2014 U18 WJC Preview: Russia roster features several players with North American experience

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

Aleksandar Mikulovich - Niagara IceDogs

Photo: Niagara IceDogs defenseman and 2014 prospect Aleksandar Mikulovich is one of several players on Russia’s U18 roster that competed in North America during the 2013-14 season (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

After last year's disappointing results, a fourth place finish on home soil, Team Russia will present itself at the U18 World Championship with a good roster that includes many players competing in Canada's major junior leagues. The roster also features a good selection of players playing in Russia, some of them with KHL experience.

With that being said, it’s hard to imagine that this year’s Russian squad will be able to fare better than last year’s, since the ’95 group was a very good birth year for the Russians, as has been shown by the very talented team they sent to Sochi in 2013. With players like Valeri Nichushkin (DAL), 2014-eligible Ivan Barbashev, and Pavel Buchnevich (NYR), the 2013 U18 squad certainly had some good talent, even if the results weren't as hoped.

Below is a breakdown of Russia's squad competing at the 2014 IIHF U18 World Championship.

Goaltenders

Between the pipes might be the only area where Russia could be better than last year. The 2013 team had some good, but not stellar, performances from Igor Shestyorkin. This year, the team will feature Maxim Tretiak, the grandson of the legendary Vladislav Tretiak, along with Sergei Korobov and Alexander Trushkov. All three have a shot at seeing playing time, but Tretiak, who is a 2015-eligible as he’s a later ’96-born, may have an edge in size over the other two. Both Trushkov and Korobov failed to make Central Scouting's 2014 Final Rankings of the European goalies.

Defensemen

The defensive corps of the team features a good mix of players who play on both sides of the ocean. There are some players who are more known to the North American fans as they play Canadian major junior hockey, including the Niagara IceDogs’ Alexander Mikulovich; the Moose Jaw Warriors’ Alexei Sleptsov; the Chicoutimi Sagueneens’ Nikita Lyamkin; and the Owen Sound Attack’s Damir Sharipzyanov.

Another defender playing in North America is the only ’97-born player on the team, Ivan Provorov. The Yaroslavl native had a strong first year in the USHL with the Cedar Rapid RoughRiders. The offensive defenseman has been playing in North America for the past three seasons and had never played for Team Russia up to this point, so his selection was a bit of a surprise.

Among the players who play in Russia, the most notable defensemen are Ilya Dervuk, Evgeny Nazarkin, and Roman Khalikov, the highest-ranked of this trio in the CSS Final Rankings (71st among European skaters). Eduard Nasybullin won’t be representing Russia at this tournament due to an injury as he hasn't played since February.

Forwards

Among the forwards playing for Russia's U18 entry, the leading roles will likely be split among the players that compete in the different CHL leagues. As usual, Team Russia will start the tournament with some very talented forwards, with some questions regarding both the team play as well as the actual depth of the team. Another thing that might be taken into consideration is that many of the talented forwards of the team are small in size.

One of the most awaited players will definitely be Ivan Nikolishin. The son of former NHL player and Stanley Cup winner Andrei Nikolishin had a good first season in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips, scoring 59 points in the regular season.

Nikolishin won’t be the only player from the WHL as he will be joined by Radel Fazleev from the Calgary Hitmen. Other players from the CHL include the Windsor Spitfires’ Nikita Yazkov and the Niagara IceDogs’ Alexander Protapovich.

There will also be other interesting forwards on the U18 squad who still play in Russia. The most talented of the bunch is probably Evgeni Svechnikov, a 2015-eligible who decided to stay in Russia after being drafted by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the second round of the 2013 CHL Import Draft. The talented winger, however, didn’t have a strong season despite playing three games in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan.

Another forward who is seeing his stock rise for the coming NHL Draft is Vladislav Kamenev. The Orsk native is a player with good size, good body control and a strong two-way game. He played 16 games at the KHL level with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, scoring his first pro goal. His ability to play both center and on the wings can be of tremendous value to Team Russia during this tournament.

Another pair of interesting forwards competing for this year's team are Pavel Kraskovsky and Kirill Pilipenko. Kraskovsky is a large player who has had a good season in the MHL with Loko Yaroslavl. Kirill Pilipenko is a smallish winger (5’9”, 170 lbs.) eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft who is a very gifted goal scorer with great skating abilities and a good set of hands. He has scored many goals for Team Russia this year during the different international tournaments. Pilipenko's two goals at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial placed him second in goals scored for Russia behind Maxim Lazarev’s three-goal performance. It will be interesting to see what Pilipenko's production will be against the more serious competition he'll face in the U18 tournament.

Many of the same things said of Pilipenko could be said about another player, Daniil Vovchenko, who is more likely to have a lesser role with this team.

The most notable exclusion from this U18 squad was perhaps Artur Lauta, an interesting player with good experience playing on North American ice who has played two years within the Little Caesars organization. This year, he decided to return to Russia and had a very good season with the MHL's reigning champs, Omskie Yastreby Omsk. His team failed to deliver during the playoffs, however, and Lauta himself wasn’t as productive as he was during the regular season.

To conclude, Team Russia as usual will boast a very interesting roster, but some parts of it aren’t elite level (goaltending, depth) and there can be some questions regarding chemistry since a good portion of this roster played one entire season in the CHL playing a different style of hockey than those U18 players that remained in Russia this season. Russian head coach Pavel Baulin will need to make some adjustments for the team to capture a gold medal, including ensuring that some of the more talented Russian forwards at this U18 can deliver good performances despite their smaller size.

Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso