World Cup of Hockey Preview – Team Russia
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Overview

Russia has long been a powerhouse in international hockey, but they have had some struggles in recent competitions. They were knocked out of the Sochi Olympics in the quarterfinals, and they did not excel in the previous incarnations of the World Cup. These under-achievements have been as frustrating for analysts as for the team itself, as the ever-desirable spectre of a Canada-Russia finals in any tournament enhance the value of the competition while harkening back to some of hockey’s finest historical moments. Nevertheless, they will be a force to be reckoned with at the World Cup, as they bring one of the most complete rosters to compete.

The team has high-end talent across the board, particularly up front where the top line could potentially include Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin. That is the stuff goalies’ nightmares are made of, and things do not get easier when you look at secondary pairings from Russia. In goal, the team could go with either Sergei Bobrovsky or Semyon Varlamov as the #1 keeper and have a successful tournament; both are strong between the pipes and give their respective NHL clubs the chance to win every night. Their blueline corps will also be formidable, featuring hard-hitting Alexei Emelin and the wily veteran Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens, who will be expected to provide veteran presence as four of the remaining defencemen are all under the age of 25.

Team Russia arrives at the World Cup of Hockey as one of the heavy favourites, with the odds-makers placing them as 9-2, second only to Team Canada (10-11). With Russia in Group B against Sweden, Finland, and Team North America, it is expected of them to cruise through the preliminary round. Their depth at every position gives them an advantage that is unrivalled by their divisional rivals, which should be critical in the early games of the tournament. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems, however, and the squad will have to overcome the mental barriers of their previous recent failures.



Roster

Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Chicago Blackhawks; Evgeny Dadonov, SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL); Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings; Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning; Nikolay Kulemin, New York Islanders; Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals; Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins; Vladislav Namestnikov, Tampa Bay Lightning; Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals; Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks; Vadim Shipachyov, SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL); Ivan Telegin, CSKA Moscow (KHL); Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

Defence: Alexei Emelin, Montreal Canadiens; Dmitry Kulikov, Buffalo Sabres; Alexey Marchenko, Detroit Red Wings; Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens; Dmitry Orlov, Washington Capitals; Nikita Zaitsev, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Goalies: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets; Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche; Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Analysis

Offence and flash will have to carry the day for Russia if they are to be successful. Their forwards possess tremendous levels of talent, and the core of that group are among some of the elite players in the world. The squad boasts not only two of the top ten players in the NHL today in Ovechkin & Evgeni Malkin, but also some of its brightest up and comers including Tarasenko and Panarin. These are elite goal scorers and they will likely make the most of their opportunities against teams like Finland and Team North America, whose defences may be exploitable. If you’re a pooler, taking at least two guys from this team is sound advice.

Team Russia’s blue line might be some cause for concern, if only because of the inexperience of the majority of the group. While Markov and Emelin will be capable of eating 25 minutes per night, the team will rely on Orlov and Kulikov to play some heavy minutes as well. The youngsters Marchenko and Zaitsev are virtual unknowns in North America, and it may be a challenge for them to compete against the top players from opposing teams. That said, with the likes of Emelin and Kulikov patrolling the blue line, there will be an intimidation factor brought out by Russia that may affect the east-west game of their European rivals in the division while also putting pause on the free-wheeling Team North America.

In goal, Russia will have the option of choosing Bobrovsky or Varlamov on a game-to-game basis, which is a nice luxury to have. Both are capable #1 goalies in the NHL and should give their team a chance to win every night. They don’t carry the resume or profile of a Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist but each brings forward strengths that should give the rest of the team confidence to play a high-octane aggressive style of hockey.

Outlook

The powerhouse that is Russian hockey will be back in full force at the World Cup. Expect them to move through the preliminary round with little difficulty, potentially setting up the epic confrontations with Canada and/or the United States in the semi-final round. The tremendous depth and talents in their forward group is too good to be denied, while their defence and goaltending will be good enough to allow them to get through. Expect to see this squad make it to the finals of the tournament; anything less would be considered a major disappointment.