Russia has recently published its list of 25 players for the PyeongChang Winter Games. Head coach Oleg Znarok and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation started their plan well ahead of the Olympics, amassing most of the candidates for the tournament from two teams, SKA St. Petersburg, coached by Znarok and CSKA Moscow. As a result, the roster has 15 players from SKA, eight from CSKA – keeping the KHL rosters relatively intact – and only two from Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
The Russian national team had very good results throughout the season, skating past Canada on two different occasions, most recently in December at the Channel One Cup. On paper, Team Russia has the best roster of the tournament.
Vasili Koshechkin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk); Igor Shestyorkin (SKA St. Petersburg); Ilya Sorokin (CSKA Moscow).
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises will come from the goaltending position. We were used to the fact that Shestyorkin and Sorokin would be battling for the number one position at the 2018 Olympics, but Znarok in December decided to try Koshechkin, who replied with a shutout against Canada in a 2-0 win and 22 saves in a 3-1 win over Team Sweden.
The huge goalie, drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning sixteen (16!) years ago has KHL achievements, including two Gagarin Cups and a Playoff-MVP award. He is experienced enough to be the team’s starting goalie at an important tournament like the Olympic Games.
Koshechkin also has international experience, having participated in five IIHF World Championships. He is probably at the peak of his career, but if things go wrong, the Russians still have two great options in net in Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shestyorkin.
Both young goalies are playing very well in the KHL, as well as with the national team, but Sorokin has an advantage here due to more experience and stronger play. Both are just 22 years old and this means that the future in the crease is good for the Russians, who can also count on younger prospects like Daniil Tarasov, Alexandar Georgiev or Ilya Samsonov.
Vladislav Gavrikov (SKA St. Petersburg); Artyom Zub (SKA St. Petersburg); Yegor Yakovlev (SKA St. Petersburg); Nikita Nesterov (CSKA Moscow); Andrei Marchenko (CSKA Moscow); Bogdan Kiselevich (CSKA Moscow); Vyacheslav Voynov (SKA St. Petersburg); Andrei Zubarev (SKA St. Petersburg).
When you have NHL players returning to Russia for a chance to play in the Olympics, you know the roster will be good. This is what happened with Nikita Nesterov and Andrei Marchenko. Neither had successful NHL careers, although they could have if it weren’t for injuries (Marchenko) or patience (Nesterov). Nikita Tryamkin made took the same path this summer but didn’t get a spot on the roster even after the injury to Dinar Khafizullin, as Znarok preferred his teammate Yegor Yakovlev in St. Petersburg, although probably Tryamkin would have been a better choice.
Another valuable player on Team Russia’s defense will be Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Vladislav Gavrikov. The defenseman had a chance to cross the ocean this summer when his contract with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ended but instead preferred staying at home, moving to SKA and becoming a force on the national team’s blue line with the goal to play at the Olympics. At this point, Gavrikov is probably the best young defenseman for the Russians and Blue Jackets fans should be excited by his potential.
Another interesting, potential future NHL player is Bogdan Kiselevich. The CSKA Moscow defenseman is at his peak and is a very valuable defensive defenseman who won’t rack up penalty minutes and has good positioning and defensive skills. A product of the Severstal Cherepovets school like Pavel Buchnevich, Vadim Shipachyov and other players, Kiselevich’s contract will run out next April 30.
The defensive corp is completed by Vyacheslav Voynov and Andrei Zubarev, two of the best offensive and defensive KHL defensemen respectively, and Artyom Zub, a young defenseman who’s fastly improving his game and earned a chance to play at the Olympics playing for SKA St. Petersburg.
Ilya Kovalchuk (SKA St. Petersburg); Pavel Datsyuk (SKA St. Petersburg); Sergei Shirokov (SKA St. Petersburg); Nikolai Prokhorkin (SKA St. Petersburg); Sergei Kalinin (SKA St. Petersburg); Ilya Kablukov (SKA St. Petersburg); Alexander Barabanov (SKA St. Petersburg); Nikita Gusev (SKA St. Petersburg); Vadim Shipachyov (SKA St. Petersburg); Ivan Telegin (CSKA Moscow); Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow); Mikhail Grigorenko (CSKA Moscow); Sergei Andronov (CSKA Moscow); Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk).
Let’s face it: if you have Ilya Kovalchuk or Pavel Datsyuk on your first line, chances are good that you have the best player in the tournament in your lineup. Imagine having both. This is absolutely the best forward group at the Olympics and that’s not surprising considering how hard the Russians worked toward the Olympic goal and how good traditionally Russian forwards are. The team’s first line, at least initially, will comprise Kovalchuk, Datsyuk, and Mikhail Grigorenko. The former Buffalo Sabres’ first-round pick didn’t develop the way he should have, but he’s still a very good player.
The team’s second line will be pretty much as good as the first, made up of Vadim Shipachyov, Kirill Kaprizov, and Nikita Gusev. In spite of his NHL fiasco, Shipachyov is always a threat in European hockey and he would have had a great career in the NHL if he had moved earlier and had been able to leave his comfort zone.
The North American audience should consider the very good season Evgeny Dadonov is having in Florida, and Shipachyov constantly outscored Dadonov in the KHL. Nikita Gusev is one of the KHL’s top stars and scorers, and his dazzling style of play makes it hard for defensemen to contain him on the bigger European ice surface. Due to his size and skating, Nikita Gusev can be compared a little bit to Artemi Panarin, even if he is less of a goal scorer and more of a playmaker.
Most of the other players may be of a slightly lower calibre but have what it takes to decide a game. Players like Nikolai Prokhorkin or Sergei Shirokov are good scorers in the KHL and there’s nothing that should prevent them from providing the necessary secondary weapon if Team Russia needs it. The roster is completed by more conservative, role players like Ivan Telegin, Sergei Andronov and Sergei Kalinin who will mostly be playing on the grind lines and in penalty killing situations.
Sergei Mozyakin also deserves a mention. The KHL veteran will oddly be at his first Olympic games in spite of being an eternal KHL leading scorer and, let’s face it, has seen a lot of inferior players take his place over the years. Mozyakin still has a world-class shot but his problem is that as years pass he has slowed down and Znarok will mostly ice him as the thirteenth forward on even strength situations and as the fourth forward on the first or second power play units.
The Bottom Line
With this roster, anything less than the gold medal game will be considered a failure for the Russians. Especially considering the gargantuan systemic work they needed to accommodate players on the top two KHL teams to help with chemistry and similar measures.
Team Russia will skate in Group B against Slovakia, Slovenia, and the US.