After having to settle for bronze at May’s IIHF World Hockey Championship in their home country, Russia will have an opportunity to turn the tables on their Canadian counterparts by claiming gold on enemy soil in September’s World Cup of Hockey.
The nation has amassed talent from both the NHL and the KHL, including two members of the Montreal Canadiens’ defence corps, to take on the world’s best teams.
|Sergei Bobrovsky||NHL||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|Semyon Varlamov||NHL||Colorado Avalanche|
|Andrei Vasilevskiy||NHL||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Alexei Emelin||NHL||Montreal Canadiens|
|Dmitry Kulikov||NHL||Florida Panthers|
|Alexey Marchenko||NHL||Detroit Red Wings|
|Andrei Markov||NHL||Montreal Canadiens|
|Nikita Nesterov||NHL||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Dmitry Orlov||NHL||Washington Capitals|
|Nikita Zaitsev||NHL||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Artem Anisimov||NHL||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Evgeny Dadonov||KHL||SKA Saint Petersburg|
|Pavel Datsyuk||KHL||SKA Saint Petersburg|
|Nikita Kucherov||NHL||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Nikolay Kulemin||NHL||New York Islanders|
|Evgeny Kuznetsov||NHL||Washington Capitals|
|Evgeni Malkin||NHL||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Vladislav Namestnikov||NHL||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|Alex Ovechkin||NHL||Washington Capitals|
|Artemi Panarin||NHL||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Vadim Shipachyov||KHL||SKA Saint Petersburg|
|Ivan Telegin||KHL||CSKA Moscow|
|Vladimir Tarasenko||NHL||St. Louis Blues|
Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin will be counted on to be the veteran presences on what is otherwise a very young blue line for the Russians. At forward, the team boasts some of the top offensive talents the world has to offer.
The forward depth should be the squad’s main threat in the tournament, but past experience has shown that the team hasn’t been able to function as a unit to turn that individual skill into a three-man offensive press. To combat that, the team has brought over some KHL players who have functioned very well together in recent years to help them overcome that common deficiency.
Evgeni Dadonov, rumoured Canadiens signee Vadim Shipachyov, and 2016 NHL Rookie of the Year Artemi Panarin dominated the KHL in 2014-15, and will more than likely be re-united for the World Cup. That gives Russia one great line, even if stars like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Nikita Kucherov fail to develop any sort of chemistry with their teammates.
The biggest concern for Russia will be their defence, relying mostly on players 25 years of age or younger. Dmitry Kulikov has a been a solid, if unspectacular, defenceman for the Florida Panthers the last few seasons, while Alexey Marchenko is coming off his rookie season in Detroit, and Nikita Nesterov his sophomore campaign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nikita Zaitsev has seen a lot of action with national teams over the years, but is still just 24 years old, and yet to play an NHL game with his Toronto Maple Leafs.
With Markov approaching the end of his hockey career, and Emelin more of a defensive specialist, Russia will rely heavily on the Washington Capitals’ Dmitry Orlov to be their star on the back end at both ends of the ice, and his play will be a big factor in how the team fares.
Nearly every aspect of the Russian team has question marks. Other than the forward chemistry and defensive inexperience already discussed, it remains to be seen if we will witness top-tier goaltending from their NHL netminders. Sergei Bobrovsky’s save percentage has been steadily declining since he won the Vezina Trophy in 2012-13, clocking in at just .908 last season. Semyon Varlamov didn’t fare much better, ranking 33rd among NHL goaltenders with a .914 save percentage in 2016-17. With the young blue line the team has, those goaltenders will be under even more pressure to hold the fort.
It seems like a fairly easy task to deploy the skilled athletes available, but situational player management has been one of the most boggling things about recent iterations of Team Russia in international events. Choosing to bench top offensive players while trailing late in a game, not using timeouts to rest star players with the goalie pulled, and sometimes preferring those players who play in the Russian leagues over better North American options are all frequent decisions we’ve come to expect of Russian coaching staffs, and those decisions have cost them the chance to compete for gold on more than one occasion.
This team has a lot of components that make them look like a top contender in this tournament. It all depends on how they are put together over the two weeks of the World Cup of Hockey.