U17 World Hockey Challenge – Preview

– November 1st, 2023 –

Here is the schedule of the 2023 U17 World Hockey Challenge:

With only two Canadian selections this time around, it is a 6-team tournament this year.
Below you can read the write-ups on the three European teams entering the tournament.
Unlike last year, there are no underagers attending the event.

For more on specific European players, you can get our Summer publication, where we already talked about 27 players (among others) that will represent Czechia, Finland and Sweden at the U17 World Hockey Challenge, while ranking more than 100 prospects.
Those who purchase (or purchased) the 2023 Summer Blue Dispatch will receive later this month our updated full rankings on the 2024 and 2025 draft classes.



Roster: https://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/national-championships/men/world-u17/2023/schedule-results/stats/team-rosters?teamid=1081

It has been tricky to predict the Czech national team’s outcome at this tournament for years. Even when they eventually finished with a medal, there was always a two / three games adjustment period in which the Czech players would only be getting used to tempo they had never experienced before. One player who should have no problem fitting in right away, however, would be the late addition to the squad, and the only returnee from last year’s team, Adam Benák. The undersized centre with pro experience should be the brain and engine of this squad, just like he was for the Czech Hlinka team this past Summer, where he impressed as an underager with 10 points in 5 games. Benák is the clear standout of an otherwise deep forward group and should have plenty of talent to work with. Be it skill players such as Matej Pekar and Vit Zahejsky, or more rugged ones in Pavlik and Novotný. Another forward worth keeping an eye on would be David Rozsival, who has quickly emerged as one of the top forwards for the national team over the past year, even if his domestic league stats are somewhat lagging behind at the moment. The rangy forward has shown impressive package of swift skating ability, strong puck skills and poise.

It’s worth noting this group of forwards includes three players that already made their Extraliga debut this season. Besides the well-known Benák, there was Zahejsky who had barely turned 16, and Adam Novotný who is still 15, even scoring his first career goal in his first pro game.

Defensemen Tomas Mikel and Stepan Cerny should be relied on to provide offense and puck moving ability from the backend. Both are off to strong starts in the Czech U20 league, with Mikel even getting promoted to a pro game in the Chance league, the 2nd highest league in the country behind Extraliga. A raw defenseman worth mentioning would also be the nearly 6-foot-6 tall Radim Mrtka, who has shown some promise last year and only keeps getting taller. Overall though, this defense group is a bit of a question mark, compared to the forward one it’s lacking in both high-end talent and depth.

If the D-group is a question mark, what does it make the goaltending positon however? The seemingly undisputed goaltender no.1 Martin Fajmon was left out after a disastrous start to the season, and quite frankly that makes it anyone’s guess as to who is going to actually backstop the squad. The frontrunner appears to be Ondrej Stebestak, who had some nice games internationally early in the season. But going forward, the most interesting goalie on the team might be the one with the least experience, Michal Orsulak. Standing at 6-foot-4, Orsulak has pro size already and is the only U17 goalie to appear in the U20 Czech junior league so far.

Based off our opinions on each player, here is a projected line-up our Czech scout Štěpán Kryška would like to see.

Matej Pekar – Adam Benák – David Rozsival
Tomas Poletin – Dominik Pavlik – Vit Zahejsky
Adam Novotný – Jakub Frolo – Vojtech Cihar
Simon Fasner – David Krcal – Artur Matejovsky
Vaclav Nestrasil, Jakub Lev

Stepan Cerny – Tomas Mikel
Tomas Malinek – Radim Mrtka
Filip Zimovcak – David Holub
Rostislav Silhavy

Ondrej Stebestak
Michal Orsulak / Matej Tulacek

Keep in mind this is not a prediction of how the Czech team will actually line up
(going by experience we expect Štěpán to end up frustrated by the coach’s decisions 🙂 )

Here is how Czechia actually lined up in the 1st game of the tournament


Roster: https://tulospalvelu.leijonat.fi/serierosterlist/?stgid=9418&season=2024&tid=558326533&sid=1856&lang=fi&pdf=1

Up to this point, the Finnish 07 class has looked less competitive than the 06 class that managed to win bronze at this event last year (despite missing Kiviharju). While things might change long term as these prospects develop, when it comes to the present team’s chances to succeed Finland should not be considered among the favorites going into the tournament.
The Finnish team was dominated in late August by Sweden in three test matches (the only ones played this season thus far) where the difference in skills between the two teams was apparent.
It’s however worth noting that last season at the U16 level Finland was manhandled by Sweden in the first two games, but then managed to make the other contests close along the rest of the campaign, prevailing a couple of times as well. Like in those occasions, the Finns will probably have to rely on pace and effort to be able to be competitive in Canada.

Another thing to point out is the Finnish team will be quite different from the one that faced Sweden back in August, with two new defensemen and five different forwards.
Jeremi Virtanen and Jasu Mensonen are two forwards that had decent roles and won’t be there, whereas active, quick winger Jere Somervuori and set-up centerman Aapo Vanninen are back on the team. Another addition is right-handed sniper Rafael Pihlman, a player that was not on our radar before this season and that earned a spot on the national team for the first time.
With so many changes and some new appearances on the national team, it’s hard to guess what the lineup will look like.
The following is a possibility based on a couple of speculations:
– keeping Atte Joki on the wing like in the past, even if he has been playing center in domestic action
– moving Kotajärvi on the right side, as the team only features one right-handed defenseman (Paju).

Westergård – Orpana – Rajala
Kämäräinen – Vanninen – Joki
Aaltonen – Strömberg – Somervuori
Pihlman – Grandell – Baggström

Ruotsalainen – Kotajärvi
Saari – Paju
Boelius – Ervasti
Uusitalo – Tukio


The top powerplay unit should be an umbrella with Kotajärvi on the point, Orpana as bumper, Somervuori on the left side, Westergård on the right, and Joki in front of the net.
The 2nd unit should run through Vanninen at the right half wall and Boelius (Tukio or Ruotsalainen being the alternatives) on the point, with Kamarainen, Rajala and possibly Pihlman completing the unit as the primary shooter.

The team features some mobile defensemen that can move the puck, as Kotajärvi, Ruotsalainen, Saari and Boelius are all capable of leading the way on the breakout and in transition, with Kotajärvi being the most willing to take responsibilities and try to make an impact in all situations.

The team lacks a clear standout forward capable of carrying the offense, but we do have a favorite in Max Westergård, a fast winger that can immediately recognize available plays and execute.

There are three 2026 draft eligible players on the roster.
Defenseman Ossi Tukio can be dangerous when he activates from the offensive blueline, but forward Joonas Rajala is the one that should make the biggest impact out of those with a late birth date.

Here is how Finland actually lined up for its first game of the tournament


Roster: https://tulospalvelu.leijonat.fi/serierosterlist/?stgid=9418&season=2024&tid=422480824&sid=1856&lang=fi&pdf=1

As far as the entire 2025 draft class goes, it is looking like the deepest in years for Sweden, and this squad now appears to have a real standout player leading the way in Anton Frondell, enhancing Swedes’ expectations for this event even more.
Frondell has been a dominating force this season, with his puck protection, timely passes (including set-ups with his backhand) and pro wrist shot combining for a consistent threat. Frondell will center the top line and has the physical strength to not get intimidated by physical play in the smaller rinks. He will likely have the smooth skills of Jakob His Wozniak on his side, to make for a dangerous duo at even strength and even more so with the man advantage.
Looking at the roster, all lines should be able to provide some offensive punch, even though there were forwards with more offensive talent than some on the team that where left home, to make the lineup more balanced (there are several Swedish prospects eligible for this event that look like obvious draft picks for next year’s draft and didn’t make this team). The second line offers a lot of offensive potential too. Center Milton Gästrin brings pace and energy to feed his talented smallish wingers, while Filip Ekberg’s istincts and the exquisite skills of Viktor Klingsell (he is just a pleasure to watch play) should create most opportunities for the trio. The question mark is how Ekberg and Klingsell will manage the play along the boards in the smaller rink, considering that’s something that can currently be seen as a weakness for both players.

If the Swedes decide to go for an offensive 3rd line (they brought 13 forwards and 7 defensemen, so we’ll have to see who is the extra forward), Otto Stenberg’s little brother, Ivar, should be on it to provide a spark and generate chances. Ivar Stenberg is one of the two forwards on the team eligible for the 2026 draft, he has grown enough physically from last season (where he was a really tiny kid) to now look like a legit prospect and even become a presence on the forecheck as well. If Melvin Novotny brings the best version of himself (and is not slotted in the first line), they could form a duo able to generate turnovers and take advantage.

The defense is another area where this team looks better than last year’s one.
There are at least three reliable defensemen on it. Karl Annborn has the hands and composure to keep calm and help the team settle things down under pressure. Sascha Boumedienne (not eligible for our rankings as he plays overseas in the USHL) possesses nice mobility, reads the game well, and with his skating and offensive ability can activate from the offensive blueline to become an offensive threat.
Oliwer Sjöström was already playing as a regular at the J20 level last season even before turning 16, thanks to advanced defensive instincts and mobility.

One potential issue for Sweden is that the undisputed starter in net for this group last season, Love Härenstam, is out injured.

Here is a lineup that would reflect our expectations:

Skarby – Frondell – Ish Wozniak
Klingsell – Gästrin – Ekberg
Sterberg – Hillstrom – Novotny
Genborg – Nilson – Jennersjö

Boumedienne – Annborn
Dahlqvist – Sjöström
Wahlund – Hallin


The top two lines should also run the two powerplay units.
For the first unit expect Frondell and Ish Wozniak on opposite sides (right and left, respectively), with Annborn on the point. For the second, expect Ekberg and Klingsell on opposite sides (right and left, respectively), probably with Boumedienne on the point (he would be our choice at least).

Here is how Sweden actually lined up for its first game of the tournament



As the 2007 class enters its main event of the season, it seems a good time to release our current top 5 for the 2025 NHL Draft, updating the pre-season list we published inside the Summer Blue Dispatch.

Center Ivan Ryabkin retains the top spot after what has been so far a successful transition to the top Russian junior league (MHL). Not only he has been producing at over a point per game pace, there have been games where he already looked like the best player on a team that also features a player penciled as a 1st-round pick in the upcoming draft (Igor Chernyshov).

The main story of the season for the 2007 class has been however the play of Anton Frondell. The Swedish forward has been a hyped prospect for a while, but this season he has taken his play to another level, adding speed and pace to his mature play, for the first time in our eyes looking more like a future star than a good complementary pro player.
We are really looking forward to see this more dynamic version of Frondell compete at the U17 WHC.

Adam Benák had a strong start to his season at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup despite competing there as an underager, and compared to last season he seems to have finally grown a bit more, enough to allow him to play as a 16-year-old at the Extraliga level.
Contrary to early indications he will be part of the Czech team at the World Hockey Challenge, which means he will go head-to head against Frondell.

6-foot-4 defenseman Kurban Limatov didn’t have as easy a transition to the MHL as his teammate Ryabkin (an injury didn’t help either), but remains a promising and intriguing prospect that consistently aims to make an impact all around the ice.

Based on the first months of this season there are probably other options available that one could make an argument for to complete this top 5, but Max Westergård has been a favorite of ours for quite some time already, and possesses traits that we feel make him a strong candidate to become a legit middle-six NHL winger down the road.