EDMONTON, AB - For prospects and NHL executives, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup is a proving ground.
It's the proverbial start to scouting season that culminates at next year's NHL Draft for teams around the league, while prospects aim to make a first impression to be one of the names they call.
A positive showing in Edmonton and Red Deer this August 6-11 can be the stage these young players need to make a statement to the 31 NHL general managers that will be in attendance throughout the week-long tournament.
"It's very safe to say that a minimum of half the players that people watch that one week will be drafted in 2019," Kevin Lowe, Vice-Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group, said. "That's just statistically an accurate number.
"This year there were 77 players drafted who played in the tournament in 2017, with 19 of them going in the first round including the first three overall picks."
Video: HLINKA GRETZKY | Trophy Unveiling
Among the 24 Oilers prospects that attended Development Camp this past June, eight represented their countries at the tournament in years past.
Goaltender Olivier Rodrigue led all netminders with a 1.00 goals-against average and .942 save percentage in a gold-medal winning 2017 tournament for Canada. First-round pick Evan Bouchard got his first taste of life as a top prospect there in 2016.
"It's the first tournament where NHL teams really get a look at you going into your draft year, so it's a great experience," Bouchard said. "I think it shows a lot of character about the players having come together in such a short amount of time. Every game means something.
"The end goal is hoisting the trophy and winning a gold medal, but if the tournament doesn't go as planned individually there's always the year to come. I think this tournament really gets you ready for the season."
Right-winger Kailer Yamamoto launched himself into first-round consideration in 2015 after leading the tournament in scoring with seven points in seven games before adding 71 in 57 with the Spokane Chiefs later that year in the WHL, eventually being taken 22nd overall by the Oilers at the 2017 NHL Draft.
"It helped my development out a lot being able to play against the best kids from around the world and playing with the amazing teammates that I had," Yamamoto added. "They're all unbelievable hockey players and just being able to play with them definitely helped me out a lot."
Bringing the Hlinka Gretzky Cup to Edmonton and Rogers Place brings more attention to the tournament in North America while providing a world-class stage for 2019 NHL Draft prospects to make their presence known to scouting staffs across the NHL.
"[Bob Nicholson, CEO and Vice-Chair of OEG] always thought that this event, as respected as it is by the hockey world, was pretty much off the radar from a fan perspective in North America, Lowe said. "Where better than Alberta and Edmonton to do that, where there's a proven track record of having great fan support for sporting events?"
Yamamoto's first experience on the ice at Rogers Place is a feeling the 19-year-old knows will be mirrored in the prospects that take to the ice in August.
"It's hard to put into words," Yamamoto said of his first game in Edmonton. "Playing my first game here, it was electrifying. I don't even know if I can put the words together on how amazing it felt and how much energy this building and its fans can have."