It feels like the 2021 NHL draft took place yesterday.
Well, that's because it was just nine days between the end of the selection process and the start of the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, a week-long U-18 tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It was the first official tournament of the 2022 NHL draft year calendar, and while Canada wasn't there to be a gold contender once again, we did get to see a fresh face near the top of the standings.
In a tournament full of one-sided affairs, Russia took gold over Slovakia in a 7-2 final victory. It was a tough result for the Slovaks, who won every game up to that point, including convincing wins over USA and Finland and a tight one over the Swedes. Led by Dalibor Dvorsky, the 16-year-old forward from the 2023 draft, the Slovaks exceeded all expectations but eventually lost out to Dvorsky's fellow draft counterpart, phenom Matvei Michkov and Russia.
While the top 2023 prospects definitely took center stage, the focus was on the 2022 draft and the names associated with the upper part of the current prospect crop. Here's a look at 10 of the best performances by 2022 draft prospects last week:
Simon Nemec, D (Slovakia)
At this point, Nemec is almost a shoo-in to go in the top five of the NHL draft and his performance at the Hlinka-Gretzky further showed why. Nemec never had an off day despite a busy tournament schedule. Nemec finished second in scoring by a blueliner with six points, often leading the team's power play or finding forwards on the rush. Cool, calm and poised, Nemec's performance was consistent throughout and was a big reason why Slovakia won a historic silver.
Juraj Slafkovsky, LW (Slovakia)
Dvorsky definitely received the most attention for his mind-blowing numbers. but Slafkovsky was as solid as they come for an amped-up Slovak team. He had a tendency to take himself out of plays at points defensively, but we're still talking about a top prospect overall here. Slafkovsky finished tied for second in points by a draft-eligible forward with three goals and nine points, while also doing a lot of the play-driving for Slovakia's top line. Standing tall at 6-foot-4, Slafkovsky had a notable performance with Slovakia at the world juniors in Alberta and will be a major piece of the team's quarter-final hopes again this year.
Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW (Russia)
Whenever he puts on the red Russian uniform, Miroshnichenko finds a way to shine. Just a few months after a strong U-18 World Championship performance in Texas, upped his game with nine points in five games en route to gold. At every international event Miroshnichenko has found himself at, the 17-year-old winger has been among the team leaders in scoring for Russia and this was no different. A lethal goal-scorer, Miroshnichenko is one of the most dangerous goal-scorers in this year's draft and he's set for a big year in his native land.
Rastislav Eliáš, G (Slovakia)
Outside of a tough final game against a team most expected to win gold anyways, Eliáš was lights out for Slovakia. He nearly secured the shutout against Finland in the semifinal and came up big against USA and Sweden in particular while being the only goaltender to play in every game of the tournament. Eliáš, who is set to make the trip over to the United States to play for the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers, is one of the better goalies for the 2022 draft, albeit it's still rather early. But with his good 6-foot-3 frame, Eliáš has the makings of a solid goaltender and his transition to the States – and the potential to take the patient route via the NCAA – should help his development in a big way.
Mattias Hävelid, D (Sweden)
Sweden had chances to beat Slovakia and Russia in the final games of the tournament and yet found themselves playing for bronze. At the very least, Hävelid wasn't a negative for the Tre Kronor. Playing alongside his brother, goaltender Hugo, Hävelid led all draft-eligible defenders with two goals and eight points and was consistently a positive for Sweden every night. Always looking around to make plays with the puck, Hävelid is a tremendous skater with strong offensive instincts and can send laser beams from the point. He's creative when given space, can run the power play and while he's not a big kid at 5-foot-10, he's still a pain to push off the puck.
Ruslan Gazizov, RW (Russia)
As a play-maker, Gazizov had one heck of an outing for the Russians with seven assists and 10 points to lead all draft-eligible players. He played with Russia's top players and looked the part in his first notable international event since his strong Youth Olympic Games showing in 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gazizov has always impressed internationally and there are high hopes for him at this point in the juncture as a potential top 10 pick for the draft.
Liam Öhgren, LW (Sweden)
Even though Öhgren did a bunch of his offense early in the tournament, he was hardly ever an issue for the bronze-winning Swedes. Öhgren finished with four goals and seven points and created a few breakaways throughout, often being a play-driver for his own line. At this point in his development, his offensive game has been molded so well and once he irons out some defensive mistakes and other play along the boards, he'll be a name to watch.
Joakim Kemell, LW (Finland)
While the tournament didn't end up the way Finland was hoping for, Kemell was a bright spot for the fourth-place outfit. Kemell's shot was a highlight of the event, highlighted by his five goals and six points in five contests. Kemell is a true goal-scorer, recording all his points at the U-18 World Championship in the goal column and scoring in his first Liiga game. He's also a bit of a pest, willing to get in your face to force turnovers or to just simply piss you off. In terms of strong, offensive forwards, there's so much to like about Kemell's game
Filip Mešár, RW (Slovakia)
Mešár has always performed well in a Slovakian uniform and that was no different this time around with two goals, six assists and eight points. Part of a stacked group of young Slovak talent, Mesar made his value as a playmaker, namely working with Slafkovsky to generate damage in front of the net. As a 16-year-old, Mešár played against men in the top Slovak league and even got into two games at the World Junior Championship – he'll play a bigger role this winter.
Kasper Kulonummi, D (FIN)
He's not a flashy player by any means so he may not have been as noticeable as some of the others on this list, but his impact was undeniable on Finland. Kulonummi finished third in points among draft-eligible defenders, recording five assists, including two in the bronze medal game. A product of the Jokerit system in Finland, Kulonummi has typically been a good play-making defense internationally and even though he had nothing to show for at the U-18 World Championship a few months back, the experience was still good.
Other notables: Peter Repcik, C (Slovakia), Ilya Rogovsky, C (RUS), Jiri Kulich, F (CZE), Cole Knuble, RW (USA), Sergei Ivanov, G (RUS), Filip Bystedt, C (SWE), Jonathan Lekkerimäki, C (SWE)