With the official news that NHLers will be returning to compete in the Olympics once again for the first time since the 2014 Sochi games, the rapid speculation on who will represent each team has begun. If there’s a team that will go into the Olympics with top-end offence as their main strategy, Russia is it. Competing under the Russian Olympic Commitee (ROC) designation, they’ll hope to score by committee too as their forwards are loaded with shooting power.
Each country will have some very tough decisions to make, some more than others, when it comes time to submit their final 25 man rosters in January 2022. We will take a look at what each of the main contenders teams should look like come game one of the tournament. We’ll be projecting thirteen forwards, seven defenceman and three goalies for each major team in the tournament. Let’s check out the ROC fares as the final of the Big 5 teams.
A reminder that these teams are not necessarily who we think will be named to the actual team, but who we would pick for the team.
Russia always has a very top-heavy team whenever NHL players are involved in these tournaments due to their lack of depth after their top players. For this reason the ROC typically feature multiple KHL players on their roster, however in 2022 they’ll have their deepest roster ever at the Olympics. It wouldn’t be a shock to see only one or two KHL players on the team.
Russia has only medaled once in the Olympics with NHL players involved, picking up a silver in 1998 but they’ll have a decent shot to add their second in 2022.
Artemi Panarin – Evgeni Malkin (A) – Nikita Kucherov (A)
Alex Ovechkin (C) – Vadim Shipachyov – Kirill Kaprizov
Andrei Svechnikov – Valeri Nichushkin – Pavel Buchnevich
Alex Radulov – Vladislav Namestnikov – Vladimir Tarasenko
The first thing that stands out about Russia’s lineup is that they are completely devoid at centre. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s IIHF suspension leaves a massive hole down the middle for Russia. They are however one of the most stacked teams in the tournament on the wing. Just don’t expect them to play much defence.
The choices for the first line were straight forward. Artemi Panarin and Nikita Kucherov are both top five wingers in the NHL and will be a force together. Evgeni Malkin meanwhile is still a borderline elite centre and by far the best on this roster. This line will be a major problem for every team in the tournament.
The second group contains the greatest Russian player ever in Alex Ovechkin along with the reigning Calder trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov. Both Ovechkin and Kaprizov are elite finishers and will rack up goals in this tournament playing together. At centre the choices are very slim after Malkin with Kuznetsov unavailable, so I went with the 2020-21 KHL leading scorer and former Vegas Golden Knight Vadim Shipachyov.
On the third line I’ve got an elite scoring chance driver in Andrei Svechnikov opposite the very underrated two-way sniper in Pavel Buchnevich. At centre there were extremely slim pickings, so instead of playing an inferior player here I decided to shift two-way dynamo Valeri Nichushkin to centre. Nichushkin is by far the best forward defensively that Russia has and can handle defensive duties while his wingers create offence.
As mentioned Russia is stacked on the wing as evident by their fourth line. Alex Radulov is still a point producer and is actually okay defensively—a good skillset for the fourth line. On the right side I went with Vladimir Tarasenko. He’s struggled for two years now with injuries, but if he’s back to even 75% health this season he’s absolutely worth the pick over the other options. At centre it was between Artem Anisimov and Vladislav Namestnikov. I went with Namestnikov due to his solid defensive results last season.
The extra forward spot went to Evgeny Dadonov as yet another offensive weapon for the ROC should they need to call on him. Due to their complete lack of depth at centre, it honestly wouldn’t be a surprise to see 43-year-old Pavel Datsyuk on the roster either.
Mikhail Sergachev – Dmitry Orlov
Ivan Provorov – Vladislav Gavrikov
Alex Romanov – Artem Zub
The ROC, as usual, are rather weak on defence, but still have some nice underrated pieces. On the top pairing Mikhail Sergachev was an obvious choice as one of the team’s best and most experienced two-way defenceman. Dmitry Orlov meanwhile is probably the best defenceman on the roster especially when it comes to generating offence and will be the clear number one.
For the second pairing I paired the offensive Ivan Provorov with the underrated and dependable Vladislav Gavrikov. Gavrikov is the best defenceman on the team in terms of defensive play and will form a good pairing with the all-offence Provorov.
The third pairing contains another all-offence defenceman in Alex Romanov. Romanov had some solid offensive impacts in his rookie year last season and deserves a spot on the roster at just 21. Similar to the second pairing, I’ve got an underrated defensively sound defenceman on the right side in Artem Zub. Zub will focus on defence while Romanov can focus on chipping in offensively.
For the extra defenceman I went with new Calgary Flame Nikita Zadorov. Zadorov offers nothing offensively but would be a good option on a shutdown pairing and on the penalty kill.
If it’s not on the wing, then goaltending is the clear strength of this team. Andrei Vasilevskiy is probably the best goalie in the world and will play a huge role in determining how Russia does in this tournament. He’s the obvious choice in net. Behind him is no slouch in Semyon Varlamov who had an outstanding 2020–21 season with the New York Islanders last season.
On the bubble
Denis Gurianov – The Dallas Stars winger nearly made my roster, but the fact he plays the deepest position on the team made it hard for him to crack the lineup. He seemed set for a big breakout in 2020–21 but fell short. If he can bounce back and find his form from 2019–20 he’s got a solid shot at earning a spot as an extra forward.
Ilya Mikheyev – Mikheyev isn’t the most popular name, but he does possess some skills that are severely lacking from the current ROC roster in the way of defence and penalty killing. If the team is looking to add some more defensive players who can play on the penalty kill for them, Mikheyev would be a great choice.
Ilya Sorokin – As mentioned Sorokin is a strong candidate for the third string goalie role, but as it stands I don’t think he has the experience to win it over Shesterkin as he’s stuck playing behind Varlamov for the Islanders. That said if Sorokin starts the season better than Shesterkin, he could earn the spot.
Nikita Gusev – Gusev is yet another option for the ROC who is an all-offence winger that can’t play defence. He’s struggled after his great debut season in 2019–20, but on a stacked Panthers roster he has a chance to get back on track offensively and earn a depth spot for the ROC. He also led the 2018 Olympic tournament in scoring and was named forward of the tournament en route to gold with the ROC.
All offence, no defence for Russia
The ROC will take their most talented roster to the Olympics probably ever, but they’ll still be in tough to medal due to their lack of depth at centre and on defence. They also have very limited options at forward for defensive situations and on the penalty kill. It’ll be up to Vasilevskiy to stand on his head and make up for the team’s defensive deficiencies.
Of course when you have the offensive talent that the ROC does, there’s no reason you can’t outscore most of your problems in a short tournament. The ROC should have no problem getting past the weaker teams into the knockout stage, but they’ll have to hope their goal scoring and goaltending can carry them to a medal against the top teams because there will be little defence played on this roster.