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Hlinka Gretzky Cup 3 Stars: Lindstein, Yager, and Kiviharju Shine on Day 3

Sweden's Theo Lindstein, Canada's Brayden Yager and Finnish sensation Aron Kiviharju stood out during Tuesday's Hlinka Gretzky Cup action. Tony Ferrari took a deeper look at all of them.
2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup_2

Back to blowouts at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup as Canada and Sweden put up nine goals against Slovakia and Switzerland respectively. Although the Finns only won by a 4-1 score, it wasn't a close game there, either.

There were plenty of standouts throughout the day, but these three stood above the rest:

First Star: LD Theo Lindstein, Sweden

When you put five points on the board from the blueline, it’s hard to argue against being anything but the first star. It wasn’t just the offensive production that impressed Lindstein’s game on Day 3 though. He played in all situations, with some excellent work on the power play and showed excellent instincts on the penalty kill. The 6-foot defenseman wasn’t on the ice for a single goal against, quickly thwarting play and using his high-end transition game to push play up ice.

Lindstein is a very good skater who confidently patrols the top of the offensive zone. The young Swede is an efficient and steady facilitator, using his feet to open up passing lanes and timing his passes perfectly. He collected three assists in the first half of the game by simply making the right play at the right time in the offensive zone. He crept up into the faceoff circle and hammered home a one-timer for his goal, showing that when he was the opportunity, he would move up and take advantage.

He was able to take advantage of the space given to him in the neutral zone to attack the Swiss defense through the middle of the ice. His final assist of the night was possibly his best because of his ability to use his speed and skill through the neutral zone. Reading the breakout, Lindstein collected a short bumper pass from the wall in his own zone and collected speed through the middle of the ice. Beating a defender wide, Lindstein created an odd-man rush and sent a perfectly placed backhand pass for a teammate in the slot who finished with ease. Lindstein just made the right play all game long and was rewarded for it. Sometimes it's just that easy.

Second Star: C Brayden Yager, Canada

It wasn’t that Yager was particularly dominant in this game - no one had to be with the massive talent disparity - but his ability to just make the simple play and go to the right spots consistently was all that was needed. Scoring two of Canada’s first three goals and assisting on the other, Yager was a factor early for Canada.

Yager displayed his wicked wrister on his first goal, sniping the top corner on the powerplay. Scoring his second goal on a tap-in on the back door, Yager was able to slip by the Slovak defender and time his arrival perfectly. His assists both came on plays where Yager just simply did his job. The first came off a faceoff win to his winger and the second came on a play where he circled to the top of the offensive zone and made a simple, clean pass to defender Tanner Molendyk, who fired a shot home from the blueline.

He displayed great timing and solid off-puck movement in this game, making him a threat to create offense on every shift. Yager's shot is the tool that will get people talking, and he continues to round out the other aspects to make him a desirable prospect.

Third Star: LD Aron Kiviharju, Finland

The 2006-born Kiviharju is among the best prospects at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup regardless of age. His performance against the Germans exemplified precisely why as he racked up three assists, led the Finns on the breakout, and played a stable defensive game. Kiviharju’s play is mature beyond his years with layers of deception and manipulation that allow him to exploit the smallest mistakes that his opponents make.

He read play at an advanced level, showing his ability to diffuse opposing transitions before they become dangerous. There were several times when the Germans attacked the blueline, attempting to get into the zone to generate a dangerous chance and Kiviharju wound up with the puck on his stick. By the midway point of the middle stanza, Kiviharju faked a slap pass, opened and altered the angle on the blade of his stick to a faint pass, and used shoulder fakes before sending a heat-seeking missile of a pass to the offensive blueline to spring Jesse Kiiskinen on a partial breakaway, leading to Kiviharju's third assist of the contest.

That level of deception and manipulation can freeze opponents trying to defend him in the neutral zone and allows Kiviharju to pick apart stagnant defensive structures. His skating and poise with the puck are unreal for a player his age. Expect him to only get better over the next couple of seasons in the lead-up to the 2024 NHL draft. 

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