Team Russia World Cup Preview

After a disappointing end in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, Team Russia enters the 2016 World Cup with plenty of motivation and a couple of good results in their exhibition games. Before getting to North American soil, the Russians defeated Team Czech Republic in the first of a short two-game series, losing the second game in a shootout. The first game in North America ended up satisfactorily for the team, as Canada got the best of them in overtime.

Team Russia is slotted in Group B with Team Finland, Team Sweden, and the under-23 Team North America. Only the first two teams will advance to the playoffs.

Pavel Datsyuk
(Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

The Forwards: Enough Firepower

Projected Lines:

  • Nikita Kucherov – Pavel Datsyuk – Alex Ovechkin
  • Nikolai Kulemin – Evgeni Malkin – Vladimir Tarasenko
  • Evgeny Dadonov – Vadim Shipachyov – Artemi Panarin
  • Ivan Telegin – Artem Anisimov – Evgeny Kuznetsov
  • Extra: Vladislav Namestnikov

“During the [exhibition] game we showed that our forwards are better than Canada’s,” Team Russia head coach Oleg Znarok declared to after the game. It’s a bold statement, but it may be true: as tradition dictates, the Mother Land has a very stacked forward group, and Znarok decided to renounce Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk, among the others. The old guard is once again a key part of the team, but younger players like Tarasenko, Panarin and Kucherov are likely to have a big impact in this year’s tournament. Moreover, the opposition should not overlook the Dadonov – Shipachyov – Panarin line just because two of them play in the KHL, as Panarin’s line organized the 2-1 goal in the exhibition game against Canada. Znarok could afford to move Kuznetsov to the fourth line after not showing enough chemistry with team’s captain, Alex Ovechkin.

The Defense: The Perfect Opposite

Projected Pairings:

  • Nikita Zaitsev – Dmitry Orlov
  • Alexei Emelin – Andrei Markov
  • Alexei Marchenko – Dmitry Kulikov
  • Extra: Nikita Nesterov

In recent times, Team Russia never looked very good on defense, and on paper, this roster is pretty much the same. After the exhibition games, it’s probably not just on paper. But while the Mother Land didn’t grow another Vyacheslav Fetisov or Sergei Zubov in the latest ten years, Emelin and Markov are good NHL defensemen, Zaitsev is a young player on the rise, and in the pipeline prospects such as Mikhail Sergachev and Ivan Provorov are awaiting their turns.

Sergei Bobrovsky
(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Things can turn out better than expected on the blueline for the Russians, although the defensive corp is definitely not on par with forwards or goalies. Most of the players will have to find an extra gear to deliver at this level, and it will be hard for the team to win games if the defense will not help.

The Goalies: Hope on Bobrovsky

It’s pretty evident that Znarok prefers Sergei Bobrovsky over Semyon Varlamov, and he recently declared that Bobrovsky will start in the first game and then they’ll decide who to start. Varlamov had a good game against the Czechs in Prague, but it was not enough to win a spot over the former Vezina Trophy recipient. Andrei Vasilevsky will be the third goalie for the tournament, and at this point, it’s unlikely that he will see any ice time.

Tournament Outlook: Can Go Either Way

The Russians played well during the pre-tournament, but in the end, they lost two games out of three. Sweden, Finland, and Team North America are all tough competition to deal with, and it will not shock anyone seeing Team Russia winning all the games or losing all three of them. Historically, Team Russia has always had a hard time against the Finn’s, it will be interesting to see if Znarok’s team will manage to revert the tradition. Moreover, a lot of high-caliber Russian players always show their patriotism, as Ovechkin again declared that he will skate at the 2018 Olympics no matter what the NHL will decide, but some of these players are also known for not having contributed much to the national team, at least compared to their potential. Ovechkin is among them, and the Mother Land needs Ovechkin to be at his best to overcome the shadows cast on this roster.

The Hockey Writers coverage of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 is being brought to you by PrimeSport, the official Fan Travel & Hospitality Package Partner of the World Cup of Hockey 2016.