In the dog days of August meaningful hockey has been underway across the globe in the Czech Republic and Slovakia as hosts of the 2020 edition of the now named Hlinka Gretzky Cup. The official start to the scouting season kicked off with this very important week of games for the Under-18 draft eligible group of players heading into their draft year. Many have already been on the radar but this tournament ignights the momentum on their season.
First of all, those not in attendance were due to several reasons. Projected first overall Alexis Lafrenière and other late 2001 born players are aged out of the U-18 events. This also ruled out some other possible first round Canadians such as Justin Barron, Braden Schneider and Connor Zary. Other high-end prospects chose to attend the World Junior Summer Showcase with the U-20 group such as Swede forwards Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz plus Finn forward Anton Lundell.
Still, there was a sizable group of talent on hand especially on the Canadian side who destroyed the competition to the tune of a 21-1 goal differential through their three round-robin games. Yet it was the Russian squad who proved victorious and won their first Hlinka gold medal since 1995 in their first appearance in the finale match since 2007. There on the back of their superstar netminder Yaroslav Askarov Russia topped Canada 3-2 in a 35 save performance (including one final massive save seen below) and overall he set the record for the best tournament performance with a .960 save percentage in four starts. When not winning medals the 6-foot-3 goaltender plays for the SKA system in Russia.
Askarov has been a rock for the Russians for over a year now as he led them to a bronze medal at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and then followed up that performance with a silver medal at the U-19 World Junior A Challenge and another silver at the U-18 last spring. The Russians play tight defense in front of Askarov and let him stop the rest, which seems to be a winning strategy. At this point there are whispers that Askarov could take the net at the World Junior Championship in what should be another run of medal winning performances in his draft year.
Someone needed to score to get Russia the gold and diminutive 5-foot-8 left shot sniper Alexander Pashin was up to the task as he converted seven goals including combined five in the semi-final and gold medal game. Pashin ended up third in tournament scoring with eight points with the next closest player at six. He will now play for Toplar Ufa in the MHL (Russia juniors) with another top 2020 draft prospect in Rodion Amirov.
Back to the Canadians, if you haven’t heard of Cole Perfetti consider yourself introduced. He was the star of a dominant team Canada who won the silver medal. The 5-foot-10 left shot center from Saginaw in the OHL tied Vasili Podkolzin’s goals record from the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last year with eight and also set the new points record of 12. Perfetti used his slick hands to dazzle like on this smooth backhand seen below in the round-robin.
— Caitlin Berry (@caitlinsports) August 6, 2019
There were copious other Perfetti highlights including a two goal performance against Sweden in the semi-final in which Canada won 3-2 in a shootout. Naturally Perfetti also converted three times in the shootout including the game winner which officially gave him the hat trick on the night.
Perfetti’s partner in crime on team Canada was his line mate Hendrix Lapierre who had a tremendous performance in his own right and tied the previous high mark for points at 11. Lapierre is a 5-foot-11 left shot center who has incredible hockey sense and playmaking skills. Lapierre has the makings of a top end two-way type center who can also put the puck in the net as seen in the highlight below.
— Caitlin Berry (@caitlinsports) August 6, 2019
In other news Sweden topped Finland 5-1 for the bronze medal. Speaking of the Finns, keep in mind the name Brad Lambert who became just the fourth player in Hlinka Gretzky Cup history to score as a double underage (that’s 15-years old) in the tournament as seen below and finished with three goals in five games. As a late 2003 born player he isn’t even eligible until the 2022 draft but will continue as a staple for team Finland leading up to his draft year.
— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) August 7, 2019
Heading into the start of the 2019-20 season for these draft hopefuls Alexis Lafrenière is still in the pole position with a fairly consensus grouping of the next tier of forwards in some order of Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, Anton Lundell, Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti and Hendrix Lapierre. Rounding out the top 10 is a more scattered variety including goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, defensemen Jamie Drysdale and Justin Barron or forwards Zion Nybeck and Marco Rossi. As always, lists will grow and change over the next 10 months leading up to the draft in Montreal.
Credit photo to hlinkagretzkycup.cz