If you love skilled wingers, Russia is the team for you. As per usual, the national squad will have a ton of talent to draw from, but if there's a black mark in the lineup, it's going to be down the middle. Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Washington Capitals star, is currently serving a four-year IIHF suspension for a positive cocaine test and that is really going to set this team back.
Having said that, expectations will be high for the Russians, who are the defending gold-medal champions – albeit from a tournament that did not feature NHL players in South Korea. Goaltending will be a strength, while the defense might be a disaster – all in all, it's going to be an incredibly interesting team to watch.
Russia plays in a pool with the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark. The Russians will be the favorites to win the pool, but they must also be careful as their three round-robin opponents all have the capability to surprise. The key for Russia will be to hit the ground running and make sure they don't sleepwalk early – or else they could be in for a nasty surprise.
Let's take a look at Russia's potential roster.
Each team is permitted a roster of 22 skaters (14 forwards, eight defensemen) and 3 goaltenders.
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeni Malkin - Nikita Kucherov
Artemi Panarin - Vadim Shipachyov - Andrei Svechnikov
Kirill Kaprizov - Vlad Namestnikov - Vladimir Tarasenko
Pavel Buchnevich - Mikhail Grigorenko - Valeri Nichushkin
Denis Gurianov, Evgenii Dadonov
When Kaprizov is your third-line winger, you know you've got some scoring punch. With Ovie, Kucherov and Panarin, the Russians are spoiled for firepower up front and Malkin is the No. 1 center by a mile. But without Kuznetsov, the center position is weak and that could cause problems in the medal round. A couple names here might be surprising for NHL fans, but keep in mind the Russians have their favorites for international play and always include a couple KHLers on their rosters, which is why Shipachyov gets such a plum role here and Grigorenko is playing center. Dadonov is another national team fave, so don't be surprised if he's higher in the lineup for the actual tournament.
These forwards will be deadly on the power play and as long as they can keep possession of the puck at 5-on-5, they'll be alright. Opponents who are deep down the middle could spell trouble, however.
Ivan Provorov - Nikita Zaitsev
Mikhail Sergachev - Artem Zub
Dmitri Orlov - Vladislav Gavrikov
Nikita Nesterov - Nikita Zadorov
For whatever reason, Russia hasn't been able to produce a lot of elite defensemen in recent years. It's also worth noting that many of the blueliners they have produced have been left-hand shots, so I've had to move some guys over to the right side just to even things out. As with the forwards, you can expect at least one KHLer in the ranks and Nesterov gets the nod here. He's an international vet and currently a point-per-gamer with CSKA Moscow. Overall there isn't a ton of offense on the back end, though a rebound NHL season from Provorov in Philadelphia isn't out of the question. The hardest snub was Montreal's Alexander Romanov, a terrific young talent who could check a lot of boxes. If any of these veterans get injured, Romanov would be a great replacement.
This group has a lot of size and some mobility, but overall it may be an area other elite teams key in on. If they can keep things simple and get the puck to those high-end forwards, maybe they'll be OK, but this will be a position to keep an eye on.
When you've got the reigning Conn Smythe winner in net, you're gonna feel pretty good about your chances. Vasilevskiy is the obvious starter for Russia as the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion is one of the best goalies in the world right now. Varlamov is still a capable starter himself if called upon, while Sorokin has tons of international experience and success, despite his young age. It's altogether possible that the Russians slot in a KHLer as the third-stringer, but Sorokin (or his Rangers rival Igor Shesterkin) would be a much more suitable choice. Big-money Sergei Bobrovsky gets snubbed here, but until he gets his game back in order with Florida, it's not really much of a snub, is it?