The Hlinka Gretzky Cup was supposed to be about the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, an under-18 tournament stacked with the best draft-eligible 17-year-olds in the hockey world.
Then Sweden played Canada in by far the most intriguing, Edmonton-based tilt of the week, and the game was all about the 2020 draft. And 2021, if you consider 15-year-old Swedish goalie Jesper Wallstedt.
Canada beat Sweden 4-3 Wednesday night in a wildly entertaining tilt, securing first place in Group A and a semifinal matchup with the United States. The Americans were shellacked 8-3 by Russia down in Red Deer Wednesday, setting up Russia and the Swedes in the other Friday semifinal at Rogers Place.
For Russia, that means a date against the Tres Kronor’s two best forwards, 16-year-olds Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. Canada will be favoured against the USA, and led by captain Alexis Lafreniere, who is 17 but about a month too young for the Vancouver draft.
He’ll be with the two Swedes in the 2020 NHL lottery, where Lafreniere is already touted as the potential No. 1 pick.
He has that certain something, this Saint-Eustache, Que., kid. He sees the play a step before everyone else, like all the great players. Like Walter Gretzky told his boy, Lafreniere goes to where the puck is going, never to where it used to be.