The Russians tend to go with as many 19-year-olds as possible at the world juniors, meaning only Dmitri Samorukov (Edmonton) and Klim Kostin (St. Louis) are eligible to return from last year’s squad – assuming that Andrei Svechnikov is too busy in the NHL with Carolina.
But there’s still a good deal of talent at coach Valeri Bragin’s disposal, and this iteration can once again play a staunch defensive game. Up front, players such as Kirill Marchenko (Columbus) and Ivan Morozov (Vegas) were given big roles in international tune-ups, while Pavel Shen (Boston) captained the squad that won the annual series against the CHL teams in Canada. Shen is very hard to play against, while the size of players such as Marchenko and Kostin is imposing. Toss in Nikolai Kovalenko (Colorado) and first-rounder Vitali Kravtsov (Rangers), and you’ve got the makings for a tough opponent. Expect another big Russian team that can clog up the middle and limit enemy scoring chances. Offensively, the diminutive Dmitry Zavgorodny (Calgary) and fellow QMJHLer Ivan Chekhovich (San Jose) bring more firepower.
On the blueline, the team will be led by Alexander Alexeyev (Washington), who has been burning up scoresheets in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels. Alexander Romanov (Montreal) had a strong CHL-Russia series and brings mobility and offense to the blueline. Otherwise, the defense will surely be filled with older, undrafted players.
In net, the Russians have a couple solid options, and it will make for a tough decision in the end. The headliner is Daniil Tarasov (Columbus), the big kid whose dad was Andrei Vasilevskiy’s goalie coach and Sergei Bobrovsky’s childhood hero. Tarasov missed almost his entire draft year due to a growth on his shin, but the Blue Jackets snagged him in the third round based on his potential. So far, he’s making them look smart.
The Hockey News' Gold Odds: 4/1