(Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk)
Times have certainly changed since the World Cup of Hockey in 2004. Team Russia in 2004 boasted Valeri Bure, Alexei Yashin, Darius Kasparaitis and Alexei Kovalev among others. The only holdovers from that roster are Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Ovechkin, and Andrei Markov. Former Red Wing (always will be to Wings fans) Pavel Datsyuk only had one point back in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Russia’s top five scorers all were tied with three points. Those players were Alexei Kovalev, Dainius Zubrus, Alexei Yashin, Sergei Gonchar and Sergei Samsonov. Russia’s goalies that played were Ilya Bryzgalov and Maxim Sokolov.
Long time Captain for Russia, Datsyuk, and Markov are in the process of handing over the team to Russia’s younger talent. Alex Ovechkin has taken over as captain, Evgeni Malkin is the other assistant in addition to Datsyuk. An interesting connection between both teams is that Pavel Datsyuk will have another Red Wing on each team. Back in 2004, it would be future Red Wing Danny Markov -brother of Andrei- and this tournament, Datsyuk will have former teammate Alexey Marchenko as a teammate. Danny Markov played for Detroit during the 2006-07 NHL season.
Russia has an extremely strong offensive team. They will have Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Artemi Panarin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nikita Kucherov and Pavel Datsyuk leading the way up front. Russia has the potential to be a high-scoring team because of this offensive firepower, and they’re going to need it. In the 2015-16 season, Ovechkin had a 50 goal season, Tarasenko had a 40 goal season, and Panarin and Kucherov had 30 goal seasons. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Russia’s strength is its offensive firepower. We already know what Ovechkin, Tarasenko, Malkin, and Datsyuk are capable of. Panarin and Kuznetsov are expected to continue to grow as players, with Kuznetsov expected to have a breakout season in 2016-17. Nikita Kucherov became Tampa Bay’s best player down the stretch and into the playoffs with Steven Stamkos out. This firepower is rounded out by solid depth. KHLers Evgeny Dadonov and Vadim Shipachev play for Pavel Datsyuk’s SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. Both were reported to have received significant NHL interest. They are also former linemates of Artemi Panarin with SKA. Ivan Telegin is the other KHL player on the roster and the Winnipeg Jets currently hold his rights. NHL depth rounding out the forward group consists of Artem Anisimov, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Nikolay Kulemin.
Both Russia’s defense and goaltending is lacking. On defense, Andrei Markov is Russia’s best defenseman and he’s in the twilight of his career. Dmitry Kulikov and Dmitry Orlov are next in line for that spot. Veteran NHLer Alexei Emelin, Red Wings defenseman Alexey Marchenko, Toronto rookie Nikita Zaitsev, and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Nesterov round out a decent defensive squad for Russia. Compared to teams like Sweden and Canada, Russia’s defense is lacking. It is made up of mostly second and third pairing defenseman.
Russia has Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov and Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. Bobrovsky is going into the tournament as their number one goaltender, but he’s had a shaky and injury-riddled past couple of seasons in the NHL. Last season, Bobrovsky had a 2.75 GAA and .908 SV% through 37 games. Varlamov has actually been worse than Bobrovsky with a 2.81 GAA although having a .914 SV% through 57 games. Andrei Vasilevskiy still has plenty of time to start for Russia at a major international tournament being only 22 and getting better. Russia will need its goaltending to find a groove and be successful in order to make a lasting impact this tournament. Russia went 1-0-2 in the three pre-tournament games.
(Evgeni Malkin (left) and Alexander Ovechkin (right))
Practice Lines via https://twitter.com/TomGulittiNHL
Photo 1: https://www.wch2016.com/news/russia-lineup-ready-for-opener-vs-sweden/c-281855168?tid=281651732
Photo 2: http://www.habseyesontheprize.com/2016/9/13/12682672/2016-world-cup-of-hockey-team-russia-preview-roster-x-factor-strengths-weaknesses-ovechkin-malkin
Roster via: https://www.wch2016.com/russia/roster/