If there was one team from 2019’s Vancouver/Victoria tourney that should be categorized as a “Cinderella”, it would have to be Kazakhstan. Not having played in the World Juniors’ top division since 2009, there seemed to be a snowball’s chance in hell that the Kazakhs would survive relegation – especially having to play out of Group B where they joined USA, Finland, Sweden and Slovakia.
Well, they managed to do just that.
For the first time in more than a decade, Kazakhstan will be playing consecutive World Juniors in the IIHF’s premier tournament for the U20 level. It took back-to-back wins over the Danes in 2019 relegation to make it happen, but the Kazakhs got it done.
Led by head coach Sergei Starygin – who has assumed the role before for five other IIHF U20 tournaments since the early 2000s – the Kazakhs will be grouped with a number of familiar squads from last year’s event. 2020’s Group A is comprised of Kazakhstan, Finland, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland. They may even have a good fighting chance out of the gates, as their first two games in Třinec are against the Swiss and the Slovakians.
THW breaks down how Kazakhstan’s roster ought to take shape.
Vladislav Nurek is expected to get the starting duties in net. He is the only goalie from 2019 that returns for Kazakhstan, as both Denis Karatayev and Demid Yeremeyev are now over 20. Nurek made two appearances in British Columbia. Coming in to relieve Yeremeyev during an 8-2 loss to USA, Nurek would stop 33 of the 36 shots the Americans sent his way. He would be given a rougher go against Slovakia who put five past him in an 11-2 loss. At 6-foot and 160 pounds, Nurek’s size isn’t anything spectacular but his WJC experience makes him an important asset for his country.
Roman Kalmykov will likely serve as Nurek’s backup, but may see some starting action as well. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound 18-year-old was Kazakhstan’s starting goalie for the 2019 U18 Division I-A tournament in Grenoble, France. He backstopped the Kazkahs to the silver medal, and posted the best goals-against average (1.63) and best save percentage (.929) of any goalie at the tournament.
The third option for the Kazakhstan net is Maxim Pavlenko. At 17 years of age, he is the youngest of the three options but also the most sizable – Pavlenko stands 6-foot-4 and is approximately 175 pounds. Like the majority of the players on Team Kazakhstan, as well as their head coach, Pavlenko plays for Snezhnye Barsy Astana (nicknamed “Snow Leopards” in English) in the молодежная хоккейная лига (MHL), Russia’s Junior Hockey League – Astana is one of two Kazakh teams in the league.
Nurek should see the primary duties, but Kazakhstan will likely utilize two – if not three – goalies just as they did in 2019.
Count on big David Muratov being back for this year’s World Juniors. At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, he is one of only two defenders from last year’s team that is young enough to return this time around. While Muratov will not generate any offense from the back end, he is a big body around the net and can play a more physical game – which the Kazakhs will very much need in order to slow their opponents down. A stay-at-home defender, Muratov will be one of the team’s steadiest performers.
Artom Korolyov is the other returning blueliner for the Kazakhs. Despite a more average build of 6-foot-1 and just over 180 pounds, he has a definitive mean streak and picks up a lot of penalty minutes along the way. In 102 MHL games so far in his career, Korolyov has compiled 152 penalty minutes – that includes this season where he has 62 PIMs in only 18 games. At last year’s tournament, he had 10 PIMs in six games. Korolyov will be there to help out his goalies, and make scoring against the Kazakhs a much more difficult task.
Kazakhstan’s best offensive-defenseman is Madi Dikhanbek. Though smallish in size – Dikhanbek is a modest 5-foot-10 and only 160 pounds – this blueliner is very quick and moves the puck well at the point. He served as an alternate captain at 2019’s U18 Division I-A in Grenoble, and was a point-per-game player (1-4-5 in five games). Dikhanbek will certainly be utilized on Kazakhstan’s power play unit, and can hopefully generate some points for them from the back end.
Oleg Boiko captained Kazakhstan’s 2019 U18 team and played for the U20 squad in British Columbia. He will be a definite selection for Ostrava and Třinec, and it would not be surprising if he is named team captain. Boiko played in all six games for the Kazakhs in 2019’s tourney, and scored the opening goal of his team’s 4-3 win in their first relegation game against Denmark. Also serving as team captain for Snezhnye Barsy Astana, it is pretty obvious that Boiko will be Starygin’s go-to leader yet again.
Andrei Buyalsky is one of the team’s more sizable forwards at 6-foot-3, but possesses a lankier built. Like Boiko, he is a returner from 2019. Buyalsky went 1-1-2 through six games last year. His lone assist came on Boiko’s tally against Denmark, while his own goal came in the 8-2 loss to USA. Through 21 games for HK Temirtau in the Kazakhstan Senior League – the top league in his homeland – Buyalsky has gone 2-11-13 in scoring. At 19 years of age, this year’s tournament will be his third and final for the Kazakh U20 team.
Dias Guseinov should be able to step up and be Kazakhstan’s top scorer. While he went pointless in British Columbia, he led the scoring charge in Grenoble (3-6-9 in five games) as the Kazakhs took a U18 second place finish. Guseinov served as an alternate captain to Boiko at that same tourney. He has put up a whopping 12 goals, 28 assists and 40 points in 32 games for the “Snow Leopards” this 2019-20 season – the team’s leading scorer.
The Bottom Line
Any hope of scoring from Kazakhstan is going to come from Guseinov, Boiko and Buyalsky, with some secondary contributions from Maxim Musorov and Yusup Asukhanov. Outside of that, the Kazakhs’ offense is quite limited. Their best option will be cohesive, systematic play, as they will not be able to withstand a firefight against any of their opponents.
Nurek and Kalmykov are going to have to come up big in net, and play beyond what has normally been expected of them. Looking at it from more of a “glass half full” view, Kazakhstan’s goaltending is good enough that it is not a detriment. While scoring will be a challenge, the team’s netminding can be consistent – something the Kazakhs will desperately need while they are likely to be outgunned.
While Kazakhstan was a “Cinderella” in BC, that is unlikely to be the case when they take to the ice in the Czech Republic. If they are to avoid relegation in 2020 and make it three-for-three to the Top Division, their goalies will have to steal them a game and Guseinov will need to be a point-per-game player.
Here is THW’s prediction as to who makes the final 23-man roster for Kazakhstan:
Goaltenders: Vladislav Nurek, Roman Kalmykov, Maxim Pavlenko.
Defense: Madi Dikhanbek, David Muratov, Ilya Nesterov, Timofei Katasonov, Vladimir Shlychkov, Artom Korolyov, Danil Butenko, Madi Dikhanbek.
Forwards: Dias Guseinov, Andrei Buyalsky, Oleg Boiko, Ruslan Dyomin, Maxim Musorov, Adam Yevloyev, Denis Chaporov, Nikita Lyapunov, Vladislav Saiko, Maxim Chalov, Sergei Pryakhin, Yusup Asukhanov.
All the 2020 World Junior Championship Team Information:
*Links to come throughout December