It’s been a long 11 years since Team Russia last hoisted the trophy and was crowned World Under-20 champions. Since then, they have racked up an impressive eight medals without ever reaching the very top.
Could this be the year where they turn it around? Well, there are questions to be asked here. Especially since management, headlined by newly appointed head coach Sergei Zubov, has chosen to exclude any player who currently resides on the “wrong” side of the Pacific Ocean. In a press release, the former NHL defenceman, and recently inducted Hockey Hall of Famer, doubled down on his decision to only choose players from the Russian leagues, stating that the guys playing in Russia are “stronger defensively” and that “the strongest players have been picked”.
OHL standouts Daniil Chayka, Daniil Gushchin and Matvei Petrov, as well as Ivan Miroshnichenko, a possible top five-draft choice this upcoming summer, may beg to differ, but to no avail. Instead, we’ll get to watch a Russian team that will have plenty of new faces for us to discover during the tournament.
Team Russia final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|30||Yaroslav Askarov||G||KHL||SKA St. Petersburg (NSH)|
|29||Yegor Guskov||G||MHL||Loko Yaroslavl|
|1||Maxim Motorygin||G||VHL||CSK VVS Samara|
|2||Vladimir Grudinin||D||MHL||Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (2022)|
|20||Kirill Kirsanov||D||KHL||SKA St. Petersburg (LAK)|
|7||Arseni Koromyslov||D||MHL||SKA 1946 St. Petersburg (2022)|
|27||Shakir Mukhamadullin||D||KHL||Salavat Yulaev Ufa (NJD)|
|14||Nikita V. Novkov||D||KHL||Dynamo Moskva (BUF)|
|25||Yegor Savikov||D||KHL||Spartak Moskva|
|12||Nikita Smirnov||D||VHL||SKA-Neva St. Petersburg|
|6||Kirill Steklov||D||MHL||Russkie Vityazi Chekhov|
|19||Nikita Chibrikov||F||VHL||SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (WIN)|
|16||Semyon Demidov||F||MHL||Russkie Vityazi Chekhov|
|8||Ivan Didkovsky||F||MHL||MHK Dynamo Moskva|
|21||Nikita Guslistov||F||KHL||Severstal Cherepovets (CAR)|
|22||Marat Khusnutdinov||F||KHL||SKA St. Petersburg (MIN)|
|17||Matvei Michkov||F||KHL||SKA St. Petersburg (2023)|
|28||Alexander Pashin||F||VHL||Toros Neftekamsk (CAR)|
|13||Vasily Ponomaryov||F||VHL||Khimik Voskresensk (CAR)|
|9||Fedor Svechkov||F||VHL||SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (NSH)|
|26||Kirill Tankov||F||VHL||Ska-Neva St. Petersburg (PIT)|
|18||Pavel Tyutnev||F||MHL||Loko Yaroslavl|
|24||Danila Yurov||F||KHL||Metallurg Magnitogorsk|
|11||Ivan Zinchenko||F||KHL||Vityaz Podolsk|
|23||Dmitri Zlodeyev||F||VHL||Khimik Voskresensk (VAN)|
Is it finally time for Yaroslav Askarov to shine? This will be the projected star goaltender’s third time playing in the World Junior Championship. The first time around, he seemed jittery, mistake-prone, and eventually got benched for Amir Miftakhov on his country’s way to the silver medal.
In 2021, Askarov played better during the early games but came up short in the playoff rounds, letting in six out of the 64 shots he faced as Team Russia lost both the semi-final and the bronze medal game.
So far this year, the youngster, who was drafted just outside of the top ten by the Nashville Predators in 2020, has seen limited action back home, but at this level, he should shine.
If he doesn’t, Team Russia will have a tough time impacting the medal rounds.
Russia will miss the creativity and relentless nature of Gushchin, who is a player you can deploy on any line to make it better. His absence from this team is bewildering to say the least.
In front of Askarov, a lot of pressure will lie on returning defencemen Shakir Mukhamadullin and Kirill Kirsanov to anchor the blueline and help their more inexperienced teammates blossom. Interestingly, coach Zubov hasn’t included a single right-handed defenceman in his roster. Get ready for an intriguing competition to play on their preferred side between the eight players selected for defensive duty.
Yes, on a good day Askarov is world-class talent at the goalie position. And yes, centreman Marat Khusnutdinov (the fourth and last returnee from 2021) is the glue that connects the offence with the defence. But when it comes to actual X-factor, you can’t deny that there is a new elephant in the room here.
Matvei Michkov may still be a year away from being able to legally sip on a glass of champagne with his caviar, but the youngest Russian player is still the most intriguing by a margin.
If there will ever be a true heir to Alexander Ovechkin, this may very well be it. Wherever Michkov has been so far in his young career, he has scored, scored, and then scored some more. On December 9, he turned 17 years old. Before his birthday, he had already become a regular on SKA St. Petersburg’s KHL juggernaut and toyed with the opposition while becoming the youngest ever debutant for the Russian senior national team.
If you become yet another one of Michkov’s many supporters and start looking forward to seeing the Perm-born talisman on a more regular basis in the NHL, you may have to wait for a while. Earlier this year, the teenager decided to put pen to paper on a contract that ties him to SKA St. Petersburg until the 2026 season.
The debate over who should actually be the expected number one draft choice in 2023, Michkov or Team Canada’s Connor Bedard will, at least for the broader masses, start during this tournament. That, if anything, is something to get excited about when watching Team Russia play.