Top 10 Performances at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup: Part One

Via Andreas Robanser

As the yearly Hlinka-Gretzky Cup came and went, it was no surprise that the heavily touted Canadians nabbed gold in dramatic fashion with a win over team Sweden. Although getting any action over the summer is rare, prospect enthusiasts were greeted to an entertaining tournament filled with some of the best prospects that will be eligible for the 2023 NHL entry draft.

Although the draft is still almost a year away and playing hockey in the summer can always impact a player’s performance, the fact that hockey fans saw many top prospects that will be a part of arguably one of the best drafts in NHL history, was both relieving and exciting.

Although late, in today’s article we will go over the top 10 performances that I personally loved at the 2022-23 Hlinka-Gretzky cup. There were so many players to choose from, most of them coming in from Canada, Sweden, and Finland, but eventually settling on the list we have today, these players were the ones that impressed me the most.

10- Denver Barkey, Center, Team Canada/London Knights, OHL

I would be lying if I said that people expected this much dominance from Denver Barkey at the tournament this year. Although he did possess so much talent and contributed to the London Knights last season in very few minutes of play time, he played almost as if he were snake bitten.

Putting up only seven goals and 15 points in 53 games in the OHL last year, Barkey clearly struggled with production and wasn’t expected to make Team Canada. When he came into camp and impressed everyone, the hockey world knew that the leap that Denver would take was going to be monumental.

And it was.

You could argue that Barkey was the heart and soul of Team Canada this year. With every single shift came aggression on and off the puck. We saw him play an energetic 200-foot game where he would find himself pressuring the net to make big blocks and high-level defensive plays within moments from each other. He had the energy and the dedication that many young players simply don’t have around his age.

Barkey did finish the tournament with two goals and four points in five games, but it felt like he did so much better with numbers than that. The game of hockey truly does revolve around numbers. Analytics, stats, goals, assists– it all has digits and values. But with Barkey, those digits and values go silent. He’s one of those players that won’t score a ton, but will contribute to the team and play in his given roles outlandishly well.

While he may sound perfect, the flaws are clearly there. What makes Barkey such a wild card is that on draft day, whatever team ends up picking him, will be gambling a lot depending on where they select him. He has a number of flaws such as foot-speed, getting burnt out quick, and puck control. Those things stuck out to me the most at the Hlinka-Gretzky cup, and those blips make me wonder how far he’ll fall in the draft. But while he could completely crash and burn, the upside is obviously there.

Behind the back pass from Canada forward Denver Barkey to Riley Heidt

His talent to box out opponents and make sure that nobody would get past was a massive addition to Team Canada, and many fans saw how much he positively affected the team. His energy was, simply put, unmatched. Denver Barkey was so much fun to watch at this tournament, and it really makes you wonder how he’ll do on the London Knights this upcoming year.

9- Ethan Gauthier, Right Wing, Team Canada/Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL

Here’s a player that some of you will be surprised isn’t higher.

Ethan Gauthier popped off at the tournament this year finishing fourth overall in points with seven. Six of those points were goals. If you can’t tell what type of player Gauthier is, maybe his 18 goal season in the QMJHL as a 17 year-old will tell you who he is.

Can’t guess? He’s a sniper. Gautheir has an elite shot that we saw him use against the Swedes in the gold medal game. He’s got a really impressive and bombardic shot that may lack a little bit of power, but that will come with age.

Ethan Gauthier snipes one past Swedish net-minder to make it 2-1 Canada

While his shot may be a massive factor into why he’ll likely be a first round pick, he fascinated me in a few other areas, too. For example his net front play and the tenaciousness around that area was visible. Anytime that Gauthier would end up in that position, he would attack the net and try to jam in the puck. And he wasn’t scared to get his head taken off for it, either.

He was hungry for conflict all tourney long. Not once did he go out on the ice and not try to retrieve the puck using his strength and power. He would never hesitate when going for a huge hit, he never backed down from a bigger player, and he never second-guessed himself in moments of physical desperation. He was arguably the biggest heart on that Canadian team and his willingness proved with every single game.

Gauthier could’ve been on my list a lot higher, but I may value the sense of urgency too much to have him there. While he did score a ton of goals and his heaviness and load was such a pain for the other teams, he did have a few moments where he didn’t look like he was fully invested into the play. Sometimes it was an awful pass, or sometimes it was a missed opportunity to make that extra play. Occasionally he just didn’t even skate quick enough to hold on to the play. To me, that made him fall a little bit.

That being said, there is still so much to like about him and he will eventually turn out to be the life of an NHL team.

8- William Whitelaw, Center, Team USA/Youngstown Phantoms, USHL

One of the many Youngstown Phantoms players that will likely be drafted next year, William Whitelaw was one of the unlikely golden players for the USA this year. USA made the colossal mistake to not let any players from the USNTDP come play at the tournament, and that made that team significantly worse. Inevitably, the States went home empty-handed.

Yes the team suffered and the disappointment was clearer than day, but Whitelaw really stood out. Leading that team in points, Whitelaw commenced the tournament as disappointing as the rest of the team. The best way to say it is that he got burnt out quickly. And yes, that is a red flag.

He started off the tournament scorching hot. He skated quicker than anyone else on the ice, beating out players left and right, he was scoring goals and creating plays that defenders had no time to react to, and he was the most noticeable and the most lively player on team USA.

William Whitelaw goes top shelf on German goalkeeper to make it 8-1 USA

His best game was against team Germany where he tallied two goals and one assist. The excitement for him was there. It’s a shame that he got burnt out. While we’ll need way more time with the Minnesota native to get a full understanding on the type of player he is, it’s no stretch to assume that he’ll be a ton of fun watching on a winning team.

At the end of the tournament, the highly respected American prospect didn’t look nearly as fast as he started. Sometimes his shots were butterflies and had almost no sense of actual scoring chance. Even a few times he got beaten out by some of the weaker players at the tournament. His last game was a complete 360 from his first game, and it really sucked to see.

Yet in the games that Whitelaw succeeded in, those were the games that were the most fun to watch. I could have taken him off the list completely, but he did so many positive things that eliminated the bad things in the games that he did well in. With how energetic and active Whitelaw felt earlier on, it made me really intrigued to see what he could do this upcoming season, which made me put him up this high in the rankings. He’s got so much room to grow and the potential is sky high with this player.

7- Michael Hrabal, Goaltender, Team Czechia/Omaha Lancers, USHL

The only goaltender on our list, Michael Hrabal showed a lot of positive and negative areas during the tournament. In his best showing against Team USA where the Czechs upset USA 3-1, most, if not all, of the credit belonged to Hrabal who outperformed expectations as he made 34/35 saves, finishing the game with a .971 save percentage.

While he did have a couple goals scored on him that seemed really easy to save, Hrabal proved to the world that he is a skillful goaltender with a tool set that will eventually earn him a spot in the NHL. Like many goalie prospects, he’s ways away from the NHL and he will need extra time to develop to perfect his game, so the timeline on him will be extended much further than anyone else on this list.

Hrabal reacted really calmly in stressful situations which is something you love to see in goalies. He always stuck it simple. Not once did he have to exaggerate a save or extend his point to make scouts gawk at what he was up to. He kept it safe, he played his position, and he did well enough to make this list. Putting up a .920 save percentage in 24 Czechia U20 games last year, Hrabal was expected to steal the show for Czechia in between the pipes, and steal the show he did.

“Hrabal had a few good looks. Especially against the Americans. He covered up rebounds, tracked shots through traffic, and controlled dangerous opportunities impeccably. But I did notice moments where he could’ve succumbed to numerous high-pressure moments. It happened in a few later games. He would be a little twitchy and unstable, and because of that twitchiness he let in a couple preventable goals and got into the butterfly position a bit too early for my liking. And yeah, even though he did look wobbly quite a bit, he’s got a lot of potential.”

– David Phillips, Scout for The Scoring Touch

Now as we wait for the USHL season to commence, it will be Hrabal’s biggest challenge and the most important “prove it” season of his entire life.

6- Eduard Sale, Right Wing, Team Czechia/HC Kometo Brno, Czechia

This tournament began the overdue Eduard Sale hype train. Right from the get go, Sale showed off so many of his talents that I could write about for days. Trust me, it will happen when his prospect report comes out later in the year.

Sale was the engine, the life of the party, the absolute brainiac to all of Czechia’s offensive and even defensive motor at this tournament. His vision and playmaking make him an exceptional player. He knows how to set the puck, where to dish it to, and he always finds his teammates’ sticks even in the harshest possible situations.

He’s a quick yet steady skater that doesn’t have any bounce to his stride. A lot of the time you’ll see speedy players have a bit of a hop when making crossovers and even striding. Sale has complete steadiness and never bobbles around when he skates. It makes him a super versatile and flexible skater. It also makes him adapt really well in certain situations and makes him such a satisfying skater to spectate.

One of the things that I rarely see anyone talk about with Sale is how calm he is. He never makes bad decisions out of panic, he always has the situation under control, he’s never too late, and his patience is on point.

Eduard Sale scores breakaway to put Czechia up 4-1

The one thing I would like to see from Eduard is how quick he gets shots off. Too many times his release lacked quickness and set a possible goal back. When the shooter waits too long, he’ll lose the open net and the shot is much easier to save. We saw that numerous times with Sale during the games played. Even with a bit of a delayed release, his shot looked spectacular nonetheless and earned him a few impressive pucks.

Although execution of the shot lacked perfection, he was one of the best players at the Hlinka-Gretzky cup, and his season in Czechia this year will take flight as long as he remains as dominant as he was during his time in Red Deer.

With that, those are our picks from 10 to six at the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament. While these players impressed me modestly, there were still five other players that performed spectacularly, which we will have more for you to read soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: