2015 WJC Review: Russia relies on team approach to earn silver medal

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

Vladislav Gavrikov - Team Russia - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: Team Russia defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov was named the Best Defenseman of the 2015 World Junior Championship by the IIHF Directorate (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

 

After a hard-fought round robin at the 2015 World Junior Championship, with a loss against Czech Republic and a shootout needed to defeat Denmark, Team Russia had a strong showing during the playoff round. They defeated the USA and Sweden to move on to the gold medal game, only to drop a one-goal game to Canada en route to a silver medal. Valeri Bragin did a great job of motivating the team, even during the championship game when Canada was leading by three goals.

Below is a look at some of the more significant players that competed for Russia at the 2015 World Junior Championship.

Best forward

Before the start of the tournament, the safe bet would have been for Pavel Buchnevich (NYR) to be Russia’s leader on and off the ice. Unfortunately for Buchnevich and Team Russia, he wasn’t the go-to guy for this squad, with Russia instead featuring a more balanced approach with different players stepping up when it was needed. It’s also true that if Ivan Barbashev (STL) would have capitalized on many of the chances Buchnevich created for him, both players would have produced more points and his performance would have been considered differently. But, with Buchnevich scoring just one goal, he disappointed many at this tournament. The best forward for this year’s WJC team was probably Sergei Tolchinsky (CAR), who scored four goals and was the top goal-scorer for the team along with Alexander Sharov. Many players played well, however, but their point totals may have been stunted due to the more balanced team Bragin iced this year.

Best defenseman

Vladislav Gavrikov was named the tournament’s top defenseman, a difficult choice to dispute as he was very good throughout the entire tournament. The solidly-built defender played hard and closed a lot of gaps, finishing the WJC without a single point, but with big performances patrolling the blue line. It’s very strange to think that he has been passed over twice during the last two NHL Drafts. Ziyat Paigin, another big defender, had a very strong tournament, as well.

MVP

Once again, it’s hard to choose the best player from such a balanced team, as many players performed well when it counted. Goalie Igor Shesterkin had some good performances against the Swedes and U.S., while Tolchinsky and Nikolay Goldobin (SJS) were instrumental during the attempted come-back in the gold medal game, and so on. This edition of Team Russia lacked a stand-out player like Evgeny Kuznetsov in 2011 or Nikita Filatov back in 2009.

Unsung player

This team had many players that could have been considered unsung heroes, the most notable being probably Alexander Sharov and Ziyat Paigin. Sharov was the team’s top goal-scorer along with Tolchinsky (scoring four goals during the tournament), playing hard and garnering praise with his poise and good puck skills. Paigin is a very interesting prospect with great size (6’6”, 210 lbs.), good mobility, and an interesting overall package.

2015 Prospect on the rise

The only 2015-eligible player on the roster born in ’97 was Ivan Provorov, who had a good, but not great, tournament. He is having a great season in the WHL, however, and seems likely to be a first round selection at the NHL Draft. Older players who raised their stock were Vladislav Gavrikov, Alexander Sharov, an Ziyat Paygin. Another player who definitely raised his stock has been late ’96-born Alexander Dergachyov, another large player (6’4”, 205 lbs.) with good skating and puck skills. Dergachev finished the tournament with one goal and four points.

The bottom line

It’s possible to call this WJC successful for Team Russia. Getting within a couple of goals of winning a gold medal is definitely a good result, even if they could have played better in the last game. After the final game, head coach Valeri Bragin admitted that maybe he should have started Ilya Sorokin (NYI) against Canada, but Shesterkin did play well during the playoffs so it wasn’t an easy choice between the two goaltenders. Pavel Buchnevich, however, was a bit of a disappointment. The flamboyant winger was expected to be what Kuznetsov was in 2011, yet he didn’t live up to the expectations, creating many chances but scoring only one goal over the course of the tournament – definitely not enough for a player of his caliber. The ’95-born crop was a good one for Russia, but next year may be tougher for them since the ’95 class was allegedly one of the stronger of the last few years for Russia (including Valeri Nichushkin and Nikita Zadorov, who didn’t skate at this WJC).

Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso