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The NoVA Caps team has been introducing the teams participating in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which kicks off on September 17th, when the best players in the world, sporting their country’s colors, will descend on Toronto. Today, we feature the stars and talents of Team Russia.
Team Russia is a mere shadow of the global hockey dominance once possessed by the Soviet Union Team [i] in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, Teams Canada, USA and Sweden have cultivated their own talents to close the competitive advantage once held by the Soviet Union. However, Team Russia remains a strong contender in international hockey, as evidenced by their medals won in eight of the last ten IIHF tournaments; four of which were gold.
While the gap may have closed, Team Russia still features an impressive lineup for the WCH, which includes star players from both the NHL and KHL, and storied Head Coach Oleg Valerievich Znarok, a veteran from the Soviet hockey team who has led Team Russia to IIHF Gold, Silver, and Bronze in 2014-2016.
Power, Agility and Speed Round Out Team Russia’s Offensive Lines
Pavel Datsyuk aka “The Magic Man” will provide on-ice leadership as captain. While Datsyuk retired from the NHL this summer after 14 years with the Detroit Red Wings, he is now playing for SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL. During his tenure with the Red Wings, Datsyuk scored 314 goals and 918 points in 953 games. He won two Stanley Cups in 2001-02 and 2007-08, three Selke trophies, four Lady Byng awards, and was selected as an All-Star four times. His peers (T. J. Oshie and Justin Williams included) consistently recognize him as a “best in the league” forward. His continuing presence with the Russians fortifies the speed, agility and stick handling we can expect to see from them during the WCH.
Rounding out the notable forwards in Team Russia’s arsenal of greats include the Washington Capitals own Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning), and Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues). Ovechkin and Kuznetsov are coming off a stellar 2016 season where Ovechkin scored his 500th goal in 801 games and Kuznetsov led the Caps by earning 77 points – double his total from the 2014 season.
Kucherov had a career year with 66 points in 77 regular-season games and a highly impressive 11 goals and 19 points in 17 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Right-winger Tarasenko is fresh off his 40 goal, 74 point season and possesses a lethally accurate, quick release shot that he uses, a lot. In fact, he was one of the top ten even strength scorers in 2016 and second only to Ovechkin in his number of shot attempts. His speed is renowned and he will be difficult to contain when flanked by the other top tier talents on this team.
Fans must also keep a close eye on Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin (Chicago Blackhawks) and Evgeni Malkin,(Pittsburgh Penguins), who will also serve as formidable playmakers during the WCH tournaments. Panarin, who had a 30-goal, 77-point rookie year, will continue to be a force in the WCH and beyond. Malkin is a superstar in his own right and a key component to Pittsburgh’s success in winning the 2016 Stanley Cup. With Ovechkin, Malkin and Tarasenko projected to fill Team Russia’s top line, fans can expect explosive shots and “thrill a minute’ plays.
Team Russia’s full forwards lineup includes: Artem Anisimov, Chicago Blackhawks; Evgeny Dadonov, SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL); Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings; Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning; Nikolay Kulemin, New York Islanders; Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals; Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins; Vladislav Namestnikov, Tampa Bay Lightning; Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals; Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks; Vadim Shipachyov, SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL); Ivan Telegin, CSKA Moscow (KHL); Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues.
Questionable Defense Offsets Offensive Prowess
The Achilles Heel for Team Russia may very well be the blue liners defending its goal. While the defensive line up features some talent they are far less seasoned than the superstars that stud the offensive lineup. Relative newcomer Dmitry Orlov will be a definite asset to the blue line team. Orlov, who logged his first full, 82 game season with the Capitals, registered a respectable 29 points. As reported previously by NoVa Caps, Orlov is a keen play reader with a great sense of positioning to expertly break up an odd man rush, and works in tandem with his forwards to generate quality scoring opportunities. Conversely, seasoned veterans Alexi Emelin and Andrei Markov, both of the Montreal Canadiens, possess the experience for an effective d-line if they can stay healthy. Emelin is a highly physical player who is prone to injury, while Markov, who at 36 is an aging veteran plagued with injuries.
Team Russia’s full defensive lineup for the WCH includes: Alexei Emelin, Montreal Canadiens; Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers; Alexey Marchenko, Detroit Red Wings; Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens; Dmitry Orlov, Washington Capitals; Nikita Zaitsev, Toronto Maple Leafs. Notably missing from the lineup is SKA Saint Petersburg defenseman Slava Voynov. Voynov, formerly of the Los Angeles Kings was on the initial line-up; however, the NHL determined that he is ineliglble to participate because he was suspended from the league indefinitely for a domestic violence incident.
A troika of talent in the net may be Team Russia’s saving grace; 2013 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets) will likely serve as the team’s starting goaltender. He is the first and only Russian to ever take home the Vezina. Despite his 2.75 GAA .917 save percentage (remember, he is on the Blue Jackets) he has proven his goaltending abilities on the international front at the Sochi Olympics.
What Team Russia lacks on the blue line they make up for in the paint. It’s uncertain if the potent offensive power of this team is sufficient to offset the weaknesses of its struggling defense.
By Stephanie Judge
[i] The team [Soviet Union] won nearly every world championship and Olympic tournament between 1954 and 1991 and never failed to medal in any International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) tournament they competed in.