Goalies: Belarus is not going to win many, if any, games at the World Juniors this year, and with the team losing the two goalies that led them to the top division a year ago due to age, inexperience could be a real thing for them in net. Fortunately, Alexander Osipkov has actually played fairly well for the Belorussian’s internationally, even getting named best goaltender back at the Division IA U18’s last year. Osipkov didn’t have that great of a contest in a 5-2 loss against Latvia, but in a game where your team can’t score on any of your nine power-play chances, it doesn’t look really good. He did allow a power-play goal against, but for the most part, Osipkov was left alone to fight off against Latvia’s best at points during the game. Osipkov has put up some decent numbers with MHK Yunost Minsk in the MHL B league and while his first two starts for Dynamo U20 in Belarus were rather forgettable, it wasn’t an indication of what he can really prove. Vladislav Verbitski has looked good with Dynamo’s U20 team, earning a lot of starts in the early going of the season. He looked good in Belarus’ only victory at the Four Nations tournament in November, making 29 stops for the best single game victory performance by any goalie at the event. Verbitski only saw action in one game at the U18’s a year ago but when you have to face much more offense each game, it’s unlikely Belarus will go with just one goalie all the way. Verbitski will be chomping at the bit to earn his ice time, so look for him to get a start or two against some of the stronger teams early on.
Defensemen: A mid-season trade from Dynamo to Shakhter Soligorsk could help Daniil Bokun learn from an experienced blue line while also developing at a solid pace. One of just two defensemen to play for Belarus at the Division IA tournament a year ago, Bokun had a solid nine points in 18 games with Dynamo before the trade occurred just after representing Belarus at the Four Nations tournament a week before. Considered to be a budding two-way forward, Bokun recorded two assists for Belarus at the early November tournament, often getting used in key situations throughout all three games. Yegor Ivanov was paired up with Bokun throughout the event, and with his experience as a defender in three separate American junior leagues a year ago, he knows a thing or two about playing against good competition (just not CHL/NCAA, or anything really that spectacular). Ilya Sushko is another notable name on the roster, and with him being a late 1997-born player (he’ll turn 18 during the tournament), Sushko will have a chance to return to whatever event Belarus is entered in next year. Stepan Falkovsky is the fourth and final returning player on the roster, and with him looking solid with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s this season, it could make sense to see him earn a lot of ice time in the tournament. At 6-foot-9, 231-lb, it’s clear they’ll use him against some of the faster, craftier competition from some of the stronger teams in the tournament. Falkovsky had the ability to completely control the pace of a game during his time in the MHL, so look for him to get significant minutes in Finland this year.
Forwards: Scoring isn’t going to be Belarus’ strong suit heading into the tournament, but they will have a few older players that could make somewhat of an impact in closer contests with some of the other bottom teams. Danila Karaban will be counted on to have an integral part of the scoring, especially with his strong performance at a Four Nations event back in November. Belarus really struggled in the event, winning just one game, but Karaban was able to score a goal and add three assists in a big 6-1 victory over Austria. Artemi Chernikov was also another key part of the victory, also recording four points in a dominant lone win for the newly promoted country. Both Karaban and Chernikov play on the same Dynamo U20 team in Belarus, where they both have proven to be big contributors so far with a few months left to go in the season. Finishing off a potential first line could end up being Dmitri Buynitsky, who is one of just two returning forwards on a weak Belarus team, but Dinamo Minsk forward’s experience in the KHL will likely make him a favourite in tougher situations. Buynitsky had a huge U18 tournament a year ago, finishing second on the team with 10 points. The only guy who managed to beat him on Belarus in the end was Alexei Patsenkin, whose 11 points gave him the top scorer honours for the entire Division 1A tournament. The play-making forward should be useful if paired up with Buynitsky and possibly even Dmitri Filippovich, giving Belarus a little something to work with.
Projection: If you haven’t heard of many of the players listed above, there’s probably a good reason: this team just isn’t good. With just four of the 23 players from last year’s Division IA team eligible to return, the team was forced to bring a younger, less experienced roster to an event that they won’t really be competitive in. It could be a good experience for many of the younger guys who will be able to return to the event in the next two years, assuming they either pull off a miracle and stay alive or go back to the top division in 2018. Regardless, this won’t be a very fun tournament for Belarus, who should expect to find Denmark in the relegation round without scoring a victory.
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