Russia competed in the 2005 Ceska Poistovna Tournament with surprising success, due largely to the club’s exceptional goaltending and the top unit lead by Maxim Sushinsky. Below are the Soviet Sport newspaper evaluations of the national team players’ performances, with independent RussianProspects.com evaluations added for players who are considered NHL prospects.
Maxim Sushinsky – GRADE: 8.5
The national team’s captain without question became its leader. Maxim scored the national team’s first goal. In the match against the Czechs he added two more assists. Six of Russia’s seven goals were scored while Su-33 was on the ice. The tournament’s organizers and media also recognized his performance, as Sushinsky was voted as the tournament’s best forward and earned a place on the tournament’s all-star team.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: One of Russia’s most talented forwards over the past 3 years, Sushinsky did not disappoint in Russia’s first tournament since the end of the lockout. It is fortunate to see that the forward’s injury suffered during one of the recent preseason tournaments has completely healed. If the rumors that Sushinsky is headed to New York prove to be untrue, the veteran forward will continue to be Russia’s primary offensive asset.
Andrei Taratukhin (Calgary Flames)- GRADE: 8.0
Taratukhin’s debut on the national team was surprisingly successful. Andrei replaced Pavel Datsyuk on the squad’s top line. He, of course, did not attempt to copy Datsyuk on the ice. He kept himself a bit behind Kharitonov and Sushinsky. In the game against the Finns he made a great play when he finished the attack started by the two Dynamo (Moscow) players. In the match against the Swedes he won the face-off, which lead to the goal scored by Sushinsky. Taratukhin was the top scorer of the Ceska Poistovna tournament.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: Taratukhin couldn’t have hoped for a better opportunity and he fully capitalized on it. He largely benefited from Krikunov’s unwillingness to shift lines around and was given the chance to skate with two capable veterans with NHL experience- Kharitonov and Sushinsky. Known for his physical play and defensive upside, Taratukhin left a lot of the action to his linemates, but still stepped up his offensive game when necessary. While Taratukhin’s success is largely due to the ice time and his partners, it is safe to say that the young forward is on the national team to stay. It remains to be seen if the same is true for his position in Yaroslavl.
Denis Kulyash (Nashville Predators) – GRADE: 8.0
Confirmed his nickname as the national team’s “main gun”. He scored a goal against the Finns from the blue line, earning his first goal for the national team. In the match against the Czechs, Kulyash made a great first pass out of the zone to Kharitonov, who evened the score at one apiece. In the match against the Swedes, he fulfilled the role of a tough guy. The poor Swede who started the fight was only saved by the refs. He was happy with his fighting victory, but after some criticism from head coach Krikunov, Kulyash played more carefully.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: Kulyash delivered a solid performance at this tournament. He shored up his defensive play and proved he could handle the workload of playing on the top defensive pairing. The young defenseman continued to showcase his booming slap shot from the blue line, but also showed some of his overall potential with his nice feeds from the blue line. The young forward’s fight in the first game showed both his lack of fear and the enthusiasm with which this young player plays the game. Kulyash will continue to be Russia’s go to top line defenseman. Now that his transfer to Dynamo is complete, Kulyash will also likely get a lot of ice time under the national team and Dynamo head coach Krikunov.
Alexander Kharitonov – GRADE: 8.0
The third member of Russia’s top line. Enjoys a complete mutual understanding with Sushinsky. Kharitonov makes great one timers, is able to leave the puck for the linemate, and is able to quickly find an open spot. Dynamo’s combination (Kharitonov-Sushinsky) demonstrated its complete arsenal. He really helped the team out in the match against the Czechs when the Russians got a chance to tie the game with only three minutes left. He did not disappoint on his breakaway against experienced Hnilichka.
Alexander Eremenko – GRADE: 8.0
He played his second match for the national team. Again, Eremenko was very dependable. He allowed only one goal against the Finns, and even that one came towards the end of Russia’s lopsided 4:1 victory when Russia was already up 4:0. The goal he allowed did not decide anything. This usually means that the players trust him and spend more time on the attack.
Alexander Fomichev – GRADE: 8.0
Returned to the national team after a lengthy absence and played well. Still, he acknowledged that he did not feel overly confident in the first period, but was able to pull himself together.
Sergei Zvyagin – GRADE: 7.5
As the most experienced goalie at the tournament, Sergei had the task of being the first one tested. He allowed one goal more than his colleagues did, but it was not his fault.
Vitaly Atyushov (Ottawa Senators) – GRADE: 7.5
Atyushov scored twice on the power play. He precisely scored one of the goals himself, beating the Finnish goaltender between the pads. He handled a heavy workload, skating on the first line and playing in odd man situations.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: The Ottawa Senators overage draftee continues to raise eyebrows with his reliable, mature play. He was Russia’s workhorse at the tournament, doing everything from chipping in offensively to backing up Kulyash. Atyushov has a lot of potential and has what it takes to be a utility defenseman in the NHL.
Kiril Koltsov (Vancouver Canucks) – GRADE: 7.0
Defensively, he was the strongest player on the Russian squad. This was especially important since this was his national team debut. He mainly showed himself with his physical play within the rules.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: Koltsov’s defensive performance is likely a welcome site for Vancouver Canucks fans. The young defenseman proved very reliable in his own zone, and even more importantly, he fulfilled the coach’s defensive oriented instructions well and did not lose himself in the offensive end of the ice. Still, it would have been great to see more of an offensive showing from Koltsov, but the defensive reliability and surprisingly physical play are enough for one tournament. A solid debut for the talented blue liner.
Vadim Khomitsky (Dallas Stars) – GRADE: 7.0
Played very reliably on the same pairing with Kiril Koltsov.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: A welcome addition to the national team. Khomitsky made his mark with reliable play in his own zone and a physical presence. An underrated defenseman, Khomitsky is a very versatile package with solid skating, size and an offensive upside. Known to at times get carried away in the physical and confrontational aspect of the game, Khomitsky was surprisingly in control during the tournament – likely due to the instruction from Russia’s coach Krikunov.
Sergei Zhukov – GRADE: 7.0
The only Russian defenseman who did not register a single penalty in this tournament. Considering that, Sergei still played very tight to the opponents, forcing his opponents to worry.
Anton Kuryanov – GRADE: 7.0
Scored only one goal throughout the tournament, but it was Russia’s most important goal. This goal allowed Russia to beat the Czechs and earn second place at the Ceska Poistovna tournament.
Dmitri Vorobiev (Toronto Maple Leafs) – GRADE: 6.5
A defenseman from Lada, especially one with the same last name as the squad’s defensively oriented head coach, should play strong defensive hockey. The Finns managed to score their only goal when Vorobiev was on the ice, but the goal made no difference in the outcome of the match.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: Vorobiev made a smooth transition from Russia’s U20 to Russia’s senior national team. While he is not a sure thing for the World Championships, the young defenseman proved he was capable of handling the game at the senior international level, already proving last season he could do so at the Russian Super League level. Vorobiev played reliably in his own end of the ice, but showed little of the offensive upside he was known for at the U20 WJC, again, likely due to the coaching instructions.
Alexander Titov – GRADE: 6.0
Due to the injury to Ivan Nepriayev, he was forced to become a two-way player. He spent the last two games of the tournament centering the second line. It was during his time on the ice that the Russians allowed the only goal during the match against the Czechs.
Andrei Zabolotnev – GRADE: 6.0
Originally fulfilling the role of a spare seventh defenseman, he then replaced Titov on the defensive corps when that blue liner played center. His pairing allowed both Finns and Swedes to score.
Andrei Kuteykin – GRADE: 6.0
He played well for the most junior member of the team. He only made one bad mistake, but it was that exact mistake that led the Russians to come away from the first game without any points.
Anton But (Tampa Bay Lightning)- GRADE: 6.0
The only forward from the Yaroslavl line that had some real chances to score. He hit the post a couple of times, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to put the puck in the net once.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: But delivered his usual performance at the Ceska Poistovna tournament. He has been a long-time member of Russia’s national team and has more or less leveled off in his development. Despite his lack of production, But was a real threat at this tournament, creating a number of great scoring chances. He will continue to contribute offensively at the EuroTour tournaments, but will likely play a marginal role or be one of the last cuts for the World Championships.
Igor Mirnov (Ottawa Senators) – GRADE: 6.0
It would be difficult to call his debut a bright one. However, his performance was not at all a failure either. His line looked solid, though they did have difficulties converting their superiority into goals.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: Mirnov made a very low-key national team debut. He skated on Russia’s back up line, and didn’t get the ice time to make much happen offensively. He still managed to create a few scoring chances, however, and showed the willingness to get his nose dirty in traffic.
Danis Zaripov – GRADE: 6.0
Skated on the same line with Mirnov. Same as with Mirnov, Zaripov’s debut wasn’t a bright one, but it would also be hard to consider him a failure. Zaripov worked hard and had his chances, though he wasn’t able to convert on any of them.
Ivan Tkachenko (Columbus Blue Jackets) – GRADE: 5.0
He couldn’t find his groove at the tournament, often losing the puck while breaking into the zone. The only excuse could be that in the second game Tkachenko line lost his center Nepriayev, and that could have caused the unimpressive performance from the Yaroslavl line.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: Like that of his other Yaroslavl based linemate, Tkachenko’s development appears to have leveled off a bit and he hasn’t shown anything different at this tournament as at the ones last year, or the year before that. The young forward hasn’t gained any mass and continues to be easy to stop, especially for bigger defensemen. He often lost the puck because the defense simply manhandled him on his strafes into the offensive zone. Tkachenko needed to use his linemates better and he continues to need to improve in traffic.
Alexei Kaigorodov (Ottawa Senators) – GRADE: 5.0
A lot more was expected from one of the most talented forwards in the Super League. Alexei at times showed flashes of individual brilliance, but these flashes had little impact on the overall cohesion of his line.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: This was clearly not Kaigorodov’s tournament, though a lot of it had to do with playing with completely new linemates, as he has never played with Chistov or Platonov before this summer. The three displayed virtually no chemistry.
Stanislav Chistov (Anaheim Mighty Ducks) – GRADE: 5.0
Three years ago Chistov was considered one of the most talented young Russian players. Some expected that he would return from the NHL as a matured player, but that is not noticeable yet.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: See Kaigorodov’s comments. Chistov continues to adjust to the bigger ice surface, but it will be at least another couple of months before the young player begins to remind the observers of his full potential. The hefty expectations placed on his shoulders prior to the tournament didn’t help either.
Denis Platonov (Nashville Predators) – GRADE: 4.5
At times was at odds on his line. In the neutral zone he would try to stickhandle the puck around players without much success. At times it may have been wiser for Platonov to do things the simple way.
RUSSIANPROSPECTS.COM: See Kaigorodov’s comments. Platonov’s presence didn’t hurt the national team, but he clearly displayed little chemistry with his linemates. The physical young forward has to be used properly to be effective, and he was not at this tournament. Also, Platonov’s offensive upside is too low for the player to be used with the potentially offensive pairing of Kaigorodov and Chistov. If Russia’s head coach wanted to perpetuate the “club” line motif, he could have used Gladskykh instead of Platonov.
Ivan Nepriayev (Washington Capitals) – GRADE: N/A
Nepriayev’s grade is N/A due to an injury he suffered during the first minutes of the second game.
Written by Soviet Sport staff and Eugene Belashchenko (RussianProspects.com), translated by Eugene Belashchenko (RussianProspects.com). For more information on Russian hockey prospects, visit RussianProspects.com