We are unofficially underway.
And hockey’s back.
The Hlinka Gretzky Cup has kicked off in Breclav and Piestany, Czech Republic, giving us an unofficial start to the scouting calendar for the 2020 NHL Draft.
And what a draft it will be.
Many players participating in the tournament, which runs from Aug 5-10, will become prominent names in the draft, and more than a few will end up becoming first round picks at Bell Centre in Montreal next June.
So who are some names to watch?
Quinton Byfield, C, Canada, 6-4, 214, 9-19-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 2
Big things are expected of Byfield in 2019-20 after an impressive rookie season in junior hockey that saw him amass 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists) in 64 games with Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League. Those totals, and his impressive game, earned him not only the league’s Emms Family Award as top rookie, but best freshman in the entire Canadian Hockey League.
“The big powerful center led his team in scoring and is one of the youngest players eligible for the 2020 NHL draft; he’ll be 16 through the entirety of the Hlinka tournament,” Future Considerations head East scout Dylan Galloway said. “Old school hockey types will love him for his size, but that isn’t all that matters when it comes to Byfield.
“He’s a powerful skater who is damn near impossible to push off the puck, and has the finishing ability to capitalize on the chances he creates with his size. Not only is his straightaway speed surprisingly good for his size, it’s good for this class. He utilizes elite vision and playmaking ability to get the puck to scoring areas. Having all of these tools makes Byfield a top tier prospect.”
Helge Grans, D, Sweden, 6-3, 192, 5-10-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 25
Grans was one of just two players born in 2002 to register games in the Swedish Hockey League last season, netting five skates with Malmo. In SuperElit at 16, he had 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 34 games, leading all defensemen in scoring for the club. He also won a bronze medal with Sweden at the 2018 IIHF World Under-17 Challenge.
“There is so much to be excited about from the Swedish draft class this year,” head European scout Dennis Schellenberg said. “My focus at the Hlinka Gretzky, for Sweden, is on Grans. I am thrilled to see his two-way game and great hockey sense in action against some of the top forwards of this drafting class.”
Daemon Hunt, D, Canada, 6-0, 198, 5-15-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 56
Hunt, the No. 15 pick in the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft, had an impressive 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 57 games as a rookie in the league with Moose Jaw in 2018-19. He twice represented Canada internationally last season too; at the 2018 World Under-17 Challenge and 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
“Hunt is a guy who I watched since his Bantam draft year and have been impressed with his maturity in handling every challenge he faces,” head Western scout Justin Froese said. “He’s not really going to jump off the page and be a dynamic force but there’s a lot of layers and a physicality that shows shades of Jett Woo. The torch has been passed for him to be a top pair guy and I think this tournament is going to get him some hype heading into that.”
Hendrix Lapierre, C, Canada, 6-0, 165, 2-9-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 14
Lapierre, named to the Quebec Major Junior League all-rookie team after earning the Michel Bergeron Trophy as top offensive rookie of the year, amassed 45 points (13 goals, 32 assists) in 48 games with Chicoutimi. He is the No. 1 pick of the 2018 QMJHL Entry Draft.
“He’s a skilled playmaking center, displaying the ability to drive the offense and create plays off the rush with his high-end speed and shiftiness,” Quebec-based scout Andy Lehoux said. “His tremendous vision and hockey IQ makes him a remarkable playmaker, especially on the power play where he excels at setting up teammates with dangerous scoring chances. After a strong season for Chicoutimi, Lapierre will have a great opportunity to solidify his spot as a potential top prospect for the upcoming draft.”
Pavel Novak, F, Czech Republic, 5-10, 170, 4-16-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: NR
Novak paced Motor Ceske Budejovice in scoring in 2018-19, leading the team in both goals (29) and points (45) while playing 31 games. He also won a European Youth Olympic Winter Festival
gold medal, and represented the Czech Republic at the World Under-17 Challenge. He was selected with the No. 13 pick in the 2019 CHL Import Draft by Kelowna of the WHL in June.
“He outshined projected top Czech prospect Jan Mysak in my last viewing and I am curious to see how the smallish but skilled forward is doing against tough competitors,” Schellenberg said. “I’m especially interesting to see how the Canadian and Finnish defenders handle Novak’s speed and skill or if he can still find ways to score and be an offensive threat.”
Cole Perfetti, C, Canada, 5-10, 185, 1-1-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 8
Perfetti, the No. 5 pick in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, paced all OHL rookies in goals (37) and points (74) last season, and was named to the league’s all-rookie team. He added 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 16 playoff games for Saginaw in 2018-19, and had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in five games at the World Under-17 Challenge as an assistant with Canada ‘White’.
“After an incredible season with Saginaw, my expectations are high for Cole Perfetti coming into this tournament,” Galloway said. “His vision and smarts helps him intuitively find open ice and exploit teams weak spots. His shot is essentially NHL calibre at this point and he’s deadly accurate when he gets the puck in a scoring position. His ability to put the puck in the net when under heavy pressure is some of the best in this class. A strong start to his draft year at the Hlinka Gretzky could really go a long way.”
Jérémie Poirier, D, Canada, 6-0, 192, 7-2-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 17
As a rookie with Saint John in the QMJHL last season, Poirier had 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 61 games. He paced all defensemen at the 2018 World Under-17 Challenge with six points (three goals, three assists) in five games for Canada ‘White’, too.
“He’s an incredibly skilled offensive defenseman, showing the ability to make defenders look foolish and pick apart defenses with his creativity and offensive instincts,” Lehoux said. “His high-end puck skills, lightning quick release and great vision makes him a constant threat offensively. After a tough season in Saint John, Poirier will have a great opportunity to leave his mark at the Hlinka Gretzky as one of the top defensemen of his class.”
Vasili Ponomarev, LW, Russia, 6-0, 176, 3-13-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 37
Ponomarev, who won gold at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and was named to the tournament’s all-star team after registering eight points (four goals, four assists) in six games, is one of Russia’s most intriguing prospects eligible for the 2020 draft. He had 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 37 MHL games for MHK Krylia Sovetov Moskva in 2018-19, and was selected by Shawinigan of the QMJHL with the No. 9 pick in the CHL Import Draft in June.
“Despite coming along a bit slower in his development, Ponomarev might still be one of the top forwards of this draft class,” Schellenberg said. “He’s extremely skilled with the puck and can beat opponents in one-on-one situations. His weakness is his lack of strength and physical game, therefore, it will be interesting to see how he is doing against top defensemen in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.”
Ruben Rafkin, D, Finland, 6-0, 190, 1-8-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 74
Rafkin, who is expected to play with Sudbury of the OHL after being selected by the club with the No. 14 pick in the CHL Import Draft, had 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 38 games for Tri-City in the United States Hockey League last season. He won bronze with Finland at the EYOF in 2018-19, and helped his country to silver at the World Under-17 Challenge.
“He has spent the last couple of years playing in North America and is committed to play for Windsor in the OHL next season, therefore, there won’t be many occasions to see him play on European ice in his draft season,” Schellenberg said. “Although he’s not the biggest in size, Rafkin is a tough competitor and physically strong defenseman.”
Ozzy Wiesblatt, RW, Canada, 5-10, 194, 3-9-2002
Future Considerations Preliminary Ranking: 45
Wiesblatt, who won a WHL title with Prince Albert last season, had 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists) in 64 regular-season games, and 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 23 playoff games as a rookie in 2018-19. He was originally selected in the second round (No. 25) of the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
“He’s a dynamic game breaker who hid in plain sight for a stacked Prince Albert team last season but is poised to be a go to offensive figure in his draft year,” Froese said. “He’s a dynamic skilled forward who can pull the trigger and skate with the best of them, he should be a factor anywhere up or down the lineup on this team and is certainly underrated going in.”