After the two straight bronze medals in 2008 and 2009, Team Russia will try to climb up the standings in Saskatchewan, presenting a very young team. Vladimir Plyuschev, who is back with U-20 Team Russia after the WJC triumph in 2002, decided to rely a lot on 1991-born guys, the same players who made the core of the Under-18 national team he coached in the U18 WC in the United States this April. Another reason for the youth is that Team Russia will lack some key players: center Andrei Loktionov (LA) is injured, while Evgeny Grachev (NYR), Vyacheslav Voinov (LA) and Dmitry Kulikov (FLA) weren’t released by their respective NHL franchises.
Russia’s only exhibition game hasn’t been good as they lost 3-2 to Latvia after an overtime.
After Semyon Varlamov’s move to the NHL, Team Russia’s goaltending hasn’t been as good and reliable. In last season’s tournament, projected starter Daniil Alistratov lost the job after an awful performance against Team Sweden in favor of =”HFlinkstyle”>Vadim Zhelobnyuk, who won’t be back as he is an 89-born. This year’s goaltending looks more competent than last year’s. In the last 10 editions of the WJC team, Russia never entered the tournament with two NHL-drafted goalies. But this year they will.
The starting duties will be most likely split between the two NHL recruits: Igor Bobkov (ANA) and Alexander Pechursky (PIT). The third goalie will be OHL Erie Otters’ Ramis Sadikov. In the test match against Latvia, the starter was Bobkov, who can count on Plyuschev’s trust after last year’s big-time performances in the U18 WC, where he was awarded with Best Goalie honors. At 6’4", 192 lbs, he is an athletic netminder who plays with passion, always trying hard to compete. He relies mostly on his size and athleticism, but has to work on his technique even if his stand-up style can be incredibly effective when he turns his game on, like he did in the medal round in Fargo.
Technique is less of a concern for Alexander Pechursky. His main problem is different – the lack of game practice as he played only one KHL match and also only a bunch of Russian Junior League games as he was the backup of the main team. Despite his good play in two 4 nations tournament games this fall, he wasn’t included in the original list (he got into it only after the arm injury suffered by Dynamo Moscow’s goalie Alexander Zavilin). The 19-year-old Pechursky is probably going to join the Tri-City Americans of the WHL after the tournament’s end.
Undrafted Sadikov is already playing in North America, with the Erie Otters, but recently lost starting duties to Slovak Jaroslav Janus (TB). Sadikov’s size (6’2", 230 lbs) will be useful for him if he’ll be iced. A stand-up goalie, Sadikov is having a decent season with the Otters, posting a .901 save percentage with a GAA of 3.63, but at this point he is in the No. 3 slot.
Traditionally, the defense has always been Russia’s weakest part and this year it’s no exception, especially after the loss of Kulikov and Voinov. But interesting players are still present. Dmitry Orlov (WAS) will be the player to watch on the blue line. The 2009 second rounder is having a very good KHL season with Metallurg Novokuznetsk as he scored three goals and five points with more than 16 minutes of average ice time. Orlov is going to be the team’s No. 1 defenseman in Saskatchewan and he will surely log big numbers.
Although this team features just one drafted player on the blue line, there will be other players worth of attention. Undrafted Maxim Chudinov will play his third WJC. Despite a great performance last season, with five assists in seven contests, he has been overlooked at the draft, with NHL teams probably being a bit concerned about his size. But he’s a veteran of four medals from the WJC Under 20 and Under 18, collecting one gold, one silver and two bronzes. Chudinov is a core member of KHL’s Severstal Cherepovets.
Another player who’s probably going to play big minutes is Dmitry Kostromitin. A native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, like Voinov, he has always been overlooked by Sergei Nemchinov, but Plyuschev didn’t hesitate calling the sized, but yet mobile defenseman to his team. With Kostromitin, Team Russia will have some needed size and important North American experience as he is at his second season in the QMJHL. His big point shot will be a valuable weapon on the power play.
Other two interesting players are Nikita Zaitsev and Nikita Pivtsakin. Pivtsakin’s CHL rights belong to the Drummondville Voltigeurs and during the Subway Super Series there was a rumor that he was going to join the team, while 2010-eligible Zaitsev is a defensive defenseman with good breakout passing abilities who might be picked up in this spring’s selections. One of them will join Orlov, Kostromitin and Chudinov in the team’s top four.
The last two defenders are Alexander Tarasov from HC MVD, an average-sized, defensive defenseman without much experience and Kirill Yuriev from Lada Togliatti, who played under Plyuschev in last year’s Under 18 WJC and in the Subway Super Series.
Team Russia once again respects tradition, featuring an offensive line-up that might be the finest of the tournament despite being without two top players like Loktionov and Grachev. The front runner will be of course Nikita Filatov (CBJ). After playing with a limited role in Ken Hitchcock’s Columbus Blue Jackets, he’s now a point-per-game player in the KHL and will surely hit the WJC stage with a morale boost. He’s also probably going to be the team’s captain, like he was last season.
Most likely Filatov will be joined on the team’s first line by Alexander Burmistrov and Vladimir Tarasenko, both 2010 eligible. Burmistrov is a center for the Barrie Colts of the OHL and he’s having a breakout season thanks to his 12 goals and 37 points in 30 matches. The playmaking center will be surely a valuable member of the team in spite of his young age.
Tarasenko is expected to have a big-time performance. Thanks to his excellent technique, flawless skating and hard-working attitude, he’s projected as a first-round pick in 2010 and he surely will play a leading role under Plyuschev as he did in the U-18 WC in April, where he outscored Kirill Kabanov and entered into the tournament’s All-Star team. Tarasenko is having a spectacular season with Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL. He plays on the team’s second line and is his team’s leader in plus/minus. He scored so far 10 goals and 17 points in 28 matches. For a rough comparison, Alexander Ovechkin scored 13 goals and 24 points in 53 games back in the 2003-04 season.
The second line will be probably made up of Kirill Petrov (NYI), Ivan Telegin and Dmitry Kugryshev (WAS). This will be the third WJC for Kugryshev. The Quebec Remparts forward will add his talent and his grit to the team, but he has to perform better than in his preceding years, when he didn’t impress in the scoring department. 2010-eligible Telegin is in his first year in North America, playing with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. He likes to use his big size in front of the goalie and his physical presence will be important for Russia in dealing with the bigger teams like Canada or the USA.
Under Plyuschev, usually teams don’t really roll all the four lines as he usually plays the top six heavily, giving little minutes to the bottom lines. He’ll likely do the same at the WJC. The third line should be centered by the recently called Mikhail Fisenko, who plays in the WHL for the Calgary Hitmen. A number of players might be considered for third-line duties. Maxim Trunev (MTL) is among them. The speedy winger scored twice in this year’s KHL with Severstal Cherepovets and his burning pace might be very useful for this team, if he can guarantee some consistency.
Other two interesting players on the roster are Maxim Kitsyn and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 2010 eligibles were big part of the U18 success in Fargo and Kitsyn repeated the good performance with a great show at the Subway Super Series, where he has been team Russia’s top goal scorer. He’s a quick forward with great mobility for his size, who has very good hands and can be really effective in the slot, being thus able to score both highlight reel goals and tap-in garbage goals. Kuznetsov, who plays in the KHL for Traktor Chelyabinsk, is more of a perimeter player who can be a game breaker when the play opens up. He’s young, being 92-born, but surely he has tons of talent and his explosiveness might be cause of concern in any defense of the tournament.
Other players called up are tough guy Evgeny Timkin, rapid winger Magomed Gimbatov, all-around offensive player Petr Khokhryakov, talented forward Vyacheslav Kulemin and the relatively unknown Pavel Dedunov from Amur Khabarovsk.
This will not be a weak team even though some key players won’t represent the country this time. The lack of star players might give a determination boost to the team, which might have a dramatic impact over a junior tournament like the WJC.