The 2023 NHL draft season is officially underway.
The Hlinka Gretzky Cup started with a tight 4-3 shootout win for Czechia over the Finns. A pair of blowouts -- USA 8-1 over Germany and Canada 14-0 over Switzerland -- capped off the day, which, unfortunately, marked an uncompetitive start to the event.
Still, many solid players stood out in a big way. Here's a look at three in particular:
First Star: RD Cameron Allen, Canada
The Canadian captain was in the thick of the play from start to finish. Whether he was making an excellent read in his own end to cut play off quickly in transition or threading the needle in the offensive end of the ice, Allen showed exactly why he's one of the top players to watch.
Early in the game, the 5-foot-11 defender used his mobility and play reading ability to cut the Swiss attackers off at the blueline. Allen was leading with his stick to displace the puck from their stick before finishing by closing out with his body. His defensive game stayed consistent throughout the game, thwarting play before it developed frequently. There was an obvious talent difference between the Canadians and the Swiss, but Allen was making it look as easy as anyone on the ice.
Allen's passing ability was such an asset for the Canadians. He was precise and cerebral with his passes on the breakout, hitting teammates in stride and allowing the Canadians to attack in waves with speed. Allen's puck-moving ability was displayed in the offensive zone several times. His skating has the tools needed to be an offensive difference maker. Allen can walk the blueline forward or backward, pivot on a dime, or dash down the boards if the lane opens up.
Allen’s offensive prowess was rewarded with four assists on the night. Highlighted by an excellent seam pass to Denver Barkey for Canada’s tenth goal. He was able to create offensive through his defense by starting play from his own end. Don’t be surprised to see Allen’s name a lot as we kick off the 2023 NHL draft season.
Second Star: RW William Whitelaw, USA
The Minnesota-born forward was all over the ice, attacking play at every chance. Whitelaw’s motor never seemed to quit with a constant effort to get the puck back whenever it wasn’t on his stick and he was dazzling with the puck on his stick.
Whitelaw is a bit undersized, standing at just 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, but he wasn’t afraid to throw the body at times. He used his hips to establish body position several times when racing to loose pucks, bumping a German player to the ice with a quick hip turn several times. The American was putting his puck skill and elusiveness on display at will, dangling and deking the Germans whenever he had the puck.
The Americans convincingly won this game and Whitelaw had quite a bit to do with that. Opening the scoring by driving the net, cutting in front and tucking the puck home as if he were a 6-foot-3 power forward, Whitelaw was just starting off his night. He used his speed and puck control to open space for himself and his teammates, threading passes to high danger with regularity. His assist came off a play when he opened up at the top of the right faceoff circle before turning and firing a shot that was stopped but the rebound was banged in. Scoring again at the end of the game off the rush with a shot that just trickled by the German netminder, Whitelaw capped off a stellar opening night at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and ensured everyone following the tournament knew his name.
Third Star: C Ethan Gauthier, Canada
This spot could have gone to so many players in a game with so many standout performers. But Ethan Gauthier’s hat trick deserves some love, in particular, and that's why he's here.
Scoring once short-handed and twice on the power play, Gauthier showcased his diverse set of tools as a scorer. On his first goal, he camped out in the slot as Zach Benson battled below the goal line. With so much of the Swiss squad focused down low because they were on the power play, Gauthier was able to put himself in a strong scoring positon before finishing the Benson pass from low to high, changing the eye level of the netminder quickly.
His second goal came with the man advantage, sitting on the doorstep in front of the net. Gauthier was able to redirect the pass from Riley Heidt into the back of the net, extending Canada’s lead to six goals. With Canada leading 10-0 in the second period, Gauthier scored from a distance, beating the netminder clean with a great shot after collecting a pass, staying patient and firing it through traffic to snipe it over the goalie's shoulder from the top of the faceoff circle. Gauthier scored three goals in three different ways, showcasing his diverse goal-scoring skill set.