Lambert, who was born in Finland but whose father is Canadian, showcased his speed, edgework, and passing abilities this week, but wasn’t able to get any assists out of the tournament. Obviously, as he matures and gets stronger, his playmaking and defensive game will improve, but his offensive talent is undeniable and Finland has a true talent on their hands.
Yaroslav Askarov (RUS)
Russia would not have won their first gold medal since 1995 had it not been for Askarov’s heroics in the gold medal game. Canada outshot Russia 37-13 and Askarov was essentially unbeatable in net, making several incredible saves. Askarov was undoubtedly the best goalie of the tournament, and Hlinka-Gretzky gold was the goalie’s fifth international medal of the year. What makes Askarov such a formidable goalie is that he is positionally sound and impossible to rattle. Scouts have listed comparisons to Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy. But comparisons aside, Askarov is a great skater and confident puck-handler. His lateral pushes are explosive, and he never over-extends himself. His talent speaks for itself, but he also has the uncanny ability to correct and adapt to plays. Askarov could very well go in the top-10 in June and he’s good enough that there’s a chance he could join Russia’s World Juniors team in December.
Cole Perfetti (CAN)
What is it with Coles and their proficiency for scoring goals? Perfetti led the tournament in scoring with eight goals and set a new record for single-tournament points with 12 in five games. He single-handedly got Canada to the gold medal game with his two-goal regulation game in the semi-final followed by a hat trick in the shootout. Perfetti’s high hockey sense allows him to process developing plays faster and adapt to changing offensive or defensive situations. He possesses a lethal shot complete with a lightning-quick release, but is also a poised puckhandler. Perfetti is great at adjusting his weight distribution to get his shots off quicker and doesn’t need much space to create scoring chances.
All statistics from Elite Prospects.