2011 WJC: Russia looks to erase mistakes of past and bring a medal home

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

After last year’s highly disappointing sixth place finish, Team Russia is called to rebound back among the elite teams and in 2011 they have quite a good chance to do so. This year the Russians will bring a very talented team with a very good coach, Valery Bragin. If having a very good selection isn’t unusual for Russia, having a very good coach, to some extent, is. Last year Vladimir Plyuschev’s management left to be desired and Sergei Nemchinov also didn’t exactly satisfy with his performances.

Bragin, a former RSL head coach for Spartak Moscow, has been highly praised in Russia after the Super Series triumph and many players, especially Maxim Kitsyn (LA), have been very vocal through the press about Bragin’s impact over the series.

In any case team Russia will ice a kind of traditional team – a very strong offense with a couple of excellent players and a defense that doesn’t seem to be quite of the same level. The team will most likely not feature impressive OHL prospects Alexander Khokhlachev and Vladislav Namestnikov, deemed too young for this tournament in a similar way Ryan Nugen-Hopkins was thought as too young to make Team Canada roster. 1993 born Nail Yakupov is most likely going to be one of the spare forwards.

The goalkeeping is going to be solid, considering that the starter is going to be Igor Bobkov (ANH). Bobkov has been outstanding so far in international competitions with Team Russia jersey, but isn’t having the same degree of success with the London Knights of the OHL. In any case Bobkov is thought to have a huge role in the team also due to the thin defense team Russia is bringing to this tournament.

Valery Bragin is yet to indicate who will be Igor Bobkov‘s backup and the struggle is between Russian-based Dmitry Shikin and Emil Garipov, both in the roster for the 2010 Subway Super Series. Due to his bigger experience on the small ice surface and in North American competitions Ramis Sadikov was thought as the most feasible option, but Bragin decided not to call him.

The defense, just as usual, might be a bit of a cause of concern among Team Russia fans. The blue line will be patrolled by Dmitry Orlov (WAS), who’s going to serve as assistant captain. Orlov is having a good season in the KHL and will surely see plenty of ice time in all situations. This will be the defenseman’s second WJC.

Orlov’s linemate is most likely going to be sized Yuri Urychev, a solid defenseman with a large frame and above average passing abilities. Another notable presence will be Nikita Zaytsev, an offensive defenseman with a very good breakout pass as well as some defensive abilities. Georgy Berdyukov is having a good season in the KHL with stacked SKA St. Petersburg, even if he doesn’t play all the games, but he developed some good defensive zone play, adding a dimension on his game based out of his excellent skating and a strong shot from the point. Nikita Pivtsakin played very well at the Super Series and is going to play a good role at the WJC too.

The pairing made up of Maxim Ignatovich and Andrei Sergeev might raise some eyebrows because players like Zakhar Arzamastsev – one of the top 2011 eligible blueliners from Russia – Mikhail Grigoriev or OHL based Andrei Pedan might have been a better option. However, Bragin surely appreciated Ignatovich’s frame and Sergeev’s toughness. Andrei Pedan will mostly be the ninth defenseman of the team.

The eyes on the offense will most likely be on Vladimir Tarasenko (STL) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (WAS). Tarasenko is having a very good season at the KHL level, but this is something you’d expect from a player of his caliber. Kind of the same can be said about Kuznetsov, who’s having a very strong season with Traktor Chelyabinsk. The two are both heading to the NHL pretty soon, but if Tarasenko already cleared that this summer will most likely cross the pond, Kuznetsov recently stated that is going to spend at least another season in Chelyabinsk as he wants to develop almost fully to have a realistic chance to get an NHL spot right away. Both forwards are expected to be among the tournament’s top scorers.

The first line will most likely be made up of Tarasenko, Daniil Sobchenko and Maxim Kitsyn. Kitsyn scored a hat trick in the exhibition game against Slovakia, won with a 6-2 score, and confirmed his good moment. His ability in scoring both highlight reel and garbage goals is very valuable in the different North American game. Kitsyn played very well at the latest two Super Series.

Daniil Sobchenko is a very versatile forward which is a good competitor. His strengths are his excellent passing game and hockey sense, paired with above average skating and soft hands. He has been never considered for the NHL draft due to his lack of exposition (a result of his conflicts with Vladimir Plyuschev), but his value can be compared to any second or third draft pick.

Bragin indicated that the second line might be made up of Kuznetsov, Sergei Kalinin and Semen Valuisky. Kalinin displayed tons of energy at the Super Series, while Valuisky is a very skilled player which lately rebounded back after a couple of unlucky seasons. Not later than a couple of years ago he was considered to be in the same league of other big 1991 born prospects, but some injuries and some bad luck made himself fall out of the radar.

Assistant captain Nikita Dvurechensky is called to a good performance. The Dynamo Moscow prospect is a player with size and skills and many compare him to his former line mate Alexander Avtsin (MTL). He’s going to skate on a line with Artem Voronin and sniper Stanislav Bocharov, who might be a legit prospect should he improve his finishing abilities.

Other players to watch included in the roster are gifted playmaking center Denis Golubev – his passing ability is truly excellent and has a knack for the eye-catching assist – and Artemy Panarin, who is having a good season skating with Vityaz Chekhov of the KHL. Sized Anton Burdasov, another player who had a very good show at the recent Super Series, is going to complete the third line.

With such a roster and such a good coach Team Russia has all it takes to compete for the Gold Medal. With good coaching and team play Team Russia is going to be one of the teams to beat, especially if they’ll manage to overcome their apparent shortage of good defensive players.