Coming off a perfect 4-0-0 round-robin last year at the World Junior Championship before being bounced by the United States in the semifinals, they managed to grab the bronze medal after not medalling at all in 2018, the first time since 2010 that the Russians left the tournament without any hardware.
2011 was the last time the Russians won gold at the World Juniors and for a powerhouse nation, it’s simply not good enough.
The 2020 tournament (Group B) will take place in Ostrava, Czech Republic and the Russians are hoping they will find good fortune and finally reclaim their throne on the world stage. Russia is expected to contend for gold every year, recently, despite talented teams, they haven’t lived up to those expectations.
This Russian team has a lot of depth at all positions, they are filled with NHL prospects and the majority of them already have previous international experience. Anything short of gold for this team will be a disappointment. Russia has seven returning players from last year’s competition and all seven were invited to the pre-tournament training camp, it is unknown as of writing how many will make the cut. Russia will compete in Group B, which consists of Canada, the United States, Germany, and the host nation the Czech Republic.
As with most Russian teams, they are usually great and deep at goaltending. This year’s goalies, however, are hard to predict. They come into camp with three goalies, Yaroslav Askarov (SKA, KHL), Amir Miftakhov (Bars, VHL) and Daniil Isayev (Lokomotiv, KHL). Askarov who has the potential to be the #1 pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is only 17. Probably the odd man out when it comes to getting game time as he’s behind two 19-year old’s, it’s important for him to be part of the camp as he will more than likely backstop Russia in 2021 & 2022.
Miftakhov was on the 2019 Russian WJC, however, he didn’t make an impact being the third goalie on the roster. It will be interesting to see how Russia wants to split the playing time. Can the 17-year old Askarov be the first 17-year old netminder for Russia since Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2012 when he helped earn Russia a silver medal?
Russia will have two notable differences between this year’s blue line and the 2019 roster. Both Alexander Alexeyev and Dmitri Samorukov have both aged out of the tournament. Russia will still be in good hands with returning members Alexander Romanov (CSKA, KHL) and Danila Zhuravlyov (AK Bars, KHL) as they will be tasked with playing big minutes. Romanov was 38th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and was named the 2019 World Junior Championship best defenseman with 8 points in seven games. Zhuravlyov was selected 146th overall by the Colorado Avalanche and will likely quarterback the Russian powerplay, Zhuravlyov has 8 points in 30 games for AK Bars Kazan in the KHL.
Other defenders that have a good chance of cracking the roster are Danila Galenyuk (SKA, KHL) and Mikhail Gordeyev (Sochi, KHL). Being 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-4 respectively can be an excellent shutdown pairing for Russia. Yegor Zamula (Calgary Hitmen, WHL), Anton Malyshev (Buran, VHL) and Daniil Misyul (Lokomotiv, KHL) are all candidates to round out the 2020 team.
This is where it gets really good for the Russians if you just look at the players, they left off this camp roster Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (Peterborough Petes, OHL) and Yegor Afanasyev (Windsor Spitfires, OHL) you can see that this roster is very deep.
Big returnees Grigori Denisenko (Lokomotiv, KHL) and Vasili Podkolzin (SKA-Neva, VHL) will be tasked with carrying the offensive load in Ostrava. Podkolzin was drafted 10th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Podkolzin was the youngest player on the 2019 Russian roster. Denisenko was selected 15th overall by the Florida Panthers in that same draft and has absolutely dominated for Russia in international competition, leading last year’s team with nine points in seven games.
Russia in total sports 8 forwards drafted in the NHL, the two prior stated as well as Pavel Dorofeyev (Metallurg, KHL – 79th, Vegas), Alexander Khovanov (Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL – 86th, Minnesota), Ivan Morozov (SKA-Neva, VHL – 61st, Vegas), Kirill Marchenko (Lokomotiv, KHL – 49th, Columbus), Nikita Alexandrov (Charlottetown Islanders, QMJHL – 62nd, St. Louis) and finally Dmitry Voronkov (Ak Bars, KHL – 114th, Columbus). It’s unlikely there is enough room on this roster for all of them.
They only boast one 17-year-old forward, Maxim Groshev (Neftekhimik, KHL), he will be hard-pressed to make this roster despite having a strong U-18 showing. If he makes the roster, however, it will be very good for the 2020 draft-eligible prospect.
All-in-all this Russian roster has the potential to win the gold medal and anything less than that will more than likely be considered a disappointment. Up and down the roster they can match with any other country in the tournament, however, the group they play in will be a tough test. Russia will play the host nation Czech Republic first before getting an off day followed by a back-to-back with the United States and Canada.
Now is the time for Russia to reclaim their gold medal, they are bringing possibly the deepest, best roster they have built this decade.
Russia Group B Schedule 2020:
Thursday, December 26th: Russia vs Czech Republic (9 AM EST)
Saturday, December 28th: Russia vs Canada (1 PM EST)
Sunday, December 29th: Russia vs United States (1 PM EST)
Tuesday, December 31st: Russia vs Germany (9 AM EST)
For up to date news regarding Team Russia throughout the 2020 World Junior Championships, follow Arik Krause on Twitter HERE.
Photo Credit: twitter.com/russiahockey_en