International Ice Hockey Federation

Watching the future of hockey

Watching the future of hockey

Scouting community gears up at Ural

Published 19.04.2018 15:03 GMT+5 | Author Chapin Landvogt
Watching the future of hockey
Swedish defenceman Adam Boqvist is among the potential first-round draft picks to watch at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Photo: Steve Kingsman / HHOF-IIHF Images
The 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship begins today in the Russian cities of Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk. Here’s who to watch.

This time of the year hosts a number of league finals around Europe, playoffs throughout North America, and another handful of IIHF-run tournaments around the globe. It’s also the time of year where no less than the NHL scouting community (and scouts from other programs from a number of nations) is treated to one last view of many of the best draft-eligible players in a tournament pitting them against players in their age group or younger.

The reason why is quite evident when you look at many of the dominant young players in the NHL such as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Patrick Laine, Mat Barzal, Jack Eichel, and Seth Jones, to name just a precious few, all of whom are U18 tourney veterans.

This year’s site is one of the more exotic in recent years, namely Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk, two major Russian cities located 305 kilometres apart, each just around the corner from the north-western border of Kazakhstan. The last U18 World Championships hosted by Russia was held in Sochi and served as a precursor to the 2014 Winter Olympics. There, the two playing venues were roughly 100 meters apart from each other. That year’s Russian team earned a bronze medal and was spearheaded by Pavel Buchnevich, who currently suits up for the New York Rangers.

Aside from the natural rivalry between the two teams, each is entering the tournament as a favourite and will throw a ton of talent on the ice that is not only expected to be taken in this summer’s NHL draft, but also be at the top of the charts in 2019. For the USA, this tournament will feature many players who have spent the better part of the past two years playing and training together, and is thus a culmination of their work. The US has taken gold in three of the past four years, and seven of the past nine, having medalled in the years where it failed to win gold. That automatically makes them the favourite heading in.

Here’s a look at a number of players among the 10 teams who the scouting community will have a watchful eye on over the next 10 days.

Odds-on favourites

Canada

As usual, the Canadians will be throwing together a group of kids who were predominantly active in Canadian juniors this winter and whose teams either didn’t make the playoffs or have been knocked out in the first round. This year’s group will also include some kids who played elsewhere due to intentions to play in a US college program in the years to come, such as defenceman Jon Tychonick and forward Jack McBain, both of whom are expected to be top-45 draft picks this summer and make a healthy contribution to any success Canada will have in this tournament.

The Don Hay-coached team will surely bring a high-tempo style that attempts to force opponents into making errors. This will not be Hay’s first Team Canada mission in Russia as he coached the team to gold in Sochi back in 2013. And he’ll have a number of weapons in his arsenal, even if Connor McDavid won’t be one of them this time around.

Leading his attack may be top prospect Joe Veleno, a buzz saw centre that entered the year looking like one of the top prospects. He started off slow until traded at midseason and then he started showing his true colours. Not considered a specialist in any area, he is considered to be above-average in all of them and he enters the tournament thought of as a likely top 15 pick this summer. Could a dominating performance in Russia see him go top 10? He’ll surely do all he can to turn that scenario into a reality.

He’ll be joined by a bevy of talented forwards who can play the game anyway Coach Hay will want it. No less than Serron Noel, Ty Dellandrea, Cole Fonstad, Liam Foudy, and Chase Wouters are among the key offensive contributors who are looking to be drafted this summer. Particularly Noel has been a high riser all winter and a strong U18 could see a team invest a top 20 pick in him. Fonstad, McShane, McBain, and Wouters are three guys who’ll be looked to bring a playmaking element to the table. Goal-scoring on the other hand should ideally come from Dellandrea as the go-to sniper and then Noel, Foudy, and star 16-year old prospect Alexis Lafreniere. The Quebec native is first eligible for the 2020(!) NHL draft, but had more points in Canadian juniors this season than any other member of this year’s Team Canada, registering 42 goals, 80 points, and a +35 rating. For NHL scouts, he’s for 2020 what the US’s Jack Hughes is for 2019, but more on that later.

Of course, as is usually the case with Canada, it won’t just be the forwards who are generating the offence or being heavily scrutinized by the scouting community. These roles will also be assumed by the fleet-footed scramblers who each scored at over a point-per-game pace in Canadian juniors this year, Ty Smith and Ryan Merkley. Both are seen as likely first rounders this summer in a draft that will feature a ton of talent coming from the blueline. As such, both will be expected to chip in a whole lot up front, as will be the case for the aforementioned Tychonick, who could also hear his name called before the end of the first round in June.

These three will be supported by Bowen Byram, Kevin Bahl, and Matt Robertson. Each brings a specific skill set to the table and will need to play the defensive role for the guys mentioned above. In the case of Byram and Robertson, we’re talking about a couple of kids who’ll first be draft eligible in 2019. This is no rarity for this Canadian club, because in addition to those two and the aforementioned Lafreniere, forwards Kirby Dach, Peyton Krebs, and Graeme Clarke are first eligible for the draft in 2019 and are giving the scouting community a nice little something to make note of in advance. Both Dach and Krebs had over 45 points this past season and will be offensive cogs for the club teams next winter. However, this handful of 2019 draft-eligibles may be cut if players such as Akil Thomas, Jared McIsaac, and Raphael Lavoie should find their way over once their club teams are eliminated from playoff action. Particularly the first two are seen as sure-fire first rounders in this summer’s draft and would be a huge boost to Canada’s medal ambitions.

Coming to the show late is Olivier Rodrigue. The goalie is currently considered to be one of the top three North American goalies available for the draft this summer and will likely get the starting nod. Should he not, then scouts expect to see the athletic Kevin Mandolese in goal, who like Rodrigue also spent his season in the QMJHL where his less than stellar stats were not quite indicative of the goalie he can be.

Russia

The host is a favourite, and the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia is well aware of it. It’s not been something that has suited the Russians in recent tournaments they’ve hosted, including the Olympics in Sochi, the World Juniors in Ufa, the U18 in Sochi, and several World Championships in the past. At least they haven’t achieved their goal of winning gold, something that the federation feels is a must when hosting such a tournament. Overall though, the Russians can be very proud of the bronze they earned last spring after they basically had little more than a U17 outfit take part in in North Dakota the year before.

In light of these constant expectations, Coach Alexander Zybin will have his work cut out for him. He’ll have two highly touted goalies at his disposal and it’ll be very interesting to see who gets the bulk of the work. Ironically, two of the three nominated goalies are named Isayev, but they are not related. Of those, only Danil looks like he could get a nod at various junctures, but the youngest goalie of the group is Amir Miftakhov and he’s the player scouts expect to see in net. Coming from the Ak Bars Kazan organization, his junior numbers were outstanding in 27 league games. Nonetheless, they imploded in five MHL playoff games, leaving some curious as to how he’ll perform in this tournament. What can also be denoted is that all three spent their seasons playing in the Russian MHL and each is weighs in at below 170 lbs.

The blueline will feature two players who spent this past season in Canadian juniors and are very well-known to scouts. Yegor Zamula and Nikita Okhotyuk likely won’t pair up together, but will understand very well how to play against the North Americans, if and when the opportunity comes. Neither had particularly impressive offensive numbers and as such, insiders are expecting Danila Galenyuk, who played several games for St. Petersburg of the KHL, and Danila Zhuravlyov to be key components of the Russian transition game and power play. Otherwise, expect Artemi Knyazev and Nikita Zorkin to each get plenty of minutes, possibly in a top four role. One way or the other though, all of the contenders listed above feature defensive units that are much more well-noted in the scouting community.

What many are wondering is where Zybin is going to find scoring? Russia will likely be without its most notable offensive weapon, Andrei Svechnikov, who will not be attending to do an injury situation. It is widely felt that he’ll be a top three pick in this summer’s draft. The next player scouts would love to see at this tournament is Grigori Denisenko, who is felt to be a top 20 pick in waiting this summer, but he’s involved in playoffs for his club team.

In addition, the team has decided to go to battle without Alexander Khovanov, who is felt to be an early second rounder in the draft. His international appearances to date have often left a good bit to be desired and Zorbin apparently is well aware of this. This leaves Dmitri Zavgorodni as the most well-known name up front. Most feel he’ll be drafted this season after putting up 26 goals and 47 points in the QMJHL, but the player is a real little tyke and hasn’t always been able to show up when the play becomes harder and tighter.

As such, Zybin will go with a number of Russian-based juniors who he’s worked with over time. Joining Zavgorodni on a line may be Pavel Rotenberg and Maxim Sorkin while another line could see club teammates Ivan Morozov and Kirill Marchenko together with shifty playmaker Ruslan Iskhakov. All have delivered decently at the MHL level. Very interesting for scouts will be the play of Magnitogorsk natives Pavel Dorofeyev or Nikita Rozhkov, teammates who were among the top-scoring U18 players in the MHL. The Russians will once again feature a good bit of talent up front, but few of these players are taller than six feet and not a one of them measures in at 190 lbs. With the pressure Zybin is likely under, plenty of curious eyes will be looking to see how his players deal with the many challenges ahead of them.

Sweden

For Sweden, this tournament is one that may lack a bit of drama from the onset. Super prospect Rasmus Dahlin, expected to go number one overall in this summer’s draft, will not be part of the U18 team as the young man is felt to simply be burned out after a truly long and adventurous winter. This is quite a loss for Tre Kronor, as Dahlin is already a magical player at the senior and U20 levels, and likely would have been as unstoppable a defenceman as anyone could imagine at this age level. Naturally, hockey fans will also be missing out on what could have been a performance for the ages.

The team is also going to be missing out on a few other exemplary players such as Timra’s Filip Hallander, a forward felt to be a top 60 draft pick this season, who is currently injured, and perhaps upcoming first rounder Rasmus Sandin, who is busy playing OHL playoffs. Adding to the question marks is the fact that Sweden was unceremoniously defeated 4-1 by host Russia in exhibition play. But all this doesn’t have to mean a thing when one glances at the type of players the team will be dressing.

What coach Torgny Bendelin does have at his disposal is a blueline that will be under the microscope throughout the tournament, as the scouting community will be hoping to see some dominant performances from several players, Adam Boqvist chief among them. Considered to possibly be a top five talent in this summer’s draft, Boqvist did not see his junior dominance – starting at last summer’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament – turn into effective play at the senior level when he did suit up for pro men’s league play. Still, he has all the tools anyone could want from a prospect and his stickhandling combine with skating have many feeling he can be an impact defenceman at the NHL level one day.

Boqvist may top the list of defencemen, but the team will field as good a top four defensive corps as any team seeing as how Nils Lundkvist and Adam Ginning saw a ton of minutes playing in the SHL this winter while the highly mobile Filip Johansson spent all season taking a regular shift with Leksand in Sweden’s second highest pro circuit (Allsvenskan). Each of these defencemen is expected to go within the top 50 picks this summer and both Ginning and Lundkvist have already played for the men’s national team. The defence should be the core of the team in all facets of the game, because goaltending has some question marks.

The thought is that Olof Lindbom, who was the MVP of the Swedish U18 league’s playoffs, will be the go-to guy for this tournament. How well he compares to a few of the other goaltenders at the tournament will be pivotal for Sweden’s chances at taking a medal. If he can’t handle the reigns in goal, the team will likely have to choose between the older Jesper Eliasson and 16-year old talent Jesper Wallsedt.

But even if the goaltending proves faulty, Sweden may just be able to outgun opponents. The forward group should feature some highly sought after talents led by Jacob Olofsson, who just played a key role in helping Timra gain promotion into the SHL. Thought to be an early second rounder this June, Olofsson loves to score and create, and has shown he wants the puck when the chips are on the line. If he lines up as a centre, then the guy behind him will be David Gustafsson, another highly ranked player who measures in at 6’1”, 195 lbs., and put up 12 points playing for HV71 of the SHL this season. Right behind the two of them will be returnee Oscar Back who got into 14 SHL games with Farjestad this season and measures in at 6’2”, 198 lbs. All three are expected to keep any and every opponent busy and could gain considerably in draft ranking with a strong tournament.

They’ll be surrounded by a number of wingers who are coming off strong junior season, some even in the nation’s U20 circuit, who may have had a cup of coffee or two in pro ranks at some level. Chief among them will be quick winger Jonatan Berggren, known as a smallish offensive dynamo, and Marcus Westfalt, a rangy 6’3” winger who spent more than half the season skating for Brynas in the SHL. Their performances will be under the microscope much like those of Samuel Fagemo, David Lilja, Linus Nassen, Carl Jakobsson, and Lukas Wernblom. Each is in a position where his performance in Russia could be the difference between being drafted or not.

Nils Hoglander could have a top six job and will watched closely as he’s considered a fine prospect for the 2019 draft. He spent much of this season as a 16-year old playing at the pro level for AIK Stockholm in the Allsvenskan. Another 2019 draft-eligible forward could Albin Grewe, who had an outstanding year playing for Djurgarden’s U20 squad. Both of these players will be looking to leave their mark on this tournament and in scouts’ notebooks. Finally, the same could be said of Nikola Pasic, a 2019 prospect who got some time in with Linkoping of the SHL.

USA

Team USA will once again be bringing a team full of players who know each other well and have plenty of time practicing and preparing together. A handful of them are expected to be drafted within the top two rounds in this summer’s NHL draft, with forwards Oliver Wahlstrom and left winger Joel Farabee as well as defenceman Bode Wilde and K’Andre Miller leading the list. Particularly Wahlstrom, who is half Swedish, is looked at as a top 10 possibility and is the type of goal-scoring forward with brawn that teams absolutely crave. With over 80 points this winter, he’ll be the team’s go-to up front. Farabee is a smaller player who thrives off of creativity and shifty skating, very adept at reading the game and the ways plays develop.

They’ll get help up front from the likes of Johnny Gruden, Jake Wise, Cole Caufield, and Alex Turcotte, all of whom proved capable of chipping in at roughly a point per game pace throughout the winter. Particularly Wise will be of interest to the scouting community, as he only got into 30 games this winter and looked like an above-average playmaker in collecting nine goals and 36 points in his shortened season.

Whereas Wilde is the team’s key offensive contributor from the blueline and Miller can play the game anyway you want it in all three zones, it’s their ability munch the minutes in all phases of the game that will allow them to make a decisive impact on the team’s progress at the tournament. They’re helped on the blueline by a couple of giant Samuelssons, namely Matthias and Adam. Each is the son of former Swedish NHL defenceman and check in at 6’4” and 6’6” respectively. They both bring a considerable physical element to the team and can contribute up front when required. Ty Emberson, Spencer Stastney, and Cam York all bring a variety of elements that round out the blueline and would likely be a top pair defenceman for one of the tournament’s underdogs.

Nonetheless, the player who may already be the “star” of the team in the scouting world is Jack Hughes, a 16-year old forward who is felt to be the likely 2019 1st overall draft pick. Despite his age, he put up over 50 points for the US U18 team this winter and that in just 28 games. He also captained the U17 team and scored at a two-points-per-game pace over 24 games. In USHL play, he had 54 points and a +26 in just 27 games. In comparison, many USHLers expected to be drafted this summer didn’t even end the season at a point-per-game pace. Seeing him play at this tournament will be akin to the year’s in which a Jack Eichel or Auston Matthews played at age 16, maybe better.

One position that doesn’t appear to be a necessary strength heading into the tournament is goaltending. Drew DeRidder and Jonathan Mor spent most of the time in net this winter and neither was able to put up even a 90% save percentage. Spencer Knight had the best stats of the group in eight games and is 6’3” and 194 lbs., but he is only 16 and served as the U17 team’s starter. If scouts had their way, he’s the guy they’d be wanting to see in net for this tournament.

Interestingly, in addition to the Samuelssons, York, Gruden, and Caufield, no less than Jake Pivonka and Jack DeBoer have fathers who played or coached at the NHL level. On top of that, Hughes’ older brother Quinn, who was part of last spring’s gold medal winning team, is expected to be a top 12 draft pick in this summer’s draft.

Looking to surprise

Czech Republic

If the Czech Republic is going to have any hopes of being in medal contention, it’s going to need strong goaltending. Fortunately, the Czechs will enter the tournament with Lukas Dostal who is currently felt to be Europe’s top draft-eligible goalie for this summer’s draft. If he can manage to steal a game or two here, it’ll not only be the difference for the Czechs, but also his draft position.

He’ll get some help in his own zone from Canadian juniors Tomas Dajcar, Zack Malik, and Libor Zabransky, the latter of which are sons of former NHLers. Although draft-eligible, all are ranked in areas in which their names may not end up being called in this summer’s draft and now would be as good a time as any to change the minds of some NHL executives. They’ll be assisted in their defensive task by a 6’4” youngster who is first eligible for the 2019 draft and is currently playing his junior hockey in Finland, Martin Hugo Has, who may be the kid the scouts are most interested in seeing at this tournament. Also of interest should be 6’6”, 205 lbs. Jakub Adamek who, as you can imagine, will be responsible for contributing in the physical department.

The most interesting name up front could be that of 6’3” 16-year old Michal Teply, who some feel may be one of the biggest talents in his draft year several years down the line. He won’t be given a role of huge responsibility, but he may be the player with the greatest long-term value. Players who will be counted on to score are Jakub Lauko, Jan Jenik, and Michal Kvasnica, all of whom spent this winter playing some pro hockey and bring a nice mix of skill and size to the table. Particularly Lauko’s performance will be of great interest after a decent appearance at the WJC and a full season in the top Czech pro circuit, but each of them are looking to be drafted this summer.

Adding an interesting twist to this year’s squad is the participation of two skilled forwards who spent this winter plying their trade in the USHL. Matej Pekar collected 40 assists and 54 points in 56 games and is heading to the University of Nebraska-Omaha in two years. Matej Blumel is a bit younger and will attend the University of Connecticut as of the 2019-20 season. Each will look to see their draft stock grow with a big performance in Russia. The rest of the forward corps will look to do the same after playing more or less entirely in the Czech U20 circuit.

Finland

The Finns almost always ice a team ready to contend for a medal, especially in recent years. This year will be no different, especially when one considers that the offense will be headed by centres Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Rasmus Kupari, both of whom are expected to be taken in the first round of the draft this summer. A bit different in style, both played a regular role in Liiga play and Kotkaniemi was a regular contributor to his team’s attack, contributing 10 goals and 30 points in 64 games.

Those two will be the key figures to the attack and will likely each guide a line of his own, if indeed Kupari is available. His Liiga team is currently in the thick of the championship hunt in Finland, even if he isn’t suiting up regularly for play. As such, scouts will be watching closely to see how the talented Niklas Nordgren, who has Liiga play experience, and Sampo Ranta, who spent this season in the USHL, will be able to contribute up front as they’ll be vital for any success that the team experiences. Ranta will be attending the University of Wisconsin next fall.

The remaining top Finnish junior players on the attack are Kaap Kakko (55 points), Lenni Killinen (41), and Kristian Tanus (36) and will be expected to make an impact here if Finland is going to medal again. Many of the other players in attendance will be part of the team for jobs that do not necessarily include offensive contributions.

Two players who will be absolute keys in all situations are defenceman Anttoni Honka and Toni Utunen, the former having had a big impact 20 Liiga games and the latter having spent all season taking a regular shift in Mestis, Finland’s second highest league. Neither is the biggest guy on the ice and this tournament will have a greater draft-related importance for Utunen, who is eligible this summer. Honka is the brother of Dallas Stars prospect Julius Honka and is already looking like a stud for the 2019 draft. Both will get gobs of ice time at this tournament. The same will be the case for Santeri Salmela who spent 31 games in Liiga this season and is felt to be late-round draft pick in the summer. These three will have to make things happen all over the ice for Finland to have any shot at a medal.

After that, Kim Nousiainen and Lassi Thomson are next on the defensive list and each had an extremely strong junior season offensively, and in Nousiainen’s case, defensively as well. Both are among the younger players in this tournament. Fortunately for Finland, the team will once again feature a large netminder who is considered one of the top Europeans at his position for the upcoming draft. The 6’4”, 217 lbs. Justus Annunen takes up a lot of the net and is well-schooled for a player his size and his age. He stands in stark contrast to the many smaller defencemen who’ll be playing in front of him. His performance will be key if Finland is to have any success, and plenty of scouts would love to see him do just that.

Slovakia

The Slovaks have often had some interesting names in goal and will feature two more at this tournament. Samuel Vyletelka, who spent the season playing midget hockey in Michigan this past winter, will be the likely starter. He is a 2019 draft-eligible goalie. Next to him could be the first 16-year old Samuel Hlavaj who played for several teams this winter and even saw some U20 play. Both goalies are 6’2” and around 190 lbs. Their technical games will surely be under the microscope from the scouting community throughout the tournament.

The blueline will feature two players playing outside of Slovakia, namely Matej Ilencik (Sweden) and Martin Bucko (Czech Republic). The latter will be expected to carry much of the team’s load at this tournament, coming in off a year in a league with some top flight competition. The former is only 16 and had a great year for Sodrtalje at the U18 level. Already over six feet in height, he’s a name to watch for not only next week, but definitely in the future! Alexander Zekucia spent much of this season playing pro hockey and put up some impressive offensive numbers, but he’ll need a very strong tournament to garner the attention of the NHL scouting community.

Up front, this Slovakian squad will feature a fairly anonymous group, save for half-American midget player Daniel Tkac. Still, the scouts will have their eyes on Kristian Kovacik who missed part of the season, but tore apart the Slovak U20 circuit when he was healthy. They’d love to see him playing his hockey at a more competitive level and should get their wish here, and next season. Helping him out on offense may be Adam Pauliny who crushed it at the U18 level and then scored at more than a point-per-game pace at the U20 level.

These are all guys to keep an eye on, but the player scouts will likely be taking the closest look at is Oliver Okuliar. The 6’1” left winger absolutely chewed up the U20 circuit with 64 points and +35 rating in just 37 games. He then added 24 points and a +11 in 18 playoff games. Making these contributions all that much more interesting is the fact that he accumulated 193 penalty minutes along the way. It’ll be interesting to see if he can show the scouting community just what kind of combination of scoring and intensity, if you will, he’s capable at the highest stage.

Switzerland

Press conferences with Swiss teams are always a hoot, as could be seen at the most recent World Juniors in Canada. When they’re held this time around, expect there to be plenty of questions about goalie Akira Schmid, a player who is seen as one of the top five European goalies for this summer’s draft, and Nico Gross, a defenceman who spent this season in the OHL. Schmid is all of 6’4” and is very noticeable on the ice. Still a lightweight with a thin frame, many have marvelled at how he performed at the junior level and then in four contests of pro play. As for Gross, he basically will need to be the team’s all-everything on the blueline, stepping up for a squad in which the blueline consists of Swiss junior level players, the most notable of which is Mika Henauer, who should get the bulk of the power play minutes that Gross doesn’t get.

There will also be some questions about one particular player up front, namely Valentin Nussbaumer. He’s first eligible for the 2019 draft, but spent all season in Switzerland’s National League, one of the best pro leagues in Europe, where he collected five goals. He’ll be surrounded by Kyen Sopa, Keijo Weibel, Matthew Verboon and Julian Mettler, all of whom put up some noticeable numbers for their U20 club teams and have caught the eyes of the scouting community. Nonetheless, not much is expected of this year’s Swiss outfit and some surprise performances will be necessary if this team is going to make its way past the first round of the playoffs.

Teams on the edge

Belarus found a way to survive last spring, knocking off Latvia in the process. For the little engine that could, it will once again throw out a number of players who are relatively anonymous to the international community, but the team will surely feel a bit at home in Russia and will likely receive some fan support, until or unless it plays Russia.

The biggest name of note may well be Artyom Borshyov, a giant for his age measuring in at 6’3”, 190 lbs. and playing his club hockey at the high school level in the United States. He’s a veteran of last year’s tournament and knows what’s in store for him this year. Goalie Nikita Tolopilo is 6’6” and almost 200 lbs. He was part of the World Junior squad, but didn’t see any action. That should change at this tournament.

Belarus will likely enter the tournament with a good bit of confidence thanks to two test-game victories over the Czech Republic, each by a score of 4-2.

The newbie to the top group is a team that will have its plate full in just trying to survive, namely France. Playing at this level for the first time this century, the team managed to leave nations like Germany, Denmark, Kazakhstan, and Norway behind in gaining promotion in Slovenia last spring. Much of that achievement was made possible by players who are no longer available to the squad. Still, returnee Jules Gallet will lead the charge up front after having spent this winter playing in Finland’s U18 circuit. Naturally, that’s quite a drop from the league in which most of the players in this tournament were part of this season. He’ll likely be assisted in a veteran capacity from defencemen Matis Bourillon and Nicolas Plaquevent, both of whom are smaller built returnees who spent this season in France’s U20 league, each getting a taste of pro play in France’s third pro circuit.

Most are expecting very little from France, which lost several pre-tournament games including one to group rival USA by a score of 15-0. For the scouting community, the hope is that a player or two will put some above-average and unexpected skill on display, even if it’s just the odd individual achievement. But rest assured, there are no Alexandre Texiers, Teemu Loizeaus or Hugo Sarlins on this team.

Both Belarus and France will be the clear underdogs in their respective groups in the preliminary round, but a match-up in the relegation round would likely see Belarus as the huge favourite.

 

Back to Overview