Article has been updated on December 5th after the release of the final camp roster.
It’s December now which means the World Juniors are right around the corner! Over the past week, I’ve done my projections for Team Finland and Team Sweden, so now it’s time for Team Russia.
The Russian team is always very difficult to project because they usually make some odd selections and they seem to favor players playing in Russia over those playing in North America. Because of that, I sent my projection to Viktor Fomich (@RUSProspects) who provided great feedback. Big thanks to you, Viktor! My projected lineup isn’t exactly the same he suggested which may be dumb because he knows Russian prospects better than I do. But I did want to do my own projection while keeping his feedback in mind.
This lineup is created with the assumption Andrei Svechnikov isn’t available for the tournament. Without further ado, let’s go through the lineup one line at a time.
First line: Klim Kostin – Alexander Khovanov – Vitali Kravtsov
Kravtsov and Kostin may be the biggest names on the Russian roster (first-round selections from the previous two drafts) but it was very difficult to find a center worthy of them. Khovanov, Minnesota’s third-round selection from last summer, was the best option but he’s nowhere near the level of those two wingers. Kravtsov did play a couple of games at center at the recent U20 tournament in Czech Republic but apparently the Russian team coach wasn’t all that satisfied with his play there, so it’s very likely he stays at wing.
Second line: Grigori Denisenko – Ivan Morozov – Nikolai Kovalenko
Denisenko and Kovalenko come from the Yaroslavl system, and even though they haven’t really played on the same line, I think it’s helpful to have players who know each other. Denisenko’s spot is by no means guaranteed; he’s talented enough to be a true difference-maker at this level but he also has a bad habit of taking stupid penalties – even major penalties at times – which are costly for his team. Because of his discipline issues, it wouldn’t be shocking if Denisenko was left off the roster entirely. But he has that game-breaking ability which is why the Panthers drafted him 15th overall, and because of that, it’s difficult for me to leave him out.
Andrei Kovalenko’s son Nikolai has been a full-time KHL player this season. He was drafted by Colorado in the sixth round last summer. The Golden Knights drafted Morozov in the second round last summer. Like Denisenko, he’s 18 years old which means his chances of playing are not great but he plays a strong two-way game, and he offers a right-handed shot which is rare on this team.
Third line: Ivan Chekhovich – Pavel Shen – Stepan Starkov
The line of Yaremchuk-Shen-Starkov was great together at the Canada/Russia Series, and it makes a ton of sense to keep that trio together here as well. But that would have meant leaving Chekhovich as the 13th forward, and I just couldn’t do it. So instead, I have Yaremchuk as the 13th forward, ready to jump into this line if needed. Checkhovich, San Jose’s seventh-round selection from 2017, is having an amazing season in the QMJHL. He deserves a chance to show what he can do at the world stage.
Fourth line: Ivan Muranov – Artyom Galimov – Kirill Slepets
All three players here are undrafted 19-year-olds. You’ve probably never heard of them, and there’s no real reason to change that now.
Notable omissions: Nikita Anokhovsky (injury), Dmitri Zavgorodny, Kirill Marchenko, Vasili Podkolzin, Bulat Shafigullin, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Alexei Lipanov and Kirill Maximov.
First pair: Ilya Morozov – Alexander Alexeyev
Washington’s first-rounder Alexeyev should be the top dog on this Russian blue line but Morozov is a full-time KHL player who spent half of last season in the KHL as well, so he has experience on his side. I would give this pair tough minutes against the best possible players the opposition has to offer. If these two can’t handle it, then no one can.
Second pair: Dmitri Samorukov – Mark Rubinchik
This is where things start to fall off a bit. Samorukov, Edmonton’s third-round pick from 2017, is a fine prospect but not really someone I’d want on the second pair. The same could be said about Rubinchik who plays in the VHL, second-tier league in Russia. But they’re both 19-year-olds and there aren’t any realistically better options either.
Third pair: Saveli Olshansky – Alexander Romanov
Olshansky impressed at the Canada/Russia Series, and he’s played a few games in the KHL as well. Romanov has been a full-time KHL player this season but hasn’t been impressing in his time there. This is a pair I would mostly utilize in offensive situations against easier opponents because their defensive ability at this level is a bit questionable.
Seventh defenseman: Anton Malyshev
Malyshev may be a surprising name on this roster but he captained Team Russia at the U18 Worlds last spring, and he’s the only right-handed shot defenseman on this roster.
Daniil Tarasov – Pyotr Kochetkov – Amir Miftakhov
I’m expecting Tarasov, Columbus’ third-round selection from 2017, and Kochetkov to split the games early in the tournament, and then the hotter hand gets to play the deciding games later in the tournament. Tarasov and Kochetkov are both 19-year-old goalies with very good size and good results from the VHL this season. Tarasov was impressive at the U20 tournament in Sweden back in August whereas Kochetkov was impressive at the Canada/Russia Series, so they’ve both proven their worth on this team already.
18-year-old Miftakhov gets the third goalie spot, and he could be their starter a year from now. He went undrafted last summer which was surprising, although he’s not the biggest goalie out there. Another strong option for that role would have been Kirill Ustimenko who was drafted in the third round in 2017 by the Flyers. But he’s had a very difficult season.
Klim Kostin – Alexander Khovanov – Vitali Kravtsov
Grigori Denisenko – Ivan Morozov – Nikolai Kovalenko
Ivan Chekhovich – Pavel Shen – Stepan Starkov
Ivan Muranov – Artyom Galimov – Kirill Slepets
Ilya Morozov – Alexander Alexeyev
Dmitri Samorukov – Mark Rubinchik
Saveli Olshansky – Alexander Romanov
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of NHL.com