Team Russia will enter the 2017 World Junior Championship as one of the contenders for the gold medal, as tradition dictates. Being the country with the most overall success in the recent years brings many responsibilities, but surely the team lead by Valeri Bragin will be ready to face the pressure. Team Russia has changed a lot recently and now the teams usually feature great offensive depth and excellent goaltending. The days of Andrei Vasilevsky are gone, but Ilya Samsonov is recommending himself as a great prospect, while in the Kontinental Hockey League, Ilya Sorokin and Ilya Shestyorkin are showing their worth playing against men.
The Russians will bring an excellent goaltending team to Canada, made up of Samsonov, the undrafted Anton Krasotkin and Vladimir Sukhachyov, who is a 1998-born. Samsonov is already showing great things in the KHL as the backup netminder of one of the league’s top teams, reigning Gagarin Cup champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk, while Lokomotiv Yaroslavl netminder Krasotkin has not yet established himself as a solid first-team player, spending his time between the VHL and the MHL. Vladimir Sukhachyov is also mostly playing in the VHL, for the Traktor Chelyabinsk affiliate Chelmet. He is doing great there, in spite of being only 18-years-old in a men’s league, and while he was expected to be the third-string goalie, it now appears that he won the race against Krasotkin as he played rather well at the Canada-Russia Series.
Just as with goalies, in the latest few years, Russia has gone a long way in producing defencemen, and the team’s top blueliner Ivan Provorov is now unavailable as he is now playing full-time with the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL. The Russians will bring a good defensive corp to Canada, highlighted by Montreal Canadiens prospect and 2016 first-rounder, Mikhail Sergachev. The Kazan, Russia, native already managed to debut in the NHL this year, but was then assigned back to the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. Another interesting player will be Sergei Zborovskiy, who is having an outstanding third season with the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League. He recently scored seven points in a single game when Regina defeated the Prince Albert Raiders with a 12-2 score. It is expected that the two will form the initial first pairing for the Mother Land.
— Regina Pats (@WHLPats) December 23, 2016
A good thing for the Russians is that many players on the roster are playing full-time in the KHL, as it is the case for players like New Jersey Devils draftee Yegor Rykov (who will be one of the alternate captains), or returnee from last year Yegor Voronkov. The surprise? Grigori Dronov, a 1998-born player (the only underage in the defensive corps with Sergachev) who is constantly playing in the KHL for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Dronov is a solid, defensive defenseman with a good body and a sound defensive awareness. Another undrafted, interesting player will be Mikhail Sidorov of the Ak Bars Kazan. He is another shutdown defenseman who however already managed to score his first KHL goal this season. His shot from the blue line can be a good weapon in junior hockey during power plays, so it is expected that Rykov and Sidorov will form the second defensive pairing.
The 2017 WJC team won’t go against the traditions and the forwards are once again the strongest part of the roster. To make things clear, let’s remember that Bragin decided not to call to the tournament players like the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Vitali Abramov, Nikita Korostelev or Artur Tyanulin. The team’s main star and captain will be Salavat Yulaev Ufa player and Minnesota Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov. The native of Novokuznetsk, Russia, is having an incredible season in the KHL and is going to be the team’s first offensive option. The go-to line of the team will be completed by Philadelphia Flyers prospect Mikhail Vorobyov, a teammate of Kaprizov in Russia, and flashy winger Alexander Polunin, who already scored a great-looking goal during a pre-tournament game against Sweden as you can see in the following video.
The tournament will be very important for Denis Gurianov. After being cut last year, he made the team almost out of nothing since he didn’t spend much time with the guys as other players did since he moved to North America to play in the American Hockey League for the Texas Stars this summer. He’s having a decent rookie season, especially after a first assessment period. He will most likely play on the second line with CSKA Moscow players Pavel Karnaukhov (drafted by the Calgary Flames) and Danila Kvartalnov (nephew of former Boston Bruins forward Dmitri Kvartalnov).
The third line will feature another CHL player, Yakov Trenin, who was probably picked up thanks to his faceoff abilities, and Kirill Uvarov and Kirill Belyayev. Another highly-touted Flyers prospect, German Rubtosv, will skate on the fourth line, with Daniil Yurtaikin and Denis Alexeyev. Rubtsov has yet to score his first point in the KHL, but is not seemingly out of place when he has a chance to play with men. The center is currently mostly playing in the MHL with Vityaz Moscow Region’s affiliate.
There were a few snubs, most notably the CHL players mentioned earlier in the article and 2017-eligible Klim Kostin. All these players failed to impress Bragin enough to warrant them a spot in the roster.
The Bottom Line
This edition of Team Russia seems to be extremely balanced but may lack some firepower. The 2011 WJC team, for example, was certainly less balanced than this version, but the presence of many gamebreakers like Artemi Panarin and Vladimir Tarasenko made up for the difference. It’s hard to imagine that such a team can’t medal, but most can be up in the air with the Mother Land’s first game of the tournament against Team Canada on Dec. 26.
A professional hockey writer and translator. Loves Russian culture, language, and hockey. Reachable on twitter @AlexSerenRosso