In spite of all the talent the Mother Land keeps on producing, the Russians haven’t won a gold medal at the U18 level for ten years, since the team led by the late Alexei Cherepanov (and Nikita Filatov) defeated the United States 6-5 in Finland. Team Russia reached the finals in the next two years, but only have a bronze medal at the 2011 tournament since, the year when Nikita Kucherov broke the scoring record for the tournament (21 total points in just seven games).
Different from the U20 team, the U18 had to deal with some questionable coaching, and the bench seems to be, again, the weak link for this year’s edition. Head coach Sergei Golubovich traditionally prefers to ice players he’s familiar with, and some exclusions spurred a good deal of discussion amongst the experts. The team will feature many returnees from the last edition and it will be interesting to see their progress.
In the two pre-tournament games, Russia defeated Latvia (2-1) and Canada (5-4). Unfortunately for the spectators and scouts, top Russian prospect Klim Kostin will miss the tournament due to a season-ending injury.
Russian U18 Goaltenders
Daniil Tarasov missed most of the season because of a knee injury, so Golubovich will have to do with Maxim Zhukov, who had a good season in the USHL after a bad performance in last year’s tournament, Kirill Ustimenko and Dmitri Raiko. Most likely the team will consider the first two as the top goalies.
Two of the most important defensemen on the team will be two Russians playing in North America: Dmitri Samorukov and Mark Rubinchik.
These two players will be expected to elevate their game and to lead the team with their experience. WJAC top-scoring defenseman Venyamin Baranov will be there, as well as under-ager Danila Galenyuk, who played with Rubinchik on the same defensive pair against Team Canada. The defense will be good, but not great, especially as a solid prospect like Dmitri Rodionychev, who played 14 games in the KHL this year (it has been rumored that some NHL teams are scouting him), was snubbed.
Traditionally, the Russians bring one of the best offensive corps to the tournament. The loss of Klim Kostin is a huge blow, not only because he’s a great player, especially at this level, but also because of the chemistry of the team’s top line. The line made up of Kostin, Mikhail Bitsadze and Sherbrook Phoenix finesse winger Yaroslav Alexeev will be re-created using Togliatti-native Leonid Nikolenko as the third man. Another option would be to play another finesse winger, Kirill Slepets on this line.
Of course, the most chatted-about player of the team, if not of the whole tournament, will be 2000-born Andrei Svechnikov. The Russian winger had a great rookie season in the USHL and has the potential to be one of the top players of the tournament. He will most likely play on a line with Baie-Comeau Drakkar forward Ivan Chekhovich and center Alexei Lipanov.
#U18Worlds: RW Andrei Svechnikov (2018) backdoors a no-look set-up to C Alexei Lipanov (Ranked No. 64) in Russia 3-1 prelim win vs Latvia pic.twitter.com/deUrQD5qZB
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) April 8, 2017
In spite of missing some notable players who were snubbed by the head coach, in particular, a couple of 2000-born players like Alexander Khovanov, the Russians have good depth on forward and will be a threat for any team. It is also expected that Drummondville Voltigeurs rookie Pavel Koltygin will provide some secondary scoring.
The Bottom Line
The Russians always get to the starting line with a good roster, particularly regarding the forwards, and this year won’t be an exception. The question will be if the coaching will live up to the expectations and the snubs and injuries will not affect the team too much.