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2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup: Five prospects to watch play for medals

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It’s the best way to get you started for the 2020 draft season

@HlinkaMemorial/Twitter

The 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup wraps up today in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and it’s been an exciting week to say the least. The eight-team tournament (which is not IIHF-sanctioned, despite IIHF rules being implemented) is typically seen as the ‘start’ of the upcoming NHL draft year, as it allows the world’s best under-18 players to play before their regular seasons begin.

As mentioned above, because the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup is not an IIHF-sanctioned event, USA Hockey does not bring their national team to participate, electing to have American players in the CHL and USHL play in the tournament instead. Although USA has only won one gold medal (back in 2003), they’ve still been a successful team at the tournament (13 medals total).

The summer tournament allows Canada to bring their best roster available, as the IIHF’s U-18s are held in the middle of the CHL playoffs. As a result, Canada has dominated this tournament and has won gold in 10 of the last 11 tournaments and medalled in all but three tournaments in its 27 years of existence.

Finland and Sweden will battle for bronze, while Canada attempts to defend gold against Russia. Both games are scheduled to start at 11am ET (9am CT). With the puck dropping on medal games soon, here are five players who have impressed and, if you’re interested in watching, should keep an eye on today.

Zion Nybeck — SWE

2020 Draft Eligible

It was sort of a slow start for Nybeck at the Hlinka-Gretzky, but he played his best game of the tournament against Canada yesterday. He was elusive and dangerous with the puck, showed off his speed and footwork, and creating offensive chances by feeding his teammates at every chance he got. Strength remains an issue for him, as he tends to lose a lot of puck battles in the corners and around the net, but his skillset has been on display this week and he’s been one of Sweden’s more individually noticeable players.

Brad Lambert — FIN

2022 Draft Eligible

That’s not a typo; as a late-2003 birthday, Lambert won’t be walking onstage at the draft until two years from now. His father is Canadian, but Lambert was born in Finland and represents them internationally (though as the Hlinka-Gretzky isn’t an IIHF tournament, there is always a chance he could switch to play for Canada instead). Lambert’s skating and puckhandling skills have been on display all week long. Lambert is a great finisher; he had a hat trick against Switzerland and he’s got tremendous poise with the puck. He can score from pretty much anywhere on the ice, can find the open ice, create his own space, and capitalize on turnovers or passes from teammates. As he gets stronger, his defensive game will improve, but he’s already shown that he can lead the rush and create offense in multiple ways.

Yaroslav Askarov — RUS

2020 Draft Eligible

I’m the first person to admit that I’m not the best evaluator of goalies, but Askarov has a 1.00 GAA and a .966 save percentage in three starts at this tournament. He has been the backbone for the Russians this week and although they’ve played very well in front of him, he has been exceptional. If Russia wins their first gold since 1993, he’ll be a huge reason why. I’ll let these saves speak for themselves:

Alexander Pashin - RUS

2020 Draft Eligible

Is it too soon to be calling Pashin the Russian Cole Caufield? Probably, but the 5’8” sniper has five goals and an assist in four games, including a hat trick in the semi-final against Finland. He has the uncanny ability to know where the puck will land and he has incredibly quick hands and a lethal finish. He’s not just all shot, either, because if he doesn’t see a viable shooting lane, he’s more than able to create second and third chances or pass it off to one of his teammates. Here are some of his semi-final highlights:

Cole Perfetti — CAN

2020 Draft Eligible

Perfetti leads the tournament in scoring thanks to his five breakaway goals in the semi-final against Sweden. Well, two of them were breakaways, and the other three were scored in the shootout, but it’s about time that Canada had their own goal-scoring Cole. Perfetti has eight goals and 12 points in four games, and he came through huge for a Canadian team that struggled to get anything going offensively against Sweden. He and fellow 2020 draft-eligible Hendrix Lapierre have developed some incredible chemistry together, and they’ll be counted on again for a similar performance against Russia today. Here are all of his goals from yesterday: