Not many experts thought that the Russian team would be in the final four, let alone two, at the 2007 WJC. But they are there thanks to the stellar goaltending of 2006 Washington Capitals first rounder Semen Varlamov, and to Alexei Cherepanov, a 17-year-old draft-eligible winger.
After the preliminary round, with seven points (5 goals, 2 assists), Cherepanov ranked second in the tournament scoring list, just one point shy of the Finn Perttu Lindgren (DAL). He now has another goal for eight points in five games. Cherepanov is playing on the first Russian line with Alexander Bumagin (EDM) and Anton Krysanov (PHX).
Surprisingly, Cherepanov was never selected for the Russian roster for the U-18 IIHF World Championships. But in 2006, he was the best scorer of a four-nation tournament in Sweden.
The 6’0, 183-pound winger made the final roster of the RSL league Omsk Avangard last fall. He then really began to make a lot of noise around him while he scored points in seven games in a row in last October.
With 28 games played so far in the Russian Superleague, he has19 points (10 goals, 9 assists), which is four points more than Alexander Ovechkin earned at the same age in 40 games. Evgeni Malkin (PIT) totalled 12 points at the age of 17 in 34 games.
The NHL Central Scouting Bureau ranked Cherepanov first among the Russian prospects on its preliminary list last fall. According to the CSS Head scout in Russia, Denis Neznanov, Cherepanov ‘’has an excellent hockey sense, he has soft hands and is very smart on the ice. He plays with passion and has a very good attitude.
‘’He is a wunderkind of hockey who brings crowds to ice arenas in Russia when Omsk comes any town, he could be the next Russian superstar,’’ observed Neznanov.
The Russian coach and former member of the famous Moscow Dynamo, Evgeni Popikhin, is very proud of his youngster.
‘’Cherepanov has a lot of qualities, he is an excellent pass maker and he is staying grounded despite all the talks about him in Russia and outside the country,’’ commented Popikhin after a win in Leksand, Sweden.
Cherepanov was born on Jan. 15, 1989, in Barnaul, a 750,000 inhabitants Siberian town, situated 4000 kilometers from Moscow, which means a 52-hour train ride from the Russian city.
‘’I began skating at the age of 3, my father and mother decided that I would play hockey to be sure that I would not lose my time in the streets of the city,’’ said Cherepanov with a large smile to Hockey’s Future in the lobby of a hotel in Tallberg, Sweden.
The mother of Cherepanov, Rita, works in a youth sport club while is father, Andrei, coaches football and hockey, “while he is not watching me playing hockey,’’ commented Cherepanov, still smiling.
‘’A lot of people have contributed to my development as a hockey player, so I can’t name them all, I’m afraid to forget some. Nevertheless, I will say that my father played an essential role and I will mention my actual coach in Omsk, Valeri Belousov, who has given me the chance to play in the RSL.’’
Cherepanov is aware that he is now known in North America and that the interest for him is increasing among the NHL world of hockey. ‘’I know that and I appreciate it, but I do not give it a lot of attention because I just want to play hockey and keep developing as a hockey player. I still have a lot to improve to be a better hockey player,’’ he pointed out.
When he was younger, he played soccer. Outside of hockey, he doesn’t really have interests besides computers because he ‘’doesn’t really have time, being mainly dedicated to hockey.’’
Cherepanov has never crossed the Atlantic Ocean through North America. Asked if he will go to Toronto next spring to participate in the annual NHL Combine, he said that he has talked about that possibility with his agents (Jay Grossman and his Russian representative) but has not made a decision yet.
Is he interested to come in the CHL next year? ‘’I haven’t thought about that yet,” he said. “In the Russian Superleague, I can play at a very high level. I know though that the CHL offers a great hockey level and that there are really good players in the CHL, but I can improve also my game while playing with Omsk.’’
Whatever his choice is, Cherepanov has opened a lot of eyes so far and he will be a very high-touted prospect next June. In Sweden, the NHL scouts hesitate to talk too much publicly about the Russian phenom as they don’t want to share their real evaluation. One of them said to Hockey’s Future, ‘’he is really good, but he has to improve his skating abilities.’’
Cherepanov was ranked 22nd on the ISS December list. There is no doubt that he will end up much higher on ISS and on every other scouting service list, probably on the top five or six. And who knows what can happen if he has a strong final in this WJC and a good ride in the rest of his RSL season with Omsk?
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