Russia’s omission of Yan Kuznetsov from the World Juniors is unprecedented

The 2022 World Junior Hockey Championship kicks off in just under two weeks, and teams are starting to announce their final rosters. Russia revealed their roster and there were several key omissions from their list. All of Russia’s eligible players who are currently in North America were excluded from the team, despite several being viewed as locks to be on the roster.

Included in this list are Calgary Flames prospect Yan Kuznetsov and Vegas Golden Knights prospect Daniil Chayka. Kuznetsov has the unique experience of having played professional games in North America which seems like a huge benefit as the tournament will be played in Edmonton this year, but was still excluded from the roster.

If the reasoning that was provided was based on COVID or quarantine issues as some expected, it would make some sense. Even if the Russian management’s philosophy had changed in relation to age and experience that would be fine. But these were not the reasons head coach Sergei Zubov conveyed to the media yesterday.

It just doesn’t make sense. The only thing that could be the reason for these unprecedented omissions is Russia rewarding players who stayed at home and played in the KHL system instead of pursuing their future in North America.

Russia has historically been a team that has selected only 18- and 19-year-old players with a heavy skew towards 19-year-olds. However, Kuznetsov and Chayka are both 19. As well, Russia’s team includes two 17-year-olds, Matvei Michkov and Danila Yurov. Both these players are projected to be drafted in the top-three of the 2022 NHL Draft so they are worth of selection, it is just very puzzling to see very deserving players who meet the traditional age cutoff and would be returners to the tournament omitted.

In fact, going back through history, Russia has never not selected returning eligible players to their team.

History of eligible returnees for Russia at the WJC

Since 2010, 73 players have been eligible to return for Russia at the WJC. 64 of these players were 18-years-old and eligible to return the following year, and 10 were 17-years-old, eligible to return the following two years. The 17-year-olds are counted twice as separate eligible returnees.

Of these 73 players, seven are members of the 2022 team, and therefore we don’t know if they will return for Russia in 2023. That leaves us with 66 players.

Six players did not return to Russia’s WJC team due to being full-time NHLers. The list includes Andrei Svechnikov, Ivan Provorov, Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Sergachev, Valeri Nichushkin, and Alexander Burmistrov. That leaves us with 60 players.

Three players were unable to participate in their returning WJC tournament due to injury. By all accounts, these three players would have played for Russia but were unable to. Two were actually named to the roster originally, but did not play any games. That leaves 57 players.

Of the remaining 57 players, 52 of them returned for Team Russia. That leaves just five players who were cut by Russia despite being eligible returning players.

The first two in this position to be cut were a pair of 2011 eligibles in Ivan Telegin and Ramis Sadikov. Telegin was a 17-year-old at the 2010 tournament and was cut in his 18-year-old season. However, he made the team the following year as a 19-year-old, so he probably just wasn’t good enough to make it in that middle year. Perhaps Russia had a weaker team in 2010 and a stronger one in 2011 that he couldn’t make. Regardless, he did end up coming back for Russia two years later in 2012.

Sadikov was the backup goalie to Igor Bobkov—an up-and-coming superstar—in the 2010 tournament. In the 2011 tournament, he was cut in favour of fellow 19-year-old Dmitri Shikin, deserving of the backup goalie spot in his own right. This was just a backup swap and wasn’t hugely impactful. Nothing to see here.

The next eligible returnee to be cut was Daniil Zharkov in 2014. He played in the tournament for Russia in 2013 scoring one goal in seven games. His omission from the 2014 team was surprising to most pundits and this was the very first time Russia did not bring back an eligible returnee without a good reason.

The last two to be cut are this year’s Kuznetsov and Chayka. However, they stand alone in the fact that both would likely have been top-pairing defenders for the squad and are clearly better than most of the defence corps Russia selected in their stead.

Russia and selecting players from North America

It’s very clear that this year, Russia opted not to take any players not currently playing in Russia. This is very unprecedented as Russia has never shied away from taking Russians from North America in the past.

This year’s squad is the first one that does not include anyone who plays outside of Russia. It is an unprecedented decision and will no doubt hinder the country’s medal hopes this year.

The Memorial Cup

For Kuznetsov and Chayka, their sights are set on the Memorial Cup. Kuznetsov’s Saint John Sea Dogs are hosting the tournament this year and are having a very strong season and currently sit sixth overall in the QMJHL.

Chayka’s Guelph Storm are sitting fourth overall in the OHL, and have a strong chance to represent the OHL at the Memorial Cup.

Hopefully both of these young players get to compete for the most prestigious junior award in the country this season. They deserve it.

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