The 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship was quite successful for the Team Russia as the team headed home with their sixth straight medal, winning a silver medal as they did at last year’s tournament.
The last couple of teams led by Russian head coach Valeri Bragin had fewer stars and more hard-working players, and this was particularly evident this year, especially considering that a couple of the more highly-regarded players did not deliver nor played up to expectations. Another interesting aspect of this year’s silver medalists is that this team had more younger players than usual, with a total of six players being eligible to skate at the 2017 WJC in Montreal and Toronto.
It is hard to name a single forward who was the best for the team. The Russians brought to Finland a very solid roster and it showed, as different players alternated in delivering good performances when needed – Vladislav Kamenev in the quarterfinals against Denmark, Yegor Korshkov in the semifinals against the USA, and finally, Andrei Svetlakov with his pair of goals in the gold medal game. However, Yegor Korshkov was probably the best overall forward as he appeared on the scoresheet with a certain regularity, ending up with eight points which tied him with Ivan Provorov for the team lead. Kamenev had a very good tournament too, with five goals and six points in seven games. He was a force for the Russians, providing the team with a strong two-way game and being effective at both ends of the ice. He also served as team captain, showing the Nashville Predators that he could be ready for an NHL call-up.
Forecasting that Ivan Provorov would have been Russia’s best defenseman for this team wasn’t hard. The 2015 first rounder lived up to expectations with a great tournament and an excellent medal round. He did not have many lapses in the defensive zone, closing many gaps and working hard, and was absolutely great in the offensive zone with great vision and passing, and contributing when it was truly needed by the team. Provorov did not play as well at last year’s tournament; he was still young, and his time on ice was more limited. But this year, he showed that he has improved a great deal and demonstrated to be one of the top defensive prospects in the entire world. Provorov may have a gig with the Philadelphia Flyers next year, but if the Russians will have Provorov again in Montreal, he could be a killer addition to the team.
This year’s team was very solid and equilibrated, providing good team play in each zone with strong goaltending, defensive play, and offensive creation. This was a hard-working team without stars. Both Provorov and Kamenev are deserving of the MVP label, but the silver medal was ultimately a united effort.
The reasons behind team Russia’s good play
Even though Bragin’s team didn’t return home with a gold medal, there is much to be reassured with. The team featured some excellent players in Kamenev, Provorov, Ilya Samsonov (WSH), and others. Moreover, while some prospects may have not excelled statistically, they instead proved to be effective and willing to do what was asked of them, including the likes of NHL-drafted players Alexander Dergachyov (LAK), Kirill Kaprizov (MIN) and Pavel Kraskovsky (WPG).
All in all, the Russians were a well-coached team with a great team spirit and some excellent individual performances. Losing in the finals in overtime cannot be considered a failure. The Russians were also able to overcome the low-level play of some of their expected leaders, like Evgeny Svechnikov (DET), who finished the tournament with a surprising zero points. Bragin had some questionable choices in terms of players chosen for this squad, but it is unlikely that the players left at home (like Yakov Trenin or Denis Guryanov) would have made a true difference.
2016 prospect who helped himself
In the previous couple of years, Yegor Korshkov had limited exposure so his being passed over in the NHL Draft wasn’t that surprising. This year, however, things could change for the better as he had an incredible World Junior tournament, showing excellent offensive play and clutch ability. While Korshkov may not have an NHL body, he definitely has NHL-level puck and skating skills along with some good experience in pro hockey with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL.
2016 prospect who hurt his standing
Maxim Lazarev did not have the best tournament in Finland, even if his statistical output of two goals and six points looked respectable. But much more was expected of he and Svechnikov, so this WJC cannot be considered a good springboard for this potential NHL Draft pick.
Follow Alessandro Seren Rosso on Twitter via @AlexSerenRosso