Russia has been one of the most consistent performers in the annual World Junior Hockey Championship, claiming a medal in each of the previous six tournaments, and missing the podium just once in the last 12 years.
In the last two events, they’ve settled for silver. A comeback from 5-1 down fell just short in Toronto in 2015, ultimately resulting in a 5-4 loss to the host nation. Last year, Russia mounted a more successful comeback versus Finland, tying the game up in the dying seconds to take the final to overtime, but once again they looked on as the home side celebrated a championship victory.
This year, the team will be hoping to complete the job with the gold medal, and they have some top-tier players to help them achieve that goal.
|#||Player||Position||League||Current Team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current Team (NHL)|
|1||Anton Krasotkin||G||MHL||Loko Yaroslavl|
|30||Ilya Samsonov||G||KHL||Metallurg Magnitogorsk (WSH)|
|20||Vladislav Sukhachyov||G||MHL||Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk|
|23||Grigoriy Dronov||D||KHL||Metallurg Magnitogorsk|
|2||Vadim Kudako||D||KHL||Severstal Cherepovets|
|28||Yegor Rykov||D||KHL||SKA Saint Petersburg (NJD)|
|26||Mikhail Sergachev||D||OHL||Windsor Spitfires (MTL)|
|3||Mikhail Sidorov||D||KHL||Ak Bars Kazan|
|29||Artyom Volkov||D||VHL||Dynamo Balashikha|
|15||Yegor Voronkov||D||KHL||Vityaz Podolsk|
|6||Sergey Zborovskiy||D||WHL||Regina Pats (NYR)|
|21||Denis Alexeyev||F||VHL||HK Ryazan|
|14||Kirill Belyayev||F||KHL||Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk|
|27||Denis Guryanov||F||AHL||Texas Stars (DAL)|
|7||Kirill Kaprizov||F||KHL||Salavat Yulaev Ufa (MIN)|
|19||Pavel Karnaukhov||F||VHL||Zvezda Chekhov|
|9||Danila Kvartalnov||F||VHL||Zvezda Chekhov|
|10||Alexander Polunin||F||KHL||Lokomotiv Yaroslavl|
|17||German Rubtsov||F||MHL||Russkie Vityazi Chekhov (PHI)|
|25||Yakov Trenin||F||QMJHL||Gatineau Olympiques (NSH)|
|8||Kirill Urakov||F||KHL||Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod|
|24||Mikhail Vorobyov||F||KHL||Salavat Yulaev Ufa (PHI)|
|22||Danil Yurtaikin||F||VHL||HK Ryazan|
If creating a quality team starts from the goaltender and moves outward, the Russians are in good position. Ilya Samsonov, who got two games as the backup netminder last year, returns to lead the team in 2017. Since his World Juniors showing a year ago, he has seen steady time in the KHL, and has been named Rookie of the Week on three occasions in the 2016 calendar year. He left his team holding a .936 save percentage through 19 games in the world’s second-best league, holding a top-10 position in that category with just 39 games of top-tier experience.
The defence corps Russia brings over to Canada is possibly the best of all the participating teams. Several defenders have been playing well as junior-aged prospects in the KHL, as Mikhail Sidorov and Yegor Rykov have put in impressive performances thus far. They will also get quality minutes from two CHL prospects who are leading their teams in a major way: Sergei Zborovsky of the Regina Pats, with his 32 points and +51 goal differential, and Montreal Canadiens prospect Mikhail Sergachev of the Windsor Spitfires.
At forward, they have a player who should be regarded as one of the most dynamic of the entire tournament. Kirill Kaprizov already has a KHL All-Star Game appearance under his belt, and has put up 30 points in 37 games this season. With three points in last year’s World Juniors, you can expect to see his name on the scoresheet in 2017 with much more regularity.
Outside of Kaprizov, however, there are few forwards who look to pose much of an offensive threat. The best bet to chip in offensively is probably a player currently playing junior hockey in Canada. The QMJHL’s Yakov Trenin have been producing this year, and Russia will need his offence to carry over to international competition.
Whether the team will be optimized to take advantage of their defensive depth and find offensive opportunities for their few talented forwards is a legitimate question for a coaching strategy that is perennially criticized for the personnel decisions that result. The plan seems to be to roll all four lines, regardless of game situation or time remaining, and that usually leads to frustration from even casual observers when they aren’t seeing the best use of the skills available.
Look no further than last year’s decision to play Alexandar Georgiyev in net over Samsonov for the majority of the games in the tournament, depite the latter having better numbers coming into the event, and looking to be the best option as the tournament played out.
With a strong defence and a shallow offence, Team Russia is set up to live or die by its special teams. The penalty kill should be very strong with the quality of the goaltending and professional experience of the defencemen, so it will be up to Kaprizov’s power-play unit to make sure Russia is able to take advantage whenever it gets an odd-man opportunity.
You should see a lot of Sergachev whenever Russia goes up a man, and his vision should help to create scoring chances for even the mediocre offensive talents on the team.
They have enough talent to pot a goal or two on the power-play in any given game, and with the quality of the defensive personnel, that may be all they need to rack up a few wins.