The Hlinka Gretzky cup features the best under-18 players from around the world. Starting in 1991, the tournaments name has been changed a handful of times and most recently in January of 2018 to honour former Oiler and NHL legend; Wayne Gretzky.
This years tournament was hosted in both Edmonton and Red Deer. The event will alternate between Edmonton and European cities through 2022.
Eight teams competed, but only one could be the champion, Russia finished with the bronze, Sweden silver and led by the captain, and potential 2020 1st-overall-pick, Alexis Lafreniere and Canada were able to capture the gold on home soil.
Left Wing: Alexis Lafreniere – Canada
Tied for the tournament lead with 11 points the winger from Rimouski dazzled throughout the tournament with highlight-reel goals and assists. This was my first chance to see Lafreniere play live and he did not disappoint. Lafreniere is a goal-hound and uses his speed, hands and NHL release to wreak havoc on opposing teams. Pound for pound the best player in the tournament, even with being a draft year behind most other prospects.
Centre: Ryan Suzuki – Canada
Ryan Suzuki led the tournament in assists with seven. He was the first player selected in the 2017 OHL draft by the Barrie Colts and showed exactly why that was. Suzuki put his passing ability on display managing to get at least one assist per game. Suzuki is patient with the puck and does not force passes through but waits for seems to open up making him one of the smartest players in the tournament. He may not be the most physical player but uses his vision and high hockey IQ to avoid contact and spin-off checks. Look for Suzuki’s name to be called early in the 2019 draft, likely a high first-round-pick just like his older brother Nick who was drafted 13th overall by Las Vegas in 2017.
Right Wing: Vasili (Vasily) Podkolzin – Russia
Vasili Podkolzin led the tournament in goals with eight and was tied with Lafreniere for the lead in points (11). Simply put, Podkolzin is a beast. It was almost impossible for the opposition to get off the puck from him, and he was relentless in his pursuit to obtain it. Podkolzin could go top five in the 2019 draft, and his stock is still rising. In the bronze medal game against the USA, he dragged his team across the finish line recording a hat-trick and adding an assist in their 5-4 victory. The young Russian scored in every game of the tournament and was the second best player in the showcase barely behind Lafreniere.
Defenceman #1: Philip Broberg – Sweden
Philip Broberg was far and away the best defensemen I watched play in the tournament. He is a speedy, high-skilled puck moving defensemen but he is more than just that. Broberg is also a smart player who is great in front of his own net and at not allowing opponents to capitalize on rebounds or chances in close. He makes a great first pass, ‘if’ he doesn’t just move the puck up ice himself and was the QB of the Swedish power play. A player that rarely makes mistakes and that will be an NHL defenseman for years to come.
Defenceman #2: Bowen Bryam – Canada
The second defender to round out our pair, and our third Canadian, is Bowen Byram. He is a defender that can play in all situations, and Canada used him accordingly. Byram plays with his head up and keeps opponents in check, limiting chances and taking away space quickly. A very smart player, Byram shows no panic when carrying the puck and has a heavy shot that often finds the net or sticks in front. Byram finished the tournament with four points in four games (one goal, three assists).
Goaltender: Hugo Alnefelt – Sweden
And last but not least, the man tasked with stopping all the pucks: Hugo Alnefelt. Alnefelt appeared in three games for Sweden. He recorded a shutout in game one against Switzerland, stopped 34 of 35 against Russia before eventually being tagged with 6 goals against in the gold medal game against Canada. He finished the tournament with a 2.33 GAA and .922 save%.
All-Star Second Team:
Alexander Holtz (LW/RW)- Sweden, 2020 draft eligible
Kirby Dach (C) – Canada, 2019 draft eligible
Lucas Raymond (F)- Sweden, 2020 draft eligible
Matthew Robertson (D) – Canada, 2019 draft eligible
Ilya Mironov (D) – Russia, 2019 draft eligible
Yaroslav Askarov (G) – Russia, 2020 draft eligible