After returning home with a silver medal last year, Team Russia will make another strong push at a medal this year in Helsinki, Finland at the 2016 World Junior Championship. Head Coach Valeri Bragin will have only three returnees from last year’s tournament, but the Russians are nevertheless expected to be in the group of gold medal contenders, especially due to excellent goaltending options and great offensive depth.
It is no surprise that Russia has won medals in five consecutive World Juniors, including gold in 2011. The Russians are producing good players at a steady rate, especially on offense, while Coach Bragin has been a great source of motivation for the players, as well.
Russia will bring to this WJC a team with strong goaltending and excellent offensive options, much as it has for the past five years. Bragin is relying on an unusually high number of underaged players, with eight players out of the 25-man roster being born in 1997. Bragin usually prefers to call on as many “older” players as possible.
Once the Achilles’ heel for Russia at all levels, the trend recently reversed when several good goalies started arising out of the Russian junior and senior leagues. In the last few years, the Russian crease has been defended by great prospects like Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL), Ilya Sorokin (NYI), Igor Shestyorkin (NYR), and many others. This year won’t be any different.
The number one goalie for this year’s WJC squad will most likely be Ilya Samsonov (WSH). The 2015 first rounder is providing excellent play in the KHL, even without being the starting goalie for his team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Samsonov is a 97-born, which means that he can return next year as well, perhaps having a similar impact for the Russians as did Vasilevsky.
Other than Samsonov, Team Russia will bring Alexander Georgiyev and Maxim Tretiak to Helsinki, with the former being the favorite to be the second goaltender. Georgiyev is an interesting goalie who has undergone an unusual career path, as he chose to move to Finland after playing in the Russian MHL. He gained some very valuable experience playing in Finland’s top league and is now one of the most interesting undrafted goalies. Maxim Tretiak, the grandson of Vladislav, the famous Soviet goalie, will likely be the third-string goalkeeper for the Russians.
The highlight of the Russian defensive corps will most likely be Ivan Provorov (PHI). The 2015 first rounder is one of the three returnees from the 2015 WJC team, and it is likely that he will see plenty of ice time. Provorov was not much of a factor at last year’s WJC, but that shouldn’t be the case this year considering the undeniable progress he has made over the past year and the valuable experience he has gained during that time. The defenseman appeared in good shape in December and will be ready to fill a leading role.
Most of the remaining defensemen play in the CHL, including Sergei Zborovsky (NYR), Damir Sharipzyanov (LAK), and Sergei Boikov (COL). All of these players play a leading role on their CHL clubs, so the expectation is that the Russian defense will perform at an adequately high level, even if they are not as accomplished as the goalies and forwards.
It is a bit surprising that Bragin decided to not call on Kirill Lyamkin. The former Chicoutimi Sagueneens defenseman is having a good season in the KHL with Metallurg Novokuznetsk, with many having expected Lyamkin to be a part of this WJC squad.
As usual, Russia can boast great depth in the forward ranks. While this year’s team may lack a clear-cut, go-to guy like a Vladimir Tarasenko or Yevgeni Kuznetsov, the Russians still feature a number of high-quality forwards that should allow Bragin to roll four good offensive lines rather than just one very loaded first line. Cutting Yakov Trenin (NSH) speaks aloud about the kind of depth team Russia has when considering the forwards.
The team’s first line, at least for the start of the tournament, will consist of Evgeny Svechnikov (DET), Vladislav Kamenev (NSH), and Maxim Lazarev. This line will feature good size and two-way play in Kamenev and great offensive instincts in Lazarev and Svechnikov. The move overseas worked well in favor of Kamenev, who is having a good season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals despite his young age. He will also be the team’s captain. Cape Breton Screaming Eagles teammates Lazarev and Svechnikov are showing good chemistry in the QMJHL, making this line a solid and complete unit, and a threat for opponents in any situation.
Another couple of interesting players will be Denis Guryanov (DAL) and Alexander Dergachyov (LAK). Guryanov is not producing excellent statistics in the KHL this season, but he is improving at a good rate and adding a physical element to his play. Guryanov has scored three goals so far in his KHL rookie season. Dergachyov is posting similar numbers but he is playing on a much more stacked team, SKA St. Petersburg, and he plays a less offensive style, anyway. Guryanov will most likely play on a line with WHL prospect Radel Fazleev (PHI) and offensive dynamo Kirill Kaprizov (MIN). Kaprizov is having a good season in the KHL, as is Fazleev in Calgary with the Hitmen.
One player who could be a good surprise is Andrei Svetlakov. A capable center with a good touch around the crease, Svetlakov is having a solid rookie season in the KHL with CSKA Moscow, playing from time to time with Alexander Radulov. He can be an offensive threat and a physical presence, all-in-all a very interesting player who played well at the last month’s CHL Canada Russia Series and earned his spot on the roster with hard work. He will be one of the alternate captains, with the other one being Pavel Kraskovsky (WPG). Kraskovsky will most likely play on the second line with Avangard Omsk’s Artur Lauta and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s Yegor Korshkov.
Given their offensive depth and high level of goaltending, it is expected that Russia will challenge for a medal once again. Other top countries will bring competitive rosters to Finland, so it is hard to predict where this Russian squad will ultimately place. Of course, having Bragin behind the bench will add an extra coaching edge to this team, and this edge in coaching may give the Russians both a motivational and tactical bonus.
Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @