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NHL DRAFT PROSPECTS: 2023 Hlinka Gretzky Cup Preview – Players to Watch

The first scouting event of the new draft season is right around the corner, and everyone is rightfully excited. On July 31st, action gets under way at the 2023 Hlinka/Gretzky Cup in Breclav and Trencin, with Canada looking to repeat as Champions. Last year, Canada captured gold on the back of strong play by Cal Ritchie, Brayden Yager, and Cam Allen, and they enter this year’s tournament as the favourites again. Once again, Russia will not be participating due to the ongoing war with Ukraine, and Germany will be taking their usual spot.

Let’s go over some of the players to watch for each team.

Group A


Adam Jecho - Forward

Amazingly, this will be Jecho’s third Hlinka/Gretzky Cup. He’s still looking for his first goal at the event but should definitely earn it this year as one of the top forwards in the tournament. A potential lottery pick, he has recently signed on with Edmonton of the WHL for this year. The big winger is dynamite in transition with his size and speed.

Adam Jiricek - Defense

The younger brother of top Columbus prospect David Jiricek, Adam plays a similar kind of game. He can have a real positive impact on the game offensively but is still finding his footing as an elite two-way player. He is another potential lottery selection on this roster.

David Svozil - Defense

Another brother of a solid NHL defense prospect, David is the sibling of Stanislav. He too is a smooth skating puck mover, but he has a larger frame than his brother giving him a bit better defensive upside.

Tomas Galvas - Defense

Intelligent, two-way defender with high end skating ability. Galvas has already seen action in the Czech Extraliga. There will be questions about his high-end upside, but this is going to be a big tournament for him to prove that he belongs in the first round conversation like his teammates.

Jakub Fibigr - Defense

If you hadn’t guessed, the defense should be the strong suit of this Czech team with four potential high selections coming into the season. Fibigr is also a smooth skating defender, but one with the potential to quarterback the powerplay and put up points.

Adam Benak (2025) - Forward

One of the few 2007 born players at the event this year, Benak is an incredibly talented center who dazzled at the U17’s last year as an underager, even pulling off “The Michigan.” His role on this Czech squad could be more support oriented, but he’s a potential top prospect for 2025.


Manuel Schams - Defense

The likely captain of this Germany squad, Schams has been relied upon to be the top defender in the ‘05 age group thus far. A two-way defender and possibly Germany’s best hope to have a 2024 draft selection, look for him to eat heavy minutes.

Rio Kaiser (2025) - Defense

Kaiser is a raw defender with great upside thanks to his massive 6’7 frame. He is a late born 2006, so he’s not NHL draft eligible until 2025. Recently selected by Peterborough in the Import Draft, he will stay in Germany this year.

David Lewandowski (2025) - Forward

The 2007 age group is a much better one for Germany with several players showing the potential to be potential NHL draft selections. Lewandowski is a rangy pivot with strong puck protection skill, and he could be the team’s first line center despite being an underager.

Gustavs Griva (2025) - Forward

Another 2007 born player on the roster who will likely play a large role. Latvian born, but German raised winger who also has a twin on the team (Richards). While both are great players, Gustavs is the likely higher touted for now.

Carlos Handel (2025) - Defense

Yes, another high end 2007. Handel could be one of the top defenders on this German team as an underager. He’s going to be playing this year in Sweden with the Malmo program. There is high hope that he can turn into a Seider/Reinbacher type of prospect in the future.


Alexander Zetterberg - Forward

No, he is not the son of former Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg, but there is apparently some distant relation between the two. What is certain is that Zetterberg enters the year as the top 2006 born Swedish player eligible for the draft (there are other strong late 2005’s). As such, the diminutive, but skilled and feisty center will be counted upon to be an offensive leader for this Swedish team.

Alfons Freij - Defense

An aggressive offensive defender with quick feet, Freij has the potential to be the first Swedish defender selected in 2024. He is ultra confident with the puck on his stick, and he was good for Sweden in a depth role at last year’s World Junior A Challenge, an event containing some pretty solid older prospects.

Anton Olsson - Defense

Not to be confused with the Nashville stay at home defender of the same name. This Anton Olsson is much more offensively oriented and fleet of foot. He should help anchor the blueline with Freij, as he did at last year’s U17’s.

Lucas Pettersson - Forward

Pettersson is an intelligent two-way center who has great playmaking chops. He was the second leading U17 scorer in the Swedish J20 league last year behind Zetterberg and he should form a great 1/2 punch down the middle for Sweden.

Karl Sterner - Forward

Lately there seems to be a big Swedish forward with intriguing athletic potential available every year at the draft. This year, that player appears to be Sterner. He shows an ability to put defenders on his back and control the wall. The skill, size, and skating combination will be very interesting to watch this year.

Linus Eriksson - Forward

Don’t let the limited production at last year’s U17’s fool you, Eriksson was one of Sweden’s top players at the event. He uses his strong skating ability to impact the game in all three zones and has the creativity to be a topflight playmaker. Eriksson’s upside is very high, and he will be one to watch at this tournament and throughout this season.

Victor Eklund (2025) - Forward

A large contingent of the top end forwards on this Swedish team are late birthdays. Victor is the younger brother of top San Jose Sharks prospect William Eklund. He plays the game in a similar way, as a slippery and creative playmaker. However, he did struggle at the J20 level last year and at the U17’s.

Viggo Nordlund (2025) - Forward

Kind of a similar player to Zetterberg…and yes, he is also a late born 2006 player. Nordlund was very noticeable at last year’s U17’s due to his combination of vision, passing ability, and strong agility. He can really keep the puck on a string, and he should play a top six role at this event.

Love Harenstam (2025) - Goaltender

In contention to be the best 2007 born goaltender on the planet, there is no guarantee that Harenstam sees considerable action given that he is an underager. However, he is a player to watch based on his immense upside as the next great Swedish netminder…and of course his amazing name.

United States

Trevor Connelly - Forward

One of the key figures on this U.S. team, Connelly was already an impact player in the USHL last year as a 16-year-old for Tri-City. He brings size, speed, and skill and is a lethal scorer from inside the dots. He also competes hard away from the puck and could ultimately be a first round pick next June.

Mac Swanson - Forward

Not the biggest forward, but Swanson is incredibly skilled. He was a near point per game player in the USHL as a 16-year-old for Fargo and was one of the best players in last year’s Clark Cup playoffs. His playmaking ability and vision are near elite. This tournament will be a big test for him. Players at his size (5’7) need to produce to be drafted.

AJ Spellacy - Forward

A big power forward playing for the Windsor Spitfires who was having a terrific rookie year prior to a season ending knee injury. He was a surprise addition to camp given his injury timeline but ended up making the team. He brings a ton of physicality and energy to the ice and can be a difference maker in transition.

Aidan Park - Forward

One of a few California kids on this roster, Park is a Shattuck St. Mary’s standout who is committed to the University of Michigan in the future. He’s an intelligent two-way forward with good skill and speed who didn’t look out of place in limited USHL action last year.

William Zellers - Forward

Another Shattucks St. Mary’s player on the roster, Zellers is a high IQ support winger who should play on the first two lines of this U.S. team. The Boston University commit is also a member of the Green Bay Gamblers.

Owen Keefe - Defense

Expect Keefe to be a defensive anchor for the U.S. at this event. He’s got a very polished and mature defensive game already thanks to strong mobility, reach, and a high IQ. The Muskegon (USHL) defender is a Boston University commit.

Will Felicio - Defense

Felicio is an undersized, but talented offensive defender who can run the powerplay and move the puck. He was a member of the USHL All Rookie team last year after a great season with Madison. Look for Felicio to run a potentially dangerous powerplay at this event.

Thatcher Bernstein - Goaltender

One of the top goalies in the prep school scene last year as a 16-year-old, Bernstein appears to have the inside edge to be the starting netminder for this U.S. team. He has the size that NHL teams are looking for and he’ll be playing for Dubuque this year in the USHL.

Ryker Lee (2025) - Forward

Lee is yet another Shattuck St. Mary’s player and is perhaps the only one guaranteed to return to the program this year as a late born 2006. He is a highly creative and skilled offensive player who could play a top six role on this team despite some size/strength deficits.

Group B


Sam Dickinson - Defense

Dickinson, a London Knights defender, is a potential top ten selection this year as a dominant two-way player. He controls the play with his combination of length and mobility, and he can have a profound impact on the transition game. Look for him to be one of the better defensemen at the event.

Henry Mews - Defense

Another potential top ten selection on the blueline out of the OHL, Mews is a different player than Dickinson, but he is equally effective and intriguing as a prospect. He oozes offensive potential thanks to his high-end vision and touch. He will also be an integral part of this Canadian Hlinka team.

Zayne Parekh - Defense

Look for Parekh to quarterback to the top Canadian powerplay after a record-breaking season in the OHL. His 21 goals set a new record for scoring by a U17 defender in the OHL. He’s a hybrid style defender with a high skill level and the skating ability to play aggressively with the puck.

Berkly Catton - Forward

The former first overall pick in the WHL by Spokane, Catton will be one of the main forwards to keep an eye on at this event. He is a potential top five selection thanks to the pivot’s complete game and skill level. He can do it all on the ice.

Cayden Lindstrom - Forward

Lindstrom is a huge, but lanky forward who is still learning how to unlock his physical potential. He can be an absolute force on net drives already and flashes high end skill in transition. Imagine how good he’ll be once he fills out his frame? Expect him to be a draft riser over the course of the year and it could start with a strong performance here.

Maxim Masse - Forward

One of the few players from the QMJHL on the roster this year, Masse was the CHL Rookie of the Year last season. Masse is a skilled scoring winger who also has good size and plays hard away from the puck. The Hlinka/Gretzky offers him an opportunity to show scouts that he has worked hard to improve his skating.

Michael Misa (2025) - Forward

The lone 2007 born player on this Canadian roster, Misa was granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada to enter the OHL early. He did not disappoint in his rookie year, albeit in the face of some injuries. He is a dynamic force when attacking with pace because of his ability to blend speed and skill. His shot is insanely good too. Look for him to be among the team’s offensive leaders despite his age.

Porter Martone (2025) - Forward

Expectations for Martone at this event will be quite high after he was great for Canada in a depth role at the U18’s as an underager. The late born 2006 winger plays a power game and has the size and skill to dominate down low.

Malcolm Spence (2025) - Forward

Another late 2006 born forward on this roster who could play a large role, Spence is an athletic beast. His rookie year with Erie had its ups and downs, but he did enough to flash his high-end offensive upside thanks to his combination of size and skill. Of all the players on this Canadian roster, Spence is the one that I’m most intrigued to see improvement from.

Gabriel D’Aigle (2025) - Goaltender

The last time we saw D’Aigle, he was thrust into action in the medal round for Canada at the U18’s despite being only 16. While he wasn’t fantastic, he held his own under the circumstances and should be one of the best goalies at this event. He’s not NHL draft eligible until 2025 with a late November birthday.


*of note, top Finnish ‘06’s Aron Kiviharju and Konsta Helenius will compete with Finland in the upcoming U20 showcase in Plymouth instead of the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup.

Veeti Vaisanen - Defense

There is some thought out there that Vaisanen has a chance to push ahead of Kiviharju as the top Finnish defender available this year. With Kiviharju out of the event, he will get his chance to shine. He’s a highly mobile two-way defender who will need to show that his offensive capabilities are high end.

Niilopekka Muhonen - Defense

Muhonen is a big defender who has already been playing at the U18 level for a year now, suiting up at last year’s Hlinka/Gretzky and this year’s U18’s. He’s already very polished in the defensive end and has great upside as a shutdown type. Does he have the upside to match? He could easily be a first-round pick next June if he shows that.

Joona Saarelainen - Forward

Likely to be the first line center and primary play driver for this Finnish entry, Saarelainen is a skilled, but undersized pivot. He played at this tournament last year as an underager and will try to use that experience to help Finland overcome the loss of their two best players.

Roope Vesterinen - Forward

Another undersized, but skilled forward, Vesterinen was lethal at last year’s U17’s, helping Finland take bronze. He thinks the game at a high level and has the high-end skating ability to beat defenders one on one.

Emil Hemming - Forward

A nice contrast to the undersized, high skill forwards in the age group for Finland, Hemming is a skilled power winger who excels driving the middle. The question for Finland is, do they load up a first line with their three top forwards or try to balance out the roster?

Petteri Rimpinen - Goaltender

Rimpinen was on Finland’s Hlinka/Gretzky Cup squad last year as an underager and returns this year as the starter. He may not have the elite size scouts are looking for (currently listed at 6’0), but he does have the athleticism. He was terrific in the Finnish junior leagues last year and has a chance to be the tournament’s best goaltender.


Daniil Ustinkov - Defense

Ustinkov is a player that many scouts will have their eyes on at this tournament, to see how he can lead a strong ‘06 group for Switzerland. He’s a dynamic offensive defender who looks to consistently push pace and who looks poised running the point of the powerplay. He already has a ton of experience at this U18 level internationally too.

Jamiro Reber - Forward

Heading into the tournament, Reber is the other top talent for Switzerland. He is slick and skilled, making him difficult to contain as he pushes into the offensive zone with speed. He’s leaving Switzerland to play in Sweden this year as part of the HV71 program.

Leon Muggli - Defense

Muggli has long been the captain of this strong ‘06 group and he will help anchor the defense along with Ustinkov and Gian Meier. He doesn’t have the flash of Ustinkov, but he is a hyper intelligent blueliner who excels in the defensive end.

Gian Meier - Defense

A big right shot defender, Meier is going to get a ton of ice time at this tournament as part of a strong defensive group for the Swiss. A raw player still trying to find his game, it will be interesting to track his development this year.

Yannik Ponzetto - Forward

Already signed on to play with the Halifax Mooseheads this season, Ponzetto is another integral piece of the forward group along with Reber. The big winger plays a power game, which should blend well with Reber’s skill on the top unit.

Christian Kirsch - Goaltender

Likely to be the starting netminder for the Swiss, Kirsch is a hyper athletic netminder with size. We saw him struggle at the U18’s this year as an underager, but he’s fared much better against his own age group. He has a commitment to UMass and is a draft pick of the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL).


Ondrej Maruna - Forward

Drafted by Charlottetown in the Import draft this year, there is belief that he will end up in the QMJHL this year. He’s a versatile two-way forward with size who may just be the top NHL draft prospect of this 2024 Slovak group. He played at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup as an underager last year too.

Theo Kiss - Forward

A UMass commit who has been playing with Mount St. Charles Academy the last few seasons, Kiss will likely play with Des Moines of the USHL this year. He is a very creative and skilled offensive player and it will be interesting to see what he can do on a larger stage.

Tomas Pobezal (2025) - Forward

The only true star of this 2006 Slovak group, Pobezal has already been on the international stage for a few years now. He played at both last year’s Hlinka/Gretzky Cup and this year’s U18’s. Thanks to a late birthday, he’s not draft eligible until 2025. This will be a big event to prove that he belongs in the conversation with some of the other top Slovaks who have dominated the tournament recently.

Luka Radivojevič (2025) - Defense

The son of former OHL’er and NHL’er Branko Radivojevič, Luka is quite different from his father. He’s a smooth skating, puck moving defender without the elite size his father had. He has been playing in Sweden the last two years and is part of a much stronger 2007 group for the Slovaks.

Tobias Tomik (2026) - Forward

Likely the youngest player at this entire event, Tomik is a December born 2007. He’s already been playing a level up Internationally for the Slovaks and now faces his next challenge as part of the U18 group. He is a pure shooter with high end goal scoring potential.