The pack of NHL Draft-eligible players, that is.
Czechia’s Eduard Sale has certainly done that. The 186-cm / 6-foot-1, 165-pound (76 kg) forward from Brno, who plays with Kometa Brno’s U20 club team, has been an offensive force during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which is taking place this year in Red Deer, a small prairie city in Alberta on the west side of Canada. During his team’s second game against Germany, Sale had three goals and an assist to earn player of the game.
In Red Deer, the best players each game are donned with a white Stetson, symbolic of the city’s ties to agriculture and cowboy culture. Sale was pleased to get the hat but it might have to sit on a shelf at his home in Czechia as the sizing wasn’t quite there.
“No, I didn’t have a cowboy hat before. I will keep it,” says Sale. “I think it’s very small. I can’t put it on my head.”
A cowboy hat that was a bit on the small side is seemingly the only challenge Sale is facing these days. He’s a leader on the Czech team at the event and is poised to be a top pick at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, which experts are calling one of the strongest crops in years.
Sale describes himself as a smart player who can create room for teammates and can put the puck in the net. He has really enjoyed coming to Alberta for the tournament and playing on the smaller, North-American sized ice surface.
“I think for me it’s better because the game is faster and I like it,” he says. “It’s faster because you’re playing on a smaller space and passes have to be quicker.”
Czechia’s head coach, Jakub Petr, agrees with that assessment but also points out Sale’s personality. He’s an easy-going soul who loves to be at the rink, around his teammates, and just around the game of hockey.
“His ability to score, he can score from any position. Every coach would love to have him on their team. Most important thing is the chemistry he has; the other guys get better with him,” says Petr. “He has the special gift, he can score from any position in the international level and even the club level. And I love his character, he’s an easy going guy. He always has a smile on his face and I like this kind of player.”
Sale has taken that extra step to becoming one of the sought-after players at the 2023 NHL Draft, which will feature the likes of Connor Bedard and Matvei Michkov. Sale had a strong World Under-18 Championship this past April in Germany, where he finished 11th in scoring with eight points in six games. Many of those players, including his Czech linemate Jiri Kulich, were selected in the 2022 NHL Draft, with Kulich taken 28th overall by the Buffalo Sabres.
Sale’s best attribute may be his hands, as he can score from anywhere as his coach points out but can also make hard, crisp, tape-to-tape passes. Against Germany, Sale made a perfect pass on the power play from his off-wing to Andrej Fabry, who was parked in front of the net and had an empty-net tap in on the German goal. He also gave the assist for the game-winning goal in the 3-1 victory against the U.S. on Wednesday.
At the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Sale is playing alongside Adam Zidlicky, the son of former NHLer Marek. The two have found some chemistry. Zidlicky was born in Czechia but has spent much of his hockey-playing years in North America and was a member of the Canadian Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers last season.
Zidlicky’s awareness of the North American game has been a huge asset for Sale, whose time on the smaller ice surface has been limited.
The Hlinka Gretzky Cup runs through Saturday. Following the tournament, Sale will head back to Czechia and join Kometa Brno for the 2022-23 season. He says he isn’t thinking about the NHL Draft quite yet and wants to focus on getting better every day.