Team Russia will arrive at the 2015 World Junior Championship with some momentum after that country’s solid Subway Super Series win last month. The team, led by Valery Bragin, back to the national team after the two-year run by Mikhail Varnakov, features the usual powerful offensive force, very good goaltending and suspect defense. The absence of Buffalo Sabres‘ defenseman Nikita Zadorov will surely affect the team, as he was thought to be a potential first-pairing defenseman.
Many players who played well at the Subway Super Series earned a spot on the WJC team, while others didn’t make the cut, most noticeably Vladimir Tkachev and Pavel Kraskovsky (WPG). Kraskovsky will have another chance next year, as he is a ’96-born. Traditionally, Bragin’s teams tend to be very heavy in terms of the oldest eligible players.
After a few years of dominance by Andrei Vasilevskiy, the goaltending lineup had to be changed as the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect is now graduated. The most likely starting goalie will be Ilya Sorokin (NYI). The Novokuznetsk native is having a good second pro season in the KHL, and he was recently acquired by contenders CSKA Moscow right before the league trade deadline. In Moscow, Sorokin won’t have as much as ice time but will have a chance to experience how it feels to be part of a strong team and, if necessary, play in the junior league on one of the top Russian junior teams. Recently Sorokin played his first game for the senior national team, further proof of his great value and potential.
The second goalie will most likely be Igor Shesterkin (NYR). The SKA St. Petersburg goalie is having a solid season in the VHL and played a couple of games in the KHL, too, performing very well at the Subway Super Series. The agile goalie will provide a good challenge for Sorokin to retain his important role on this year’s team.
Denis Kostin competed at the Super Series and is playing well in the KHL with Avangard Omsk, but most likely will be Russia’s third goalkeeper. While he is a solid goalie with interesting upside, he is a slightly inferior player when compared to Sorokin and Shesterkin.
The ’94 class of defensemen was very good for Russia, with some notable players like Nikita Tryamkin (VAN), Valeri Vasiliev (PHI) and Andrei Mironov coming out of that group. As they graduated and with Zadorov unavailable, Team Russia’s defense may struggle a bit against top opponents. Nevertheless, Russia will still have some good prospects on the blue line.
Ivan Provorov, eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, will most likely have a big role on this team. Provorov is having a very good season in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings, scoring at more than a point-per-game pace. His partner on the first defensive pair will most likely be Rinat Valiev (TOR). Just like Provorov, he is having a great season so far in the WHL, with more than a point per game in spite of an injury he suffered earlier in the season. Rushan Rafikov (CGY) will probably be the team’s captain as he already wore the “C” during the Subway Super Series. Rafikov is playing very well in the VHL for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s farm team, HK Ryazan, playing an important role at even strength and on the special teams units. It’s yet to see if Rafikov will be paired with long-time teammate, Vladislav Gavrikov. Among other players, many scouts will be interested in following Ziyat Paigin, a 6’6”, 210-pound defensive defenseman who is having a solid season in the KHL.
Team Russia will have plenty of talent up front, and this is confirmed by the fact that Bragin decided not to call two offensive dynamos like Nikita Scherbak (MTL) and Vladimir Tkachev.
Right now, Bragin is practicing with a first line made up of Ivan Barbashev (STL), Pavel Buchnevich (NYR), and undrafted Vyacheslav Leschenko. Leschenko can be a good complement for the Buchnevich–Barbashev dynamic duo, but will need to produce more than he did during the Super Series.
Bragin decided to spread talent a bit on the other lines, with the second unit likely including Nikolai Goldobin (SJS), Vladislav Kamenev (NSH), and Sergei Tolchinsky (CAR). This is potentially a high-scoring line, with plenty of skills in Goldobin and Tolchinsky and size in Kamenev. If they click, this line can potentially be one of the best in the whole tournament. Traditionally with Bragin, the bottom-six is comprised of mostly role players who can score and still defend and play hard, players like Alexander Sharov or Alexander Dergachev. An interesting player to watch will be Anatoly Golyshev. The 19-year-old right winger isn’t a very large player at 5’9” and 172 pounds, but he’s delivering for Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg and scored some highlight reel goals for them, totaling eight goals and 16 points so far this season.
The bottom line
With this roster and a winning coach behind the bench, it’s hard not to consider the Russians as contenders at the 2015 WJC. The absence of Zadorov will surely affect the team, but Russia’s depth and the offensive forces can compensate for the his loss, especially considering that the team has three solid goaltenders to rotate.
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