There is no question, one of the most elite and prominent junior programs in the world belongs to the Russians.
They have been at the top since the tournament began in the 1970’s when they were the Soviet Union. If you want to know how consistently good the Russians have been in this tournament, just look at how many medals they have won. If you include the Soviet Union (and the Unified Team in 1992) the Russians have won 10 bronze medals, 12 silver medals, and 13 gold medals. That is 35 medals, meaning they have only missed the podium seven times. Canada is the only country remotely close with 31 medals. The Russians always come in with a highly talented roster, and this year is no different. This team is more than capable of adding a 36th medal to the team’s trophy case.
Returning to Glory
Despite consistently racking up medal after medal, it has been a few years since the Russians have tasted gold. Their last championship came in 2011 in Buffalo, when they had one of the greatest comebacks in tournament history, upsetting the Canadians after going down 3-0 in the final. However, the Russians have been unable to find the top of the podium since. Three silvers and three bronzes in the last seven tournaments. The team took quite a dip last year, losing to Sweden and the Czechs in pool play, before finishing fifth place after falling to the Americans in the quarterfinal. The last time the Russians walked out of the WJC without a medal was 2010, the next year they won gold. Will history repeat itself?
Who to Watch For On Team Russia
The Russians have two real good net-minders coming out of the Vysshaya Hokkeinaya Liga in Kochetkov and Daniil Tarasov, and you could tap either one to be the starter. However, the way Kochetkov has started this season with Ryazan should give him the nod. Kochetkov is a bigger goaltender, standing at 6’3″, and is very agile, and quick with his lateral movements in net. The undrafted Kazan native represented Russia in the CIBC Canada/Russia Series this past November. Kochetkov was phenomenal, going 3-0, with a 0.67 GAA, and .978 SV%. He’s been just as good in the VHL, as he has a .931 SV% and 2.08 GAA for Ryazan.
The Edmonton Oilers chose Samorukov in the third-round in 2017 in hopes of bolstering their blue line in the future, wise choice. Samorukov is very fast, and is outstanding at rushing the puck up the ice, and can make plays while on the rush. His shot from the point is one of the best in the OHL. If he gets a one-timer off, it could be bad news for the twine, because odds are the goaltender is not getting in the way of it. He has not scored as much this season as he did last year, but he’s really improved on setting up his teammates, and is probably going to be quarterbacking the Russian power play.
Another fantastic offencive defenceman, Alexeyev has really become a stable player in his own zone as well. He’s a big boy standing at 6’4″, and uses his size to slow the other team’s star players. On the offencive end, Alexeyev is very capable of getting the puck to the net. If it does not go in, it is put in a perfect spot for a tip or rebound. This forces teams to respect his shot, and allows him the opportunity to find open teammates for scoring chances. His 24 assists this season with Red Deer is currently tied for fifth in the WHL. He will most certainly top his total last year of 37 points shortly after the tournament. Like Samorukov, expect him to be the point man for the stacked Russian power play.
A very underrated player in the QMJHL, Khovanov has been stellar in the turnaround season the Moncton Wildcats are having. A simple knack for finding scoring chances, Khovanov is all over the place in the offencive zone. His awareness of where his teammates are gives him the ability to make the right to get the puck to the back of the net. A very accurate shot, and picture-perfect passing makes him the complete offencive player. He’s been a point-a-game player ever since he came over to the ‘Q’, In only 29 games last season, he put 28 points for the sub-par Wildcats. This year, he has 19 goals and 24 assists for 43 points in his first 34 games.
The big winger from Vladivostok is a menace to play against. He stands at 6’4″ and skates with the best of them. He has incredible hands to not just create scoring changes for himself, but for his teammates as well. His shot is a sneaky one, as Kravtsov can take an extremely accurate wrist shot while in motion, making it almost impossible for goaltenders to read. He has scored 17 points in 33 games this season for Traktor Chelyabinsk, and is going to be a an important piece if Russia wants to get back to the top.
Chekhovich is a really gifted player. He is very creative in the offencive zone, and does not really have a “go-to” play to score. He score in any fashion. He can fire wristers from the slot, drive in a rebound, deke the jock off a goaltender, you name it he can do it. His speed is one of his most important attributes, as his agility is what makes him so tough to stop. Chekhovich is third in scoring in the QMJHL with 55 points, and his 29 goals is atop the league leaders. He is arguably to most dangerous Russian heading into this tournament.
Pyotr Kochetkov (HK Ryazan, VHL)
Amir Miftakhov (Irbis Kazan, MHL)
Daniil Tarasov (Toros Neftekamsk, VHL)
Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer Rebels, WHL)
Yevgeni Kalabushkin (SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, MHL)
Makar Khabarov (Almaz Cherepovets, MHL)
Anton Malyshev (Loko Yaroslavl, MHL)
Ilya Morozov (Sibir Novosibirsk, KHL)
Saveli Olshansky (Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk, MHL)
Alexander Romanov (CSKA Moskva, KHL)
Mark Rubinchik (Toros Neftekamsk, VHL)
Dmitri Samorukov (Guelph Storm, OHL)
Daniil Valitov (Avto Yekaterinburg, MHL)
Artyom Volkov MHK Spartak Moskva, MHL)
Danila Zhuravlyov (Bars Kazan, VHL)
Ivan Chekhovich (Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL)
Grigori Denisenko (Lokomotiv Yaroslav, KHL)
Artyom Galimov (Bars Kazan, VHL)
Yevgeni Kanitsky (Kuznetskie Medvedi, MHL)
Alexander Khovanov (Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL)
Klim Kostin (San Antonio Rampage, AHL)
Nikolai Kovalenko (Lokomotiv Yaroslav, KHL)
Vitali Kravstov (Traktor Chelyabinsk, KHL)
Kirill Marchenko (SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, MHL)
Ivan D. Morozov (SKA-Varyagi Morozova, MHL)
Ivan Muranov (MHK Dynamo Moskva, MHL)
Artyom Nikolayev (SKA St. Petersburg, KHL)
Nikita Shashkov (Sibirskie Novosibirsk, KHL)
Pavel Shen (Tolpar Ufa, MHL)
Kirill Slepets (Lokomotiv Varoslav, KHL)
Stepan Starkov (HK Sochi, KHL)
Vladislav Tsitsyura (SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, MHL)
Alexander Yaremchuk (Avangard Omsk, KHL)
Dec. 27 vs. Denmark (4:00 pm ET/1:00 pm PT)
Dec. 28 vs. Czech Republic (8:00 pm ET/5:00 pm PT)
Dec. 30 vs. Switzerland (8:00 pm ET/5:00 pm PT)
Dec. 31 vs. Canada (8:00 pm ET/5:00 pm PT)
All stats found on eliteprospects.com
All records found on iihf.com
Featured Image Photo Credit – Pixabay.com