Not many players aged 16 have the chance to play at the World Junior Championships. Of the rare ones who make it, very few are blueliners. Russian defenseman Vyacheslav Voinov made it at the 2007 World Junior Championships in Sweden.
Hockey’s Future was in Sweden last year and saw Voinov in action at the WJC. He didn’t look bad at all when he was on the ice. Voinov then played for Russia in the Super Series in August and September 2007 against Canada and he was surely the best defenseman on his team which indeed offered a weak opposition to the Canadian U-20 team.
Born in January 1990, Voinov played at the IIHF 2007 U-18 Championships in Finland last April. He was named the Russian Team Player of the Game during the round-robin game against Canada and was also designated as the best Russian Defenseman by the coaches.
Voinov just completed his second WJC appearance in the Czech Republic.
"I’m proud to have been selected a second time in the Russian Team, it is a wonderful experience," he said to Hockey’s Future before the semi-final game against the Swedes. He helped his team to get the bronze medal against the Americans, an honor that wasn’t really expected for the Russians considered their poor performance against Canada last summer and the way they began the tournament against Kazakhstan.
The 5’11 and 172-pound Russian didn’t get any points at the 2008 WJC. He didn’t play at the level he would have liked. "I had more ice time this year, but I was more comfortable with my play last year," he commented.
Highly rated so far
When he was young, Voinov was playing hockey all the time in Chelyabinsk. "I began playing hockey instead of other sports because my father played hockey when he was young but never succeed at it, so he wanted his dream to come true with me," Voinov recalled smiling.
"[Voinov] is from a very traditional hockey city – Chelyabinsk, the players from this city are known to be very well organized, they work very hard and off ice, they stay out of trouble," commented Voinov’s agent Sasha Tyjnych.
So far in 2007-08, Voinov has played 22 games for the Chelyabinsk Traktor in the Russian Superleague. He has two points, both assists. Last season, at the age of 16, he played 21 games with that team, which is very rare for such a young kid.
"Chelyabinsk has a new coach this year, he doesn’t like the young players, so Vyacheslav started the season on the fourth line. In the last three games played before coming to the WJC though, he played on the first line. The problem with him is that he plays too many international games with the U-18 and the U-20 and has to leave his team for two or three weeks and sometimes. The coaches don’t like that," observed Tyjnych smiling.
"Vyacheslav is a clean guy, a no-trouble guy, he is a hockey person," pointed out the former CSKA hockey player Tyjnych.
"He is a character guy, he has a good shot," said the U-20 Russian coach Sergei Nemchinov to Hockey’s Future about Voinov. "He can play physically, he is not big but he is a very strong man."
Voinov is ranked 19th on the ISS December list for the 2008 draft.
"I know that I’m highly rated so far for the next NHL draft. I’m very pleased that the scouts are interested in me and I hope that I will be selected soon in the draft," stated the young Russian who named Ray Bourque as a role model.
"Sure, I want it," he promptly answered while asked if he would like to play in the NHL.
"There is a lot of interest on Voinov, he talked already to five or six NHL teams," commented Voinov’s agent. "The next Under-18 Championships in Kazan next April will be very important for him."
"We don’t know what will happen at the draft because the Russian Federation has no agreement. I think it hurts a lot the Russian players because now the NHL teams will probably think twice before drafting Russians," said Tyjnych.
A decision to be made
According to Tyjnych, it is not decided yet where Voinov will play next year. "We have a three-year contract, this is a problem. We want to re-write it with the club of Chelyabinsk but I think that they don’t like this idea. At least, we can talk. At least, we can ask the permission."
In the meantime, Voinov and his agent don’t exclude any possibility for next season. "We do consider the possibility for Vyacheslav to play major junior in North America," admitted Tyjnych.
A few events will determine the future of Voinov. First, there will be the U-18 Championships, then the NHL draft and then the CHL Import Draft.
"From there, we will see what is the best for him. We also must consider that he is playing in the Superleague regularly and now on the first line," pointed out Tyjnych.