Find the next wave of NHL talent at this historic international tournament
Patrik Laine. Mikko Rantanen. Rasmus Dahlin.
Miro Heiskanen. Andrei Svechnikov. Sebastian Aho.
Radek Faksa. Martin Necas. Pavel Zacha.
Ever wonder what a future NHL player looked like at 13-years-old? Some of the biggest names and rising stars in professional hockey share one thing in common stemming from their youth days. More than 500 draft picks have come through an illustrious global youth hockey tournament series called the World Selects Trophy (previously known as the World Selects Invitational).
It began nearly 17 years ago.
That’s when Sergei Zak, a native of Saint-Petersburg, Russia, who lived in Iceland at that time, and Travis Bezio, a lifelong New Englander from the United States, first crossed paths. They were just two spokes in the wheel of what would roll on to create the world’s most prestigious youth hockey tournament.
Zak was in his third year working for the Icelandic Ice Hockey Federation and Bjorninn Hockey Club. Bezio was part of a group based out of the United States that identified the top youth hockey players in North America, and challenged them to compete against other top players from around the globe.
“He mentioned that they were [building] teams to go over to Sweden and Finland for a couple tournaments in the spring and invited me to come along as coach,” Zak said of his early interactions with Bezio.
From there, an annual event spawned, where the top teams and players from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland and Russia began commingling in exotic destinations throughout Europe in cities like Stockholm, Moscow, Prague, Riga, Bolzano and Chamonix among others.
It began in 2007, and now the World Selects Trophy has become a traditional breeding ground for the top players in youth hockey; a place where scouts come to get their first look at the next wave of talent coming down the pipeline. The tournament series expanded from one event for a single birth year, to now 10 different events at two different competition levels for 12U, 13U, 14U and 15U for boys, and U15, U16 and U19 for girls.
This spring, the 2009-birth year will be the youngest age group for boys, taking place in Bolzano Italy. The 2008-birth year will also take place in Bolzano on the following weekend while the 2007s square off in Chamonix, France. The oldest age group, the 2006s, will compete in Nashville, Tennessee in front of major junior, college and professional scouts.
It is the perfect combination of elite-level hockey and first-class travel. No other youth hockey tournament in history has provided a more diverse representation of styles, strategies and skills from its participants. North Americans are big and strong. Scandinavians are skilled and efficient skaters. Russians function with such great teamwork and playmaking.
So many top players and teams have navigated through the tournament over the past decade, that the World Selects Trophy serves as the defacto World Cup for teenagers. NHL Central Scouting named 388 players to its early watch list for the 2021 entry draft next summer. Nearly half had competed in a WST between the 2014 and 2018 events.
“We have had some amazing teams participate over the years,” said Zak. “The ‘03 RUSS team won two events in a row in Helsinki and Chamonix, and then lost in overtime at the 15U North America tournament. Sweden Selects 2000s were another team that proved to be loaded with NHL talent.”
Fourteen players off that ‘03 RUSS squad were named to the NHL’s watch list last month, including Nikita Chibrikov, Ilya Ivantsov and Matvei Petrov. The 2000-born Sweden Selects roster had seven future draft picks, three of which went in the first round, including 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin.
Shane Wright. Connor Bedard. Ivan Miroshnichenko. Rutger McGroarty.
Don’t recognize the names yet? You will.
Wright was the 2020 CHL Rookie of the Year. Bedard became the first player in WHL history to be granted exceptional status for early entry into the league. Miroshnichenko is one of the top prospects rising out of Russia. McGroarty currently leads the U.S. National Team Development Program U-17 squad in scoring. All of them fresh off of World Selects Trophy tournaments in 2017, 2018 and 2019. All of them highly-touted prospects by NHL scouts.
“I enjoy seeing the boys compete at a high level and develop a very competitive atmosphere,” said Zak. “We are very proud when these boys reach their goals in life and that our event could help them to reach those goals. That might not always be hockey, but being disciplined, being respectful to others. That is what the World Selects Trophy is all about. It helps develop them into young men and positively impacts people around the world.”
For more information on the World Selects Trophy and how you can apply for an upcoming event, click HERE.