Back at it again! This is the fifth instalment of the Olympic projection series, and today we will look at Russia. There has also been some timely news, with it being reported that the NHL will return to the Olympics in 2022 and 2026.
This is great news for the game of hockey, and fans across the globe should be ecstatic about the announcement. Much like soccer, international hockey brings out the best in players, and the major competitions produce truly remarkable hockey. I can’t wait.
But today we turn our attention to the Russian squad. It is important to note for this team that we are focusing mostly on the NHL players, although there will inevitably be a fair share of KHL players filling out the team. This team though, will be NHL heavy.
The story with this team on the ice is a familiar one for the Russian team. Absolutely ridiculous talent in the top six forward group that would push even the Canadians. Defensively, this group will not be strong, but with arguably the best goalie in the tournament, the Russians could be dangerous. Short of a remarkable goaltending performance it might be tough to succeed in a tournament that will feature some excellent two way play.
Lets have a look at which forwards will pull the jersey on for the Russians.
As easy as it gets, OV is one of the best Russians ever and a lock to be the first line left winger and captain for this club. He would love to add olympic gold to a pretty much flawless resume. Oh and by the way, he had 48 goals this season in 68 games. Is that good?
A truly dynamic playmaker, Panarin is one of a few guys who would be licking their chops to play with arguably the best shooter of this generation in Ovechkin. Dynamic speed and skill, one of the best in the world at controlling the puck. International ice would only make him more dangerous. Panarin averaged 1.38 points per game this season.
I could pretty much copy and paste the description for Panarin and apply it here. Kucherov is a bonafide superstar and will give the Russians a devastating look on the power play with him and Ovechkin on the top of both circles.
Another superstar. Like I said the top of this roster is as good as it gets. Malkin has been at it for years, but still had one of the best point per game rates this year (1.35). When healthy, Malkin is still one of the very best in the business.
Another big time shooter to play with the elite playmakers like Panarin and Kucherov. Tarasenko is fresh off a Stanley Cup run, but was hurt for most of this season. In the ten games he did play in, he had ten points, signalling that Tarasenko is still in the elite class of the league.
The last superstar in the top six, Kuzentov is only a year removed from being a major piece of the Capitals cup run. He had a slightly slower year this year, but would have to think his experience and talent make him an easy candidate for the second centre slot behind Malkin.
Most Likely Will Make It
This guy actually had better numbers than Kuznetsov this year, and is one of the few truly young Russians that will be big time players on the team. As of now he is pencilled in for one of the bottom six positions, but in two years could be ready to play with the big guns up front.
Dadonov will be on the older side when the tournament starts, but is a solid contributor at the NHL level and will give some offence to the depth forwards. It is a drop off from the depth of teams like the Canadians, but that is where this team will struggle.
The one non-NHL player on this list, Kaprizov is considered by many to be the best player outside of the NHL. Especially given the mediocre depth on this group, you would have to think Kaprizov would be an easy candidate for this club.
It was a strange year for Namestnikov playing in three different markets. But he is a centre and this team is stronger down the wings. I think he still makes the team despite never having a real breakout year in the NHL.
Devils fans were probably hoping for more than the 44 points he posted in his first North American season. There is still room for a breakout season, but Gusev will probably be a third or fourth liner on this team.
The Russians could play some interesting chemistry games with Buchnevich playing in New York with Panarin. If they wanted to go for more balanced lines, that could be a sneaky dangerous duo. Regardless, Buchnevich provides some young legs, and a big body at six foot three to help hang with the physical teams in the tournament.
Youth, size, and experience playing in a depth role. Barbashev gives all these things. I think he makes the team because of it.
I was super impressed with this guy in Toronto this season. His numbers do not jump off the page, but he is a big strong guy, and another one who has experience in a depth role. Much like Barbashev, his ability to do that could really help his chances to make the club.
Ivan Provorov – Nikita Zadorov
Two nice young players for sure, but nowhere near the loaded pairings that the other big nations have. Provorov is young but might be the best of the bunch. They will need to find a way to hold up defensively while still using their skills to push the play up the ice.
Mikhail Sergachev – Nikita Zaitsev
Sergachev is probably the second best after Provorov, and will be in contention to run one of the power play units. He is a smooth player who excels with the puck on his stick. Zaitsev on the other hand has had some definite struggles over the past few seasons after signing a monster contract with the Maple Leafs. He will need to play way better than what he has done in recent NHL seasons for this team to have a chance to compete.
Dimitri Orlov – Vladislav Gavrikov
Orlov is another nice piece, but again it is important to consider the caliber of the other defensive corps across the tournament. It it hard to see these guys really being difference makers when matched up against long list of superstars.
Could be interchanged with most of the guys above him on the list. Will depend on chemistry and coaching decisions.
I alluded to this in the introduction. Vasilevskiy might currently be the best goaltender in the world, and he will need to play to his most full potential for this team to have any success. The Russians will need to play an up tempo game and will need to take chances. Those lead to odd man breaks and chances the other way, so Vasilevskiy will be required to make the big saves when his team needs them. Arguably the most important single player in the tournament.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Alexander Georgiev
Both good options, Bobrovsky has proven himself but struggled recently. Georgiev is in the running to take over the net for the Rangers once King Henrik retires. Any of them will need to be stellar if they get in.
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