The 2020 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup will not take place due to concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic and it is certainly a loss for the scouting community, though an understandable move by officials. The tourney has traditionally been the unofficial kick-off of draft season, even though it takes place in the summer before the true hockey year even begins.
But Hockey Canada had already done a lot of work in pre-scouting the team, so to honor the kids who were in contention, the national body recognized the 46 players who “earned” a try-out to this summer’s fictional camp. I thought this was a nice gesture, but I wanted to take it one step further. So I rang up a group of experts to help me put together a mock U18 team. Scouts from NHL and major junior teams, plus major junior GMs from across the country were consulted to put together a 23-man roster of what could have been.
In terms of broad strokes, the 2021 NHL draft class will not be ruled at the top by major junior players. Right now, in the extremely early going, the top picks include Finland’s Aatu Raty, incoming University of Michigan freshmen Owen Power and Kent Johnson and NTDP kids such as Chaz Lucius and Luke Hughes. Of course there will be some CHLers in the top-10, but right now it doesn’t look like they’ll be at the very top.
Having said that, it looks to be a nice year for the QMJHL in terms of high-end depth. This cohort includes players who won gold at the Canada Winter Games as members of Team Quebec. The WHL also looks to be pretty strong, while it’s a bit of an off-year for the OHL – at least at first blush.
Below you will find a roster based on the survey I did. If you don’t see your favorite player here, it’s because they didn’t get any votes. Will there be snubs? Of course. Keep in mind Cody Glass didn’t make Canada’s real-life Hlinka team and he ended up going sixth overall to Vegas that year. Colorado’s Alex Newhook didn’t make the squad either and he was one of the best freshmen in the NCAA this season.
So feel free to get angry, but make sure you take time to be entertained, too. Here is Team Canada’s Mock 2020 Hlinka-Gretzky team:
Benjamin Gaudreau (OHL Sarnia), Tyler Brennan (WHL Prince George), William Rousseau (QMJHL Quebec)
Gaudreau is your starter, blending ideal size (6-foot-2) with skill. He’s going to be a difference-maker on the Sting next year after weathering the storm as a rookie this season. Brennan also has nice size, while Rousseau won gold as Team Quebec’s backup.
Brandt Clarke (OHL Barrie), Carson Lambos (WHL Winnipeg), Oscar Plandowski (QMJHL Charlottetown), Nolan Allan (WHL Prince Albert), Guillaume Richard (Mount St. Charles Academy), Corson Ceulemans (AJHL Brooks), Graham Sward (WHL Spokane)
This is a strong group, headlined by Clarke and Lambos. Clarke is the top OHL prospect in the draft class, while Lambos logged a ton of minutes for Winnipeg this season. Richard is a University of Maine commit who was just re-drafted by QMJHL Saint John after Victoriaville drafted him in 2019 but failed to sign him. He also played a handful of games in the USHL this year with Tri-City. As per Canadian tradition, we’ve got enough right-handed shots to keep things even on the pairings – and I didn’t have to cheat to make it happen thanks to Clarke, Ceulemans and Plandowski.
Zach Bolduc (QMJHL Rimouski), Zach Dean (QMJHL Gatineau), Mason McTavish (OHL Peterborough), Francesco Pinelli (OHL Kitchener), Cole Sillinger (WHL Medicine Hat), Zach L’Heureux (QMJHL Halifax), James Malatesta (QMJHL Quebec), Brennan Othmann (OHL Flint), Conner Roulette (WHL Seattle), Dylan Guenther (WHL Edmonton), Justin Robidas (QMJHL Val-d’Or), Logan Stankoven (WHL Kamloops), Brett Harrison (OHL Oshawa)
Consider it a ‘Zach Attack’ here, with Bolduc, L’Heureux and Dean all coming off excellent rookie seasons in the ‘Q.’ Guenther is a top-10 NHL pick out West, while Stankoven and Sillinger loom large, too. Othmann and McTavish are the big guns from the OHL. As per usual, Canada has way more centers than it needs, but I’m sure some of these guys wouldn’t have any problem moving to the wing (particularly the right side) in order to make the final cut.
Overall, this is another strong group and Canada has dominated this tournament in the past (though Russia took gold last summer). We won’t actually get a chance to see these kids come together as a team, but hopefully global conditions improve enough to see them play a full 2020-21 season this fall.