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2019 World Junior Hockey Championship: Team Russia preview & roster

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Canadiens prospect Alexander Romanov leads a Russian team with some high end skill.

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Russia is coming off of a disappointing fifth place finish in last year’s World Junior Hockey Championship after a 4-2 loss to the United States in the quarterfinal.

Last year’s non-medal finish broke a seven-year medal streak for Russia that started in 2011 and included four gold medal games, going 1-3 in those appearances. It should be noted, that the last time that Russia finished outside of the medals, they won the tournament the next year.

Canadiens prospect Alexander Romanov will be a player that many will be intrigued by. Romanov was a surprising second-round pick by the team and took part in the Russia-Canada series earlier in the year.

He also scored this goal in a pre-tournament game against Sweden.

Team Russia final roster

# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
20 Pyotr Kochetkov G VHL HK Ryazan
1 Amir Miftakhov G VHL Irbis Kazan
30 Daniil Tarasov G VHL Toros Neftekamsk (CBJ)
4 Alexander Alexeyev D WHL Red Deer Rebels (WSH)
6 Ilya Morozov D KHL Sibir Novosibirsk
8 Saveli Olshansky D VHL Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk
26 Alexander Romanov D KHL CSKA Moskva (MTL)
27 Mark Rubinchik D VHL Toros Neftekamsk
5 Dmitri Samorukov D OHL Guelph Storm (EDM)
2 Danila Zhuravlyov D VHL Bars Kazan (COL)
28 Grigori Denisenko F VHL Lada Togliatti (FLA)
9 Artyom Galimov F VHL Irbis Kazan
24 Klim Kostin F AHL San Antonio Rampage (STL)
15 Nikolai Kovalenko F KHL Loko Yaroslavl (COL)
14 Vitali Kravtsov F KHL Traktor Chelyabinsk (NYR)
12 Kirill Marchenko F MHL SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (CBJ)
17 Ivan Morozov F MHL SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova (VGK)
23 Ivan Muranov F KHL MHK Dynamo Moskva
11 Vasili Podkolzin F MHL SKA-1946 St. Petersburg
18 Nikita Shashkov F KHL Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk
16 Pavel Shen F KHL Tolpar Ufa (BOS)
29 Kirill Slepets F KHL Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
10 Stepan Starkov F KHL HK Sochi

Weaknesses

Russia has a lot of talent, but they are inexperienced. Only two players are expected to return from a year ago. It usually is an older player’s tournament, but it is still rare to see a top country with so few returning players. Russia’s strength is in their 18-year-old crop so this may be another transition year before all of those key players are in their final year of eligibility.

I do have to point out that it is hard to find weaknesses in this Russian roster and if they put every thing together they can easily be seen as a team fighting for a medal. For every negative, like their lack of experience at this tournament, there’s a ton of professional experience. There may be some issues with depth, but the top end talent is so good it overcomes it.

Strengths

Their trio of goaltenders are all in the VHL, the league just below the KHL and above the junior level (MHL). Daniil Tarasov, the third-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets and son of former Canadiens goaltending prospect Vadim, should be expected to be the starter and he has a 1.95 goals against average and .916 save percentage this season, the best numbers of the three.

Russia’s defence is somewhat of a mixed bag but is led by Washington Capitals first-round pick Alexander Alexeyev. They also have two defenders who are playing full-time in the KHL in Romanov and Ilya Morozov. In all, they have 10 players in camp who have played most of their games in the KHL this season and several more who have made at least one appearance.

They may not have World Junior experience, but most of these players have significant pro experience. Their forwards are led by Kostin, who has played the entire year in the AHL, Vitali Kravtsov, Ivan Morozov, Grigori Denisenko with pro experience and Ivan Chekhovich, and Alexander Khovanov who have had success in Canadian junior hockey.

X-Factor

This tournament may be the coming out party for Kravtsov. The New York Rangers first-round pick leaped into the top 10 when the Rangers took him in the 2018 NHL Draft coming off of a playoff performance in the KHL that saw him named as the league’s rookie of the year. He had six goals and five assists in 16 playoff games after scoring four goals and three assists in 35 KHL regular season games.

Kravtsov has spent the entire season with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL scoring six goals and adding 11 assists in 33 games this season. He leads a Russian team that has a ton of elite talent.

Another player to watch is Nikolai Kovalenko, yes, the son of former Canadiens forward Andrei. He was drafted in the sixth round by his father’s former team, the Colorado Avalanche, and is another of the Russian forward who is playing in the top domestic league. He has played 24 games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, scoring four goals and adding an assist. Kovalenko was born in Releigh while his dad was playing for the Carolina Hurricanes.

But like every Russian team, it will come down to the goaltending they receive. If they are able to shut teams down with solid goaltending, they have the skill and talent to outscore you but if they allow a lot of goals, it makes that task a lot tougher.

Whether they win a medal may come down to their quarterfinal opponent. Unless they win their pool, their opponent will be the United States, Finland, or Sweden and it could come down to their game against Canada on New Year’s Eve.