A lot of experienced World Junior watchers were surprised last year when they looked up and Russia was taking Finland to the mat in the final game. Russia had to ultimately settle for a silver medal thanks to Kasperi Kapanen’s golden goal, but they didn’t end up in the final by accident.
The strength of the Russian team these days springs right out of the KHL and the Russian junior league, MHL, which has many KHL affiliated teams. They are building a program that allows players to move up when their skill demands it or move down to get more icetime. Without the limiting factor of rules that keep NCAA and Canadian junior players out of the AHL, they develop their players in more individually tailored ways. They also release them to the WJC without qualm, so the team has all the seasoned pros they could ask for.
This year’s roster starts in goal with Ilya Samsonov, a very good pro goalie who gets regular starts on one of the best KHL teams, Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He was the backup last year as they won the Gagarin Cup, and he was the backup in last year’s WJC to Alexandar Georgiyev, but Samsonov put up better results. He will be the starter this year.
Samsonov got tuned up for a 4-0 win by Sweden and Felix Sandström in a pretournament game, but when the real games are on the line, he should be solid.
In front of him is a defender group of mostly KHL and MHL players with one star in the mix: Mikhail Sergachyov who nearly made the Montréal Canadiens this year.
The forward group has no one under the age of 18, and the youngest is German Rubstov, last year’s top pick of the Philadelphia Flyers.
One intriguing player to watch is undrafted forward Alexander Polunin. He has 13 points in 35 games playing with the Leafs prospect Yegor Korshkov in the KHL, and he is a very good cycle playing scoring forward.
The Leafs only hope for a representative on the team was Nikita Korostelev, who was one of the players cut on the 23rd.
Russia plays in Group B in Toronto with the USA and Canada. They only need to not finish last to make it into the quarterfinals, but finishing fourth in the group will likely mean a date with Sweden, while finishing second could mean Finland. The idea position in this tournament is likely going to be one and two in Group B.
Russia has the horses to take at least second place, but knocking off the Canadians will be a tall order.
Anton Krasotkin, Loko Yaroslavl
Ilya Samsonov, Metallurg Magnitigorsk
Vladislav Sukhachyov, Chelmet Chelyabinsk
Grigori Dronov, Metallurg Magnitigorsk
Vadim Kudako, Severstal Cherepovets
Yegor Rykov, SKA St. Petersburg
Mikhail Sergachyov, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Mikhail Sidorov, Ak Bars Kazan
Artyom Volkov, Dynamo Balashikha
Yegor Voronkov, Vityaz Podolsk
Sergei Zborovski, Regina Pats (WHL)
Denis Alexeyev, HK Ryazan
Kirill Belyayev, Yugra Khanty-Mansisk
Denis Guryanov, Texas Stars (AHL)
Kirill Kaprizov, Salavat Yulayev Ufa
Pavel Karnaukhov, CSKA Moscow
Danila Kvartalnov, CSKA Moscow
Alexander Polunin, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
German Rubtsov, Vityaz Chekhov
Yakov Trenin, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Kirill Urakov, Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod
Mikhail Vorobyov, Salavat Yulayev Ufa
Danil Yurtaikin, HK Ryazan