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2016 World Hockey Championship: Team France preview

France remains on the fringe of the IIHF's Top Division, and will have to count on being unknown, unscouted, and underrated if they're going to make a splash at the World Championship.

Sasha Treille celebrates a big goal against the Czech Republic at last year's Worlds
Sasha Treille celebrates a big goal against the Czech Republic at last year's Worlds
Martin Rose/Getty Images

Les Bleus are not expected to be a medal-contending team from Group B of the World Championship. They lack the star power, and some of their own key players will not be heading to Russia for the tournament.

The team features a single NHL player in Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, a big, physical player for the Philadelphia Flyers. Montreal Canadiens fans will get to see Tim Bozon in action; his first return to major competition for the French national team since recovering from meningitis in 2014. Habs fans will also get to see their former goaltender Cristobal Huet suit up for France. Outside of these players, most of the roster is unknown to North American hockey fans.

France is currently ranked 12th in the world, and has staged some recent upsets at the World Championship, including a 2013 win over Russia and their 2014 victory over Canada. In that 2014 tournament, France finished in eighth place, which is as high as they have placed since 1937. They will participate in the World Championship tournament for the ninth consecutive year. The steadily-growing hockey program is guaranteed to be around for a tenth, as they will be co-hosting the championship, along with Germany, next year.

France will be sporting jerseys featuring their new Hockey France logo, which, it must be said, is amazing.

Preliminary Roster

Player Position League Team
Florian Hardy G EBEL (Austria) EC Dornbirn
Cristobal Huet G NLA Lausanne HC
Ronan Quemener G HockeyAllsvenskan (Sweden 2nd tier) Asploven Haparanda
Yohann Auvitu D Liiga IFK Helsinki
Gregory Beron D Ligue Magnus Amiens Gothiques
Florian Chakiachvili D Ligue Magnus Rouen Dragons
Benjamin Dieude Fauvel D ECHL Kalamazoo Wings
Jonathan Janil D Ligue Magnus Bordeaux Boxers
Maxime Moisand D Ligue Magnus Epinal Dauphins
Teddy Trabichet D Ligue Magnus Gap Rapaces
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare F NHL Philadelphia Flyers
Eliot Berthon F NLA EHC Biel
Charles Bertrand F Liiga Vaasan Sport
Tim Bozon F AHL St. John's IceCaps
Valentin Claireaux F Mestis (Finland 2nd tier) KeuPa Keuruu
Teddy Da Costa F Liiga Vaasan Sport
Julien Desrosiers F Ligue Magnus Bordeaux Boxers
Damien Fleury F DEL (Germany) Schwenninger Wild Wings
Loic Lamperier F Ligue Magnus Rouen Dragons
Laurent Meunier F NLB (Switzerland 2nd tier) HC La Chaux-de-Fonds
Jordann Perret F Ligue Magnus Grenoble Bruleurs de Loups
Damien Raux F Ligue Magnus Rouen Dragons
Nicolas Ritz F GET-ligaen (Norway) Lillehammer IK
Yorick Treille F Ligue Magnus Rouen Dragons
Sacha Treille F Ligue Magnus Rouen Dragons
Strengths

Yohan Auvitu on defence is France's best player, named the Pekka Rautakallio Award winner as the best defender in the FInnish Liiga this year, and will be the on-ice leader for Les Bleus. Auvitu could find his way into the NHL in the future, and should be fun to watch.

Having Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the squad after the Flyers' elimination is going to help as well. He's played at the top level of hockey this season and hopes his experience can bring a strong performance to the ice and give the team insight on some of their chief competition. 

Tim Bozon will be back playing for France after a life-threatening illness two years ago that kept him off the ice. He has just finished a season shared between the AHL and ECHL. While he hasn't performed that well with the IceCaps, he did collect nine points in fifteen games with the Brampton Beast.

Weaknesses

Three of the national team's staple defenders are missing due to injury. Nicolas Besch, Antonin Manavian and Kevin Hecquefeuille are all absent. Besch is a veteran and has played 85 games for France, and his presence would have provided stability and experience to the team. Manavian is also a long-time player for Les Bleus and a dependable right-handed defenceman. Hecquefeuille is a more offensive blue-liner who has scored 0.45 points per game in international competition. He helped his league team, the SCL Tigers, get promoted to the NLA in Switzerland.

France will also be without its assistant coach Pierre Pousse, who is gravely injured and recovering from a terrible car accident which claimed his wife just over a month ago. Dave Henderson, a Canadian-born former player who represented France at the 1981 World Championship in Beijing, returns as France's head coach, a position he has had or shared for over ten years.

X-Factor

With a spot in next year's tournament already secured, there is less pressure than they may usually face heading onto such a big international stage. Playing loose can often give an underdog an unforseen advantage over their competition, and this will particularly be the case when they play teams such as Belarus, Germany or Hungary,  who France has a better chance of beating than the top Group B teams Slovakia, USA, Finland, and Canada. 

France will also be counting on the moral boost of the return of Tim Bozon, the benefit of Bellemare's NHL experience and the desire to win for Pousse. All of these emotional factors, along with the fact that France could be taken lightly by some of the bigger nations, are perhaps the best hope for Les Bleus to make waves at this year's Worlds.

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Un gros merci to Nicolas Jacquet for giving us his insight on Team France for this report. If you want to stay up to date on Les Bleus, follow him on Twitter (@Nicozzzzilla)