Goalies: The number one goalie position isn’t set in stone yet, but the good news is that both Ilya Samsonov and Alexandar Georgiev are worthy candidates of taking the starting role and running with it throughout the tournament. The only goalie chosen in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft after the Washington Capitals picked him 22nd overall, Samsonov has been stellar in his debut KHL season, posting a 1.87 GAA and .929 SP% by the time the preliminary roster was announced. Samsonov was great in both major international tournaments he participated in for Russia last year, even winning the top goaltender award at the 2015 World Under-18’s. With great numbers to boot everywhere he’s ever played, the quick moving goaltender with good size could end up being a mainstay with the Russian national team for years to come, and a good performance at the World Juniors could only further that belief. Georgiev, however, may have something to say about that. A Russian-born goaltender that also holds Bulgarian citizenship, Georgiev has never represented Russia at the international stage, but he’s already had good success in the Finnish Liiga this year. A second-year puck-stopper with TPS, the 19-year-old goaltender had a 2.28 GAA and a .915 SP after just 10 games played against older competition. With the tournament being his last year of junior eligibility, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Georgiev given any chance he can to succeed, especially with his experience playing against Finnish players on Finnish ice.
Defensemen: Defense is always the weakest position for the Russians no matter what tournament it is. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a guy like Ivan Provorov patrolling your blue line, especially after an incredible season and a half with the Brandon Wheat Kings. An offensively gifted back end master who can use his tremendous speed to beat everyone everywhere on the ice, Provorov should excel on the bigger ice after a solid tournament a year ago in Canada. Playing at nearly a point-per-game average with the WHL’s Wheat Kings this year, Provorov will easily be the number one defenseman for the Russians and will likely carry the load on the power-play, too. LA Kings prospect and current Owen Sound Attack defenseman Damir Sharipzyanov will likely see a good amount of ice time with Provorov as the top pairing blue liners. For Sharipzyanov, who signed with the Kings despite getting undrafted in June, this will be his first crack at the World Juniors, but he’s no stranger to playing for Russia internationally. Sharipzyanov has already played in two CHL Super Series games over the past two years and has already seen action at both the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and the World Under-18’s over the past two seasons. Kitchener Rangers Dmitri Sergeyev will be making his World Junior debut as well, with only one Super Series game in between the WJC’s and the last international tournament he participated in, the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The third-year OHLer is having a solid season in major junior, and while his experience playing against top-end talent may seem like a good thing, he likely won’t be counted on as much as his other two league teammates on the blue line. Yegor Rykov was one of the better Russians at the Under-18’s a season ago, so there’s a good chance that he’ll be used in a top four when the 18-year-old participates in his first World Juniors. Alexander Mikulovich and Sergei Boikov should add some decent depth to the position, giving the team a solid defensive core to work with, even if it’s still their weakest position on the ice.
Forwards: Russia never fails to bring talented forwards with a tremendous amount of skill, so the potential of having Maxim Lazarev and Evgeni Svechnikov patrol the first line seems like a very intriguing fit. For Lazarev, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles went undrafted in the NHL this past June despite an 80-point campaign in his QMJHL sophomore campaign last year. A master with the puck, Lazarev was brought to Chicago’s rookie camp this past summer, but the former Ak Bars Kazan selection has still yet to sign with any NHL club just yet. Svechnkikov, Lazarev’s linemate in Cape Breton, was a first-round pick by the Detroit Red Wings this past year after putting up 78 points thanks to his magical hands. If the Russians were to put the two teammates together with a player such as Denis Guryanov, the Russians could have a dangerous scoring line. Don’t let his four points in 34 games scare you, the Dallas Stars prospect could end up being one of the best forwards to come out of the 2015 NHL Draft. Guryanov has been playing against men with Lada Togliatti in the KHL this year, so his experience, mixed with his speed and quick puck skills, could be very useful for the potential tournament medalists. Philadelphia Flyers prospect Radel Fazleyev could find himself skating in the top nine thanks to a very strong campaign with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen this year, with the former World Under-17 Hockey Challenge silver medalist on pace to score close to 90 points this season. While power-forwards typically don’t excel in big ice situations, Alexander Dergachyov is a beast that has looked good while playing against men in the KHL this year, so his experience playing against top end players could come in handy. Pavel Kraskovsky, a Winnipeg Jets prospect, is another forward that has been playing against men this year, but after so-so results Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the potential top six centremen could use a good tournament to set things on the right track. Fellow Lokomotiv teammate Yegor Korshkov could also see time on the second line with Kraskovsky, while Milwaukee Admirals winger Vladislav Kamenev should be a key contributor offensively for the high-flying Russians.
Projection: It’s always unwise to bet against the Russians at the World Juniors, but with some incredible teams coming out of Finland, Sweden, Canada and the United States this year, it’s going to be a tough fight until the end for one of the three medal spots. With a lot of great offensive choices up front and two potential goalies stars between the crease, Russia will easily be a contender once again, but achieving a silver medal this year could be just a little harder than it was in Toronto back in January.
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