A decade of top CHL U18 talent for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup


Every summer since 1991 many of the Canadian Hockey League’s top under-18 talents have had the opportunity to represent Canada on the international stage.

The Hlinka Gretzky Cup, also known historically as the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament from 2007-17, offers the age group best-on-best competition unlike the IIHF World Under-18 Championship which conflicts with CHL playoffs when played in April.

Canada has had resounding success at this event earning 26 medals including 22 gold in 29 years while the event serves as a showcase for the next wave of NHL Draft prospects for the upcoming season primarily featuring CHL players just months removed from their rookie campaigns in the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Unfortunately the 2020 event scheduled for August 3-8 in Edmonton and Red Deer was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and sadly denies many 2003-born stars the opportunity to represent Canada on home ice in what’s become a summer classic.

In lieu of celebrating this year’s event, here’s a look back at Team Canada’s top Summer Under-18 performers of the last decade along with some other notable players plus omissions from what is typically a roster loaded with star power.

2010: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer Rebels) 7PTS (5G 2A)

Nugent-Hopkins led Canada to a third straight gold medal with a victory over the United States in the final not long after earning WHL Rookie of the Year honours and before he would become the first overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. He tied for the tournament lead in scoring with teammate Matt Puempel (Peterborough Petes) who scored three goals and four assists over five games after edging RNH for the CHL Rookie of the Year award.

The 2010 roster also included future top picks and NHL mainstays like Ryan Murray (Everett Silvertips), Jonathan Huberdeau (Saint John Sea Dogs), Dougie Hamilton (Niagara IceDogs), and Boone Jenner (Oshawa Generals). Ryan Strome (Niagara IceDogs) was left off the roster but would go on to score over 100 points the following season before becoming a fifth overall pick by the New York Islanders.

2011: Charles Hudon (Chicoutimi Sagueneens) 9PTS (5G 4A)

Hudon converted his 60 points in 63 games as a QMJHL rookie into immediate international success leading Canada’s gold medal squad in scoring by a four-point margin. After defeating Sweden for under-18 supremacy he posted just over a point-per-game during his sophomore season and would be a fifth round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 2012.

The 2011 roster also included the likes of WHL defencemen Matt Dumba (Red Deer Rebels) and Morgan Rielly (Moose Jaw Warriors) plus OHL forwards such as Sean Monahan (Ottawa 67’s) and Tom Wilson (Plymouth Whalers). One of the age group’s most successful omissions was defenceman Cody Ceci (Ottawa 67’s) who would develop into the 15th overall pick in 2012.

2012: Nathan MacKinnon (Halifax Mooseheads) 11PTS (5G 6A)

MacKinnon led the tournament in scoring as Canada defeated Finland for gold. By this time it was no surprise that the Cole Harbour native was the star of his age group but the point was solidified throughout the following season as he led the Mooseheads to a Memorial Cup title and became the first overall pick by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013.

The 2012 roster featured fellow Mooseheads Jonathan Drouin and Zachary Fucale along with future NHL stars like Bo Horvat (London Knights), Josh Morrissey (Prince Albert Raiders), Darnell Nurse (Soo Greyhounds), and Sam Reinhart (Kootenay ICE). Jason Dickinson (Guelph Storm) wasn’t on the radar for roster consideration but developed into a first round pick by the Dallas Stars where he remains today.

2013: Spencer Watson (Kingston Frontenacs) 10PTS (4G 6A)

Watson may not have been Canada’s biggest star when the puck first dropped in Breclav and Piestany but he left the Czech Republic and Slovakia as the tournament’s top scorer that culminated with a gold medal triumph over the United States. The seventh round pick by the Los Angeles Kings in 2014 played five OHL seasons and scored 20 or more goals in each.

The 2013 roster boasted more recognizable names like future first overall pick Aaron Ekblad (Barrie Colts), Sam Bennett (Kingston Frontenacs), Brayden Point (Moose Jaw Warriors), and Haydn Fleury (Red Deer Rebels). Connor McDavid (Erie Otters) was only 16 at this time but missed the event in favour of Canada’s National Junior Team Camp after dominating the U18 Worlds with a MVP performance just months before.

2014: Mathew Barzal (Seattle Thunderbirds) & Mitch Marner (London Knights) 7PTS (2G 5A)

Marner and Barzal shared the Team Canada scoring lead in what would be another gold medal outcome against the host Czech Republic. Their summer skills accurately projected the offensively driven careers they would display throughout their CHL tenures that included league titles and playoff MVP honours in 2016 and 2017 respectively only to become stars at the next level from the 2015 NHL Draft where they were both first round picks by the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders.

The 2014 roster featured stars like Dylan Strome (Erie Otters), Travis Konecny (Ottawa 67’s), Anthony Beauvillier (Shawinigan Cataractes), and Ethan Bear (Seattle Thunderbirds). Thomas Chabot (Saint John Sea Dogs) didn’t make the team this time but the Ottawa Senators first round pick would later represent Canada and earn MVP honours at the 2017 World Juniors.

2015: Tyler Benson (Vancouver Giants) & Pierre-Luc Dubois (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles) 6PTS (2G 4A)

An eighth straight Summer Under-18 gold for Canada, this time over Sweden, was largely accomplished from scoring by committee however Benson and Dubois led the way. Benson was highly touted as the WHL’s first overall pick in 2013 while Dubois was coming into his own where a 99-point QMJHL campaign would make him the top CHL player chosen in the 2016 NHL Draft going third overall to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The 2015 roster included Carter Hart (Everett Silvertips) between-the-pipes, plus talents like Nolan Patrick (Brandon Wheat Kings), Dillon Dube (Kelowna Rockets), and Samuel Girard (Shawinigan Cataractes). One of the age group’s most prolific players, Jakob Chychrun (Sarnia Sting), missed the tournament as a result injury.

2016: Maxime Comtois (Victoriaville Tigres) 5PTS (4G 1A)

Comtois‘ performance was one of the lone bright spots for Canada who finished a disappointing fifth place despite winning three of their four tournament games. The second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks would later serve as captain for Canada’s National Junior Team at the 2019 World Juniors.

The 2016 roster also included the likes of Evan Bouchard (London Knights), Michael Rasmussen (Tri-City Americans), Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack), and Owen Tippett (Mississauga Steelheads). One of the biggest omissions was Cody Glass (Portland Winterhawks) who responded with a 94-point season and a sixth overall selection by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017.

2017: Joe Veleno (Saint John Sea Dogs) 7PTS (2G 5A)

Veleno captained Canada back onto the podium with a gold medal victory over the hosts and defending champion Czech Republic. The first QMJHL player ever to be granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada had just captured a President’s Cup title in his second season in Saint John and would become a first round pick by the Detroit Red Wings the following June.

The 2017 roster included fellow future first round picks like Barrett Hayton (Soo Greyhounds), Noah Dobson (Acadie-Bathurst Titan), and Ty Smith (Spokane Chiefs), plus second rounder Akil Thomas (Niagara IceDogs) who would later become Canada’s golden goal scorer at the World Juniors. Among the future first round picks not included on the roster was Liam Foudy (London Knights) who has since won gold with many of those players and has also made his NHL debut with Columbus.

2018: Alexis Lafreniere (Rimouski Oceanic) 11PTS (5G 6A)

The first tournament to be played on Canadian ice since 1996 was won by the hosts over Sweden with captain Lafreniere tying for the showcase lead in scoring with a dominant effort in Edmonton. His performance came following CHL Rookie of the Year honours and served as a prelude for his back-to-back Player of the Year awards as the top ranked prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft.

The 2018 roster also featured WHL talent making the most of the western spotlight like Kirby Dach (Saskatoon Blades), Bowen Byram (Vancouver Giants), Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge Hurricanes), and Peyton Krebs (Winnipeg ICE) who were the first four CHL players chosen in the 2019 NHL Draft. Not on the roster was Thomas Harley (Mississauga Steelheads) who developed into a first round pick of the Dallas Stars and made his NHL debut during the recent qualifying round.

2019: Cole Perfetti (Saginaw Spirit) 9PTS (7G 2A) plus 3SOG

Perfetti stole the show at last summer’s showcase scoring seven goals in five games highlighted by an unforgettable Semi-Final performance where he tallied twice in regulation then went 3/4 in the shootout to lead Canada past Sweden. Unfortunately for the number five ranked prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft who eclipsed the century mark in scoring this season and won CHL Scholastic Player of the Year honours, his star studded Canadian lineup was defeated 3-2 by Russia in the gold medal game.

The 2019 roster boasted a bevy of 2020 NHL Draft eligible talents including Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves), Jamie Drysdale (Erie Otters), Seth Jarvis (Portland Winterhawks), and Hendrix Lapierre (Chicoutimi Sagueneens) who finished the tournament with 10 points including three goals and seven assists putting his playmaking ability on full display. Jacob Perreault (Sarnia Sting) is the top ranked player left off Canada’s roster and is listed 17th among North American skaters.

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