It's summertime hockey, baby.
The Hlinka Gretzky Cup returns to Alberta for the first time in 2018 and just the second time since Canada started sharing hosting duties with Czechia and Slovakia.
Canada, which has won this event 22 times, skipped the tournament in 2021, and 2020 didn't happen altogether due to COVID-19. The two-time defending champions, Russia, will not participate, so there won't be a repeat winner in 2022.
Still, Canada looks like one of the favorites with multiple potential top 10 picks from the 2023 draft on the roster. And that doesn't include Adam Fantilli and Connor Bedard, who are slated to represent Canada at the U-20 level.
What's great about this event, and maybe more so than the U-18 World Hockey Championship, is it's the first chance of the season to get a good look at the upcoming draft class' top talent. It's a bit different this year, with many of the top eligible players -- Bedard and Slovakia's Dalibor Dvorsky, for example -- instead focusing on the World Junior Championship, which takes place a few days after the Hlinka. But there's no lack of talent, so the scouting intrigue will be high.
In no particular order, here's a look at 15 players you need to know -- it's not a ranking, but 15 standouts that'll command your attention once the event begins on Sunday:
Cameron Allen, D (CAN)
Allen had a spectacular rookie campaign in the OHL, winning the OHL Rookie of the Year award with 37 points in 65 games. Named Canada's captain, the speedy, strong, physical defender is as confident as they come and does a good job of controlling the game's pace with the puck on his stick. He's unselfish, has a quick release on his shot and is built to be a prototypical modern-day defenseman. This is his time to shine.
Quentin Musty, F (USA)
The Americans rarely do well at this event -- their last medal was in 2016, and their last gold was 2003. But Musty is the clear favorite to watch this year as a player many expect to go early in the 2023 draft. Selected first overall at the 2021 OHL draft, Musty had a respectable 31 points in his first season with Sudbury and was named to the OHL's second all-rookie team. A dynamic playmaker, Musty keeps opposing defenders guessing and uses his quick feet to blow by them and create offensive opportunities.
Calum Ritchie, F (CAN)
After trailing Zach Benson by a point for the overall scoring title at the 2021 Capital City Challenge, Ritchie is back and ready for more. He and Benson proved to be a formidable duo, with Ritchie earning extra praise for his all-around ability as a shooter and a passer. In a draft class full of talented centers, the Oshawa Generals pivot is coming off an incredible rookie season and should be a driving force of the Gens this year. Expect that to be the case at the Hlinka, too.
Zach Benson, F (CAN)
Speaking of Benson, he was electric at the Capital City Challenge with a tournament-leading 12 points. Benson, a star with the Winnipeg ICE, is a versatile forward with a quick release and has the numbers to back up his potential top 10 draft standing. The small, skilled forward has tremendous speed and his hand-eye abilities stand out when he's trying to grab loose or bouncing pucks. Benson was drafted to the WHL at 5-foot-5 in 2020 but is now listed at 5-foot-10 – adjusting to a big increase can be challenging for many prospects, but Benson had no issue putting it all together this past season.
Theo Lindstein, D (SWE)
One of the top defensemen in the tournament, Lindstein is a modern-day mobile defenseman with good puck control and solid top-end speed. Lindstein got into 12 SHL games last year and helped Sweden win gold at the U-18 World Championship, capping off a year that saw him play in over 70 games across various levels. He'll be one of Sweden's most important players at the Hlinka.
Kasper Halttunen, F (FIN)
Halttunen had a fantastic run with the Finnish U-18 team as an underaged forward last year, scoring six goals and 12 points in 19 games. He led all U-17 players in the Finnish U-20 league with 38 points in 41 games, good for 10th all-time and third behind Kaapo Kakko and Roni Hirvonen (55 points each) over the past five years. Expect Halttunen to be near the top of the scoring charts.
Eduard Sale, F (CZE)
Sale was an integral piece of Czechia's U-18 World Championship efforts earlier this year, racking up nine points in six games. One of the top European forwards for the 2023 draft, Sale is an impressive playmaker that plays the game at a high speed and has a quick release. He had a quiet showing at the Hlinka last year, but he'll be counted on in a big way this time around.
Colby Barlow, F (CAN)
There's a lot to like about Barlow, a potential top 10 pick in 2023. Possessing one of the best shots in junior hockey, Barlow had 30 goals as a rookie and another five in seven playoff games with Owen Sound. He's got the size to keep control of the puck under pressure, moves well and can pick corners from tough angles.
Otto Stenberg, F (SWE)
A skilled forward known for some highlight-reel goals, Stenberg had a fantastic U-17 national team campaign last year and even played at the U-18 World Hockey Championship. His 35 points in 38 games were the second most among U-17 players in the U-20 Swedish league, five points behind Slovakian sensation Dalibor Dvorsky. Stenberg plays with a good pace and doesn't make many bad decisions when starting a rush.
Dominik Petr, F (CZE)
Like Sale, Petr is no stranger to this tournament, having represented his country at it a year ago. One of the better overall U-18 national team players with Czechia last year, Petr made waves early after putting up incredible numbers in the Czechia U-16 league at just 13 before eventually moving over to Finland to play in Lukko's system. His skating needs a bit of work, but he's got a good work ethic and will make you pay if you're caught sleeping on a play.
Michael Hrabal, G (CZE)
The goalie crop is still a bit of a mystery this year, but Hrabal has the chance to cement himself as one of the best options early. A big netminder at 6-foot-6, Hrabal was dynamite with Czechia's U-17 team last year and is already committed to NCAA Massachusetts for 2025-26. He's athletic for his size with a great glove hand and overall strong lateral foot movement, and, of course, you can't teach size, as cliche as it is.
Ondrej Molnar, F (SVK)
With Dalibor Dvorsky set to join Slovakia's World Junior Championship team, Molnar becomes one of the names to watch here. Molnar was second on Slovakia's U-18 team in scoring last year with 21 points in 22 games, highlighted by 10 points in five Division IA U-18 World Championship games. He also played 30 games in the top Slovakian league, and while he had just two assists, playing against men helped his development curve. Will Molnar outdo his six-point run from last year's Hlinka? That Slovakian team had much more firepower than this year, but he'll be a game-changer for his country again this year.
Emil Jarventie, F (FIN)
The brother of Ottawa Senators prospect Roby Jarventie, Emil is making waves after a solid year with the Ilves U-20 club in Finland. Jarventie had a limited role with Finland's Hlinka team last year but should be elevated into a more goal-scoring-focused role. Jarventie possesses a quick wrister and is confident to shoot from just about any side of the ice.
Brayden Yager, F (CAN)
A highly touted prospect for 2022, Yager had an impressive 34 goals and 59 points in his first full season with the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors. At the Capital City Challenge, the first time he represented Canada internationally, he was tied for Canada Red's scoring lead with four goals and seven points, an impressive first outing for him. Canada has no shortage of scoring talent, and Yager should be one of the better options if he plays to his full potential.
Riley Heidt, F (CAN)
Heidt's 58 points in 65 regular season games with Prince George last year is impressive given that he did that on a team that wasn't remotely in the WHL standings fight. That'll change over time if Heidt sticks around, and now he's ready to bring his stout offensive game to Canada, where he'll hope to show why some believe he's a top 10 prospect for the 2023 draft.
Other notables: Matthew Wood (F, CAN), Scott Ratzlaff (G, CAN), Noah Dower Nilsson (F, SWE), Jan Spynar (F, CZE), Jesse Kiiskinen (F, FIN), Daniel Jencko (F, SVK).