World Junior Cup: Sweden-Russia game recap

By Robert Neuhauser
World’s top 1984 born players, excluding the USA team gathered this
week in the Czech cities Nymburk, Kolin and Mlada Boleslav to take part in the World Junior
Cup of the Under-18 teams. Lots of future NHLers play here and lots of scouts watch them.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to watch a game of the Czech team, but I was at the Sweden-Russia
contest instead. I concentrated mostly on the Russian players like forwards Vladislav Evseev, Dmitri
Kazionov, Nikolai Zherdev or Dmitri Korneev and defensemen Anton Babchuk with Kirill Stepanov,
all of whom will likely become top draft picks in their respective draft years. On the Swedish
team, top 2003 prospect Robert Nilsson caught my eye. I’ll try to comment their game with their
strengths and weaknesses after a recap of the game.

As it could be forseen, both teams showed a fast-paced game with some great plays from some
individuals. There weren’t lots of hits, even if in the first seconds of the game a Swedish
player delivered a great hit which sent his Russian opponent to the Russia’s players bench.
The young Swedes played defensively very well and the Russians had a hard time finding holes
in their defense. But they have players who can find them. The tall alternate captain with
the number 19 on his back, Vladislav Evseev, immediately showed his great skill when he grabbed
the puck in the neutral zone, went for an one-on-one situation, deked the Swedish defenseman
with a nifty stick move but was too close to the Swedish goalie Joakim Lundstrom to lift the
puck over him and Lundstrom made a save.

Players on both sides could enjoy lots of powerplay situations as there were lots of penalties.
The first was Swedish, with Maxim Krivonojkin in the penalty box was uneffective, but the
following Russian was almost the opposite. Denis Grot as the powerplay quarterback on the
blue line passed the puck to his teammate standing at the top of the faceoff circle who
immediately fed Andrei Temirtachev on the other side. Now he had an almost empty net in
front of him, because the goalie had to move to the other side first, and the puck on his stick.
Temirtachev fired a slap shot, but the puck hit only the goalpost which led to a wave of
disappointment on the Russian bench.

The Russian two-man advantage was uneffective just like three consecutive Swedish powerplays
at the end of the first period. Both teams have built a wall in front of their goalies, but
the Russian penalty killing units seemed to play better. Especially Anton Babchuk was very
effective, blocked a lot of shots and was willing to use his big body to stop the Swedes,
nevertheless it was along the boards or at the center ice. When in trouble, he simply fired
the puck away by using the boards but otherwise he delivered nice outlet passes which helped
the Russians to move the game out of their zone. So, after the first period the score was 0:0.

Soon after the beginning of the second period the Russians took the lead. Evgeni Issakov scored
an unassisted marker as he won the battle for the puck at the boards, skated across the Swedish
zone, avoided a contact with the defenseman and then fired a nice wrist shot which went over
Lundstrom’s shoulder into the net.

But the game was tied two minutes later. With Igor Ignatouchkin in the penalty box, the Swedes
played a powerplay. Andreas Valdix fired a slap shot, which fell out of the glove of Konstantin
Barulin in the net for Russia. Fredrik Johansson then simply tipped the puck into the net to
tie the game.

In the tough battle of the second period the individual skills of the Russian players were
on display against the defensive Swedes. Especially Nikolai Zherdev and Vladislav Evseev were
the stars. Zherdev’s marvellous stickhandling skills led to lots of takeaways and dangerous
situations in front of the Swedish net. Evseev’s aggresive forechecking and one-on-one skills
brought him nearly two breakaway situations but Vladislav couldn’t deke more than two Swedes,
because they were all hunting him. At one of those situations, Vladislav deked one player and
raced with the other defenseman to the Swedish net. Evseev fired a great wrist shot, but the
puck hit only the crossbar, leading to a “whooo” in the stands.

With nearly 4 minutes to go in the second period the Russians took the lead again. Evgeni
Issakov scored again as he rebounded the loose puck back into the Swedish net while standing
near the left goalpost. So the Russians enjoyed an one goal lead going into the third period.

In the third period the Swedes began fighting again and they soon tied the game. Defenseman
Daniel Sondell fired a slap shot from the blue line which went through the screen and ended
in the Russian net. Robert Nilsson, even if one year younger than most of the players,
was the leader of the most of the
Swedish attacks. He also showed his stickhandling skills when he deked a player in the neutral
zone with a smart move and then showed a perfect avoiding of the defenseman but Konstantin
Barulin robbed the puck.

Russia’s powerplay was very exciting to watch, but there was no goal. The players combined well but
there was always the last shot missing. Dmitri Korneev played a great third period when
he always tried to be free and receive a pass and when on the puck, he didn’t hesitate to
shoot it. He had a nice one-on-one situation when he sent the puck between the legs of the
Swedish defenseman, raced alongside him, had the puck on the stick again, fired a wrist shot
but Lundstrom delivered a great glove save to stop the play.

Then there was a spectacular situation in front of the Russian net. The Swedish players tried
to convince the referee that one of them has rebounded the puck behind the back of Barulin
but the referee Homola called it a save.

Within the last seconds of the game Dmitri Korneev could drag the victory for the Russians.
Evgeni Issakov was lying injured on the ice, but the play went on. Nikolai Zherdev passed the puck
from the top left faceoff circle to the other side, where Korneev was preparing for an one-timer.
He one-timed the shot but Lundstrom miracously saved by a kick save. Through the last seconds
of the game the game remained tied, so it finished as a 2:2 tie.
After the game, Evgeni Issakov and Fredrik Johansson were voted as the best players of their
respective teams.

Vladislav Evseev
The projected 2002 top 3 pick really showed the skills which helped him to this projection.
Incredibly smart and skilled, Vladislav drives hard to the net and is willing to use his
big frame to make a play. A very good aggresive skater with soft hands excells with the puck
and plays terrific in one-on-one situations. Vladislav has all the shooting arsenal and a
perfect hockey vision and sense. He passes and scores equally well and his aggresive
forechecking brings him lots of pucks. He seems also to be good defensively and he knows how
to take care of his own end. On the downside, even if Vladislav isn’t shy of the rough
stuff, he could be tougher along boards and deliver some more hits, as it seemed to me in this
game. But otherwise he had a great performance, led the Russian attacks and excelled in one-on-one
situations. Definitely a future star.

Nikolai Zherdev
Mr.Stickhandler was flying on the ice and took lots of pucks from the Swedish players. His
superb vision allowed him to pass it very smart, but more often Nikolai likes to have the puck
on his stick. With his great hands and excellent skating he was always a threat for the Swedes.
Nikolai has an ability to make an unprecendented play and he needed only more luck to score
a goal in this contest. He also took a penalty in the first period of the game.
Zherdev didn’t play defensively well, but he likes to fly on the wing
and score. Has the tools to be a very good NHL goalscorer.

Dmitri Kazionov
On a line with Vladislav Evseev and Maxim Krivonojkin, the flashy Kazionov displayed nearly
the same offensive skills as Evseev. The projected 2002 first round pick displayed excellent
skating and lateral movement along with nice puckhandling skills. A quick, elusive skater with
slick playmaking skills seems to be very poised when on the puck. Dmitri looks like he can
develop into a very good two-way forward. Blessed with superb vision and hockey sense, Dmitri
is a huge offensive threat but he also won’t hurt you defensively. He seems to be a late
first-rounder next year.

Dmitri Korneev
In the game against Sweden, Korneev had two huge scoring chances, but unfortunately failed
to score. Korneev skates well and can bring himself into scoring situations. Dmitri drives
aggresively to the net and is a good puckhandler. He seems to prefer shooting to passing
as has a nice accurate wrist shot. Dmitri is willing to play in traffic and he knows how to manage
it. Dmitri showed a willingness to battle for scoring positions and seems to have a bright
future.

Anton Babchuk
A top defenseman for the 2002 NHL draft, Anton showed a great all-round play. He was very good
defensively, blocked lots of shots and his long reach and huge frame helped him to break up
plays and hit the Swedes. He also kept the play simple and didn’t try to make any dangerous
passes. It was evident that Anton has excellent passing skills as he delivered smart and
accurate passes, but he could use his hard shot more. He also displayed nice offensive upside
and an ability to join the rush, once he was in an one-on-one situation, but the Swedish
defenseman forced him to fire a bad shot. He also had to serve one penalty for charging.
Anton seems like a very solid defenseman with nice offensive upside. Highly talented.

Kirill Stepanov
Paired with Konstantin Korneev for most of the game, Stepanov played a good defensive game
and he supported the offense quite a lot. He seems to have very good passing skills and has
a strong outlet pass, but his shooting skills could be better. Kirill plays positionally very
well and almost can’t be caught out of position. A very solid skater, Kirill could play a bit
more harder in order to succeed in North America. He needs to work on that, but otherwise
Stepanov looks to be a very solid prospect, even if still a bit raw. He also served a two minute
penalty in the game.

Robert Nilsson
The son of former Swedish idol Kent Nilsson played great for a 16-year old. Blessed with
excellent vision and hockey sense, Robert is a terrific skater and a slick puckhandler. He
showed all the offensive tools including very good passing and shooting skills. Nilsson is
strong on his skates and fights hard for the puck in the corners, too. Robert also takes care
of his own end and doesn’t seem to have any glaring weakness. Seems to be a very high 2003
pick.

I’m aware that I can’t give so good information as those who see the young Russians and
Swedes more often, so please take the player reports as general information, because a player
can’t be judged by one game, of course. I just had the opportunity to see them play live and
tried to give you some general impressions. Next time I’ll be back with a Czech Republic-Russia
game recap, with comments on Czech players. Thanks for reading!