The reigning Olympic Gold medalists are back to defend their 2018 win in a tournament that did not include NHL players, nor an actual Team Russia. Ovie is back on the roster and if the 2018 Stanley Cup run was any indication, he has a lot of unfinished business to take care of as Russia attempts to go back-to-back.
1st Line: Just like Crosby, Ovechkin’s line will always be the defacto 1, and with Kuznetsov currently suspended until 2023, it will be time to see Ovie and Malkin together on the big stage. Ovie will be moved to his natural wing to make room for Vladimir Tarasenko who is now healthy and should pick up where he left off and continue his strong play into 2022.
2nd Line: The 2019 Art Ross winner Kucherov will be nicely paired with Panarin who finished tied for third at 95 points this season. If the name Vadim Shipachyov rings a bell, it is because Montreal was in the mix to sign him back in 2017 before he signed with Vegas then went back to the KHL almost immediately, that being said he is the leading scorer in the KHL and his skill is undeniable. With an abundance of skill on this line, they will be the perfect compliment to the 1-2 offensive punch for the Russian Machine.
3rd Line: A little of a young infusion on this line, after a slow start to his career Svechnikov really found his game this season hitting the 20-goal plateau again while hovering just under a Point per Game. On the opposite wing we have one of the most exciting and highly touted prospects, Kaprizov projects to be an impact player next year for Minnesota after finishing third in the KHL in scoring (first in PpG). They will be centered by Namestnikov who is a defensively responsible player who should see a bit of an uptick in production playing in Colorado.
4th Line: I don’t see Russia trying to create a line of role player’s here, but they do have a couple of highly skilled, 200-foot players in recent Stanley Cup champion Ivan Barbashyov to go along with Pavel Buchnevich who is coming off the best season of his career. Dadonov plays on one of the best lines in the NHL right now in my opinion and he is a very responsible player with a ton of offensive upside.
13th (& 14th): I am not sure if Radulov is an emotional pick or not, but he is the perfect 13th forward because of his work ethic and ability to play with basically anyone. Denis Guryanov is a bit of a risky projection when building this roster, but the 6’3 200 pound former first round pick by the Stars has steadily improved and hit the 20-goal plateau in his first real stint in the NHL. At 22 years old if he can continue this progression he has a very strong case to represent Russia in 2022.
1st Pair: Provorov and Sergachyov are two of the best young defensemen in the game today, neither has hit their prime just yet but I think that by 2022 they will be on the cusp, if not entering that window. They may in fact be separated to spread the skill out across the pairings and allow these two to each play with a more stay at home type partner so that they can join the play offensively.
2nd Pair: To piggyback off the first pair analysis, the two likely partners if they do not play together would be Orlov and Zadorov. Both are absolute nightmares to play against, and between now and 2022, their respective NHL clubs hope to make a deep Playoff push or two which will only make them more prepared for the Olympics.
3rd Pair: Kulikov should come as no surprise, especially here in Quebec considering how good he was when he played for the Drummondville Voltigeurs. The lesser known name that I am sure people will get to know soon is Vladislav Gavrikov, a sixth round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets who just finished his first NHL season. The SKA St Petersburgh product is a stay at home tough defenseman who is a Penalty Kill machine, just take a look at this video, you know the boys were going on the bench after this!
7th (& 8th): Nikita Zaitsev was a big signing for the Maple Leafs coming out of the KHL but after a big first season he has quieted down a little bit offensively. Slava Voynov was a very good defenseman for the LA Kings before being kicked out of the league, but he is by far the best Russian defenseman in the KHL and has a very strong chance to make this team.
This crease is basically Andrei Vasilevskiy’s to lose, but the number two behind him will probably surprise some people. If you do not know who Igor Shestyorkin is yet, do yourself a favour and watch the above video, he is the next great goaltender in the NHL and will soon be a consistent name in the Vezina conversation. His numbers in the AHL were so good that he forced himself onto the Ranger’s roster and I expect him to be the starter for a team that could make a lot of noise in the upcoming play-in series and the next few seasons to come. Finally, Sergei Bobrovsky may not be having his best season, but he is still a two-time Vezina winner and should find his way onto this roster.
Now that we have all shared a good laugh, let’s get into the Snubs
THE OBVIOUS SNUBS
Forward: Yevgeni Kuznetsov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nikita Gusev, Valeri Nichushkin, Artyom Anisimov
Defense: Andrei Markov
Most of these snubs are up front, most noticeably Kuznetsov whose suspension will run passed the 2022 Olympics, baring some sort of appeal process it looks like he will be unable to participate in Beijing. Russia has endless amounts of offensive talent which makes them a lot of fun to watch every four years. Even though the 2018 Olympics were an anomaly, the fact that Russia is going into 2022 without their 2018 leading scorer (Gusev) and Tournament MVP (Kovy) just goes to show how deep their talent pool really is. I threw Markov in there as my homer pick because he never got enough credit outside of Montreal and I just wanted an excuse to say that it breaks my heart that he is 10 games shy of 1000.
THE UP AND COMING TALENT
Forward: Grigori Denisenko, Ilya Mikheyev
Defense: Alexander Romanov
Goaltender: Ilya Sorokin, Yaroslav Askarov, Ilya Samsonov
Russia has a lot of great young talent coming up in various NHL systems, but I want to focus in on a few of the best who could actually compete for a spot. Denisenko captained the most recent World Junior team and is set to join the Panthers next season making him someone to watch out for. Mikheyev is an interesting prospect, and I will give him his credit and recognition but it is difficult for me to do since he is a Maple Leaf.
Romanov is another homer pick but the CSKA Moscow product has an opportunity to emerge from the shadows as he was arguably underutilized on a team that had no shortage of talent. Romanov already has an impressive track record in International competition after back-to-back strong World Junior performances. Russia does not have a massive amount of depth at Defense, so this is a possibility but would require some significant development on his end.
Finally in nets, Russia has been hoarding some of the best young talent. Ilya Sorokin is considered the best player not in the NHL by some and should take over the Islanders crease as early as next season. Askarov, who could be drafted as high as the top 10 in this year’s NHL entry draft, is considered a franchise and/or generational goalie. I think that he has a strong case for 2026 but there is just not enough time for 2022. Ilya Samsonov is another interesting prospect who is currently the back up goalie in Washington. It may still be Holtby’s net for now but if he can’t get his numbers back up to where they used to be, I can see a world where Samsonov can take over.
Russia looks to pick up where they left off in 2018 and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy that they are not in Canada’s division. They will be the favourites in Group B, which includes Czech Republic and Switzerland with the last team yet to qualify. I should point out that I use the term favourite lightly here because as you will see in the coming days, the Czechs and Swiss both have some very talented rosters.