The 2017 World Junior Championships was a successful event for the Russians, who returned home with a medal for the seventh consecutive year. The team lead by Valeri Bragin, however, didn’t manage to beat North American teams a single time, even if they surrendered to Team USA in the Semifinals only after the shootout.
The team was thought to be balanced, and it was. The players showed character, but Team USA was more cool-headed in the final shootout and deservingly went on to win the gold medal the same way.
“Of course, we are upset. We were so close, but this is hockey,” Bragin told sovsport.ru after the Semifinals. We have no complaints on the guy’s dedication and spirit. There were some mistakes. But I always say that the most important thing is the character, as it decides the results of the game.”
After the Semifinals, the Mother Land won the bronze medal game against Team Sweden courtesy of an OT goal by Denis Guryanov.
Team Russia Best Forwards
As usual, the Russians brought to Canada a good group of forwards, and many played very well. There is a player, however, who played throughout the whole tournament much better than others, Kirill Kaprizov, who was named the Best Forward of the tournament.
At his second WJC, Kaprizov scored nine goals and twelve points in seven games, including goals in each game against North American teams. Kaprizov looked dominant and his connection with Philadelphia Flyers prospect Mikhail Vorobyov was one of the best at the WJC. The fact that they often play together in the KHL had an impact here, and a further confirmation of Bragin’s preference for chemistry while assembling his roster. Vorobyov scored no goals during the WJC, but lead the tournament with 10 assists.
— IIHF WJC (@iihf_wjc) January 6, 2017
Other forwards who had a good tournament are Denis Guryanov, Kaprizov and Vorobyov’s linemate Alexander Polunin, and Nashville Predators prospect Yakov Trenin.
Team Russia Best Defensemen
New Jersey Devils prospect Yegor Rykov had an excellent tournament and led all Team Russia defensemen with seven points. He made some mistakes in his own zone, but he looked solid and managed to produce more than expected. His experience was probably a key element in his success.
Don’t read too much into Mikhail Sergachev’s stats. He scored only one goal in the tournament, but he played well at both ends and was one of the team’s leaders. A bit more offensive production was expected, but the Montreal Canadiens prospect had a very good WJC.
Team Russia MVP
“I think that Kaprizov and Ilya Samsonov were the tournament’s best players,” Bragin told Sport Express after the bronze medal game. You can’t say that Bragin is was wrong because they were the team’s top players.
Washington Capitals first-round pick Samsonov let in a couple of avoidable goals, but that is not a lot given the intensity of the tournament. Samsonov finished the WJC with a .930 save percentage and a GAA of 2.30, good enough to make the tournament’s All-Star Team, two years after being awarded Best Goalie honors at the U18s.
Reasons Behind Russia’s Good Play
A balanced roster, good role players and a few individually talented forwards helped Bragin’s team to a good tournament. Kaprizov, Guryanov and Samsonov had very good performances, and while the defense sometimes left some holes, the overall play showed a team that was sure of its strengths and performed reliably well even in the most difficult games. Losing the semifinals game in a shootout and returning home with a bronze medal isn’t the worst possible outcome.
Prospects that helped themselves
The team featured a number of undrafted players, and arguably the most interesting one among the skaters was Alexander Polunin. The diminutive winger played well on the first line with Kaprizov and Vorobyov, ending the tournament with three goals and six points. It was his second WJC, after winning the silver medal in 2016. In spite of playing only one game, goalie Vladislav Sukhachyov cemented his stock as one of the most interesting undrafted goalies and his name may be called at the next selections.
Prospects that did not help themselves
It wasn’t a good tournament for German Rubtsov. The Flyers prospect missed the last two games because of an injury, but he didn’t shine in the games he played, even if he played well against the Slovaks. Next year will be a more important tournament for him, and he may rebound with a good performance as was the case with Denis Guryanov.
It was recently rumored that Rubtsov will finish the season with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL.
A professional hockey writer and translator. Loves Russian culture, language, and hockey. Reachable on twitter @AlexSerenRosso