Goalies: When compared to other fringe teams, France has been blessed with some incredible goaltending performances from Cristobal Huet over the past few years. A former Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks, Huet put on an incredible performance against Canada in the opening game of the 2014 World Championships, making 34 stops to help France win just their second ever game against the heavily favoured Canadian team. At 39, you would think Huet’s best days are behind him, but after seven shutouts and his second straight NLA Top Goalie award, there is no question that Huet is still on the top of his game. Huet may in fact be the greatest player that the French national team has ever seen, so exploiting his incredible play at the World Championships is something the team will take advantage of. France was able to make it to the quarter-finals last year, largely due to his play. Will they be able to do it again?
Defensemen: Shocker: France is going to allow a lot of shots against, and with the retirement of Baptiste Amar, it’s not looking so pretty. North Americans may have heard Benjamin Dieude-Fauvel’s name before, as the Minnesota Wild prospect split time between the AHL and ECHl this season. He’ll be counted on more than in his only WC appearance last year, an event that saw him record no points from the blue line in limited action. Their best bet on the back end will come from Yohann Auvitu, who, after playing in over 100 international games at various levels, comes in as the top French blueliner. A veteran in the Finnish league, Auvitu is a solid puck mover that is as reliable as you’ll get on the roster. Kevin Hecquefeuille will also bring some experience to the defense core, as his over 50 games of World Championship action dates back all the way to 2005. A former forward, Hecquefeuille led the NLB in defensive scoring with nine goals, helping Langnau earn promotion to the top Swiss league for the upcoming season. Other notables include Nicola Besch and Antonin Manavian, who have both seen a ton of WC action over the past few years, as well as youngster Florian Chakiachvili, who had two goals at the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge earlier this season to lead France in scoring.
Forwards: For a country that doesn’t produce many NHLer’s, France seems to have a good group of forwards that shine when they put on their national team jerseys. Perhaps one of the better known players is Stephane Da Costa, a former star in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators. While his brief NHL career didn’t prove to be successful with the Ottawa Senators, his nine points in right World Championship games last year really stood out when you look at France’s success in 2014. Joining Da Costa as a potential star is Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars. While his 25 points this season isn’t overly impressible, it was the most by any French forward in the NHL this year. Will his tendency to earn many trips to the box going to hurt him, though? Yorick Treille is currently the active leader in points for a French player with 33 at the World Championships, split between the main group and Division I. It was originally expected that P.E. Bellemare of the Philadelphia Flyers would take over the all-time active leader in French scoring at the end of the tournament, as Treille isn’t expected to see as much time as the NHL forward. Unfortunately for the team, Bellemare will have to sit the tournament out due to having shoulder surgery following the the regular season. Regardless, the team do have some other key options in Charles Bertrand, Damien Fleury and Teddy Da Costa to help fill the top six. The French roster may not have a bunch of pure goal scorers, but they do have enough quick, hard-working forwards to really surprise some of the much stronger teams in this tournament.
Projection: With a team that will need a lot of help from their limited offensive options, losing a key player wont help. That being said, having other bubble teams, such as Latvia, missing important players could soften the blow ever so slightly. Don’t expect them to do much better than sticking around in the quarter-finals, but with Huet’s tendency to shine out of nowhere, who knows?
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