The Russians ice a formidable on-paper roster for pretty much every major international tournament. Whether the team succeeds, however, is anyone’s guess. Looking at their imaginary lineup for my 2022 NHL Olympic projection series, I see a major contender, absolutely stacked at forward and by far the most loaded in net. So if the Olympic Athletes from Russia – still banned from participating officially as Russia, don’t forget – can get out of their own way, they should have a real shot at defending the gold medal they won at the 2018 Olympics, sans-NHL participation.
Let’s break down this intriguing roster. Special thanks to writer Slava Malamud, who acted as my consultant for building the squad. Ages as of Feb. 4, 2022.
Update: Needed to make some revisions after some good points from Mihail Zislis on Twitter, most notably that Evgeny Kuznetsov's four-year IIHF ban had completely slipped my mind. Now the hole at center in the Russian lineup is more glaring.
FORWARD LINE 1: Artemi Panarin (30), Evgeni Malkin (35), Nikita Kucherov (28)
Just a deadly line – because you can’t key on any of them to be the shooter or the puck carrier or the passer. All three are wizards with the puck, and all three can score goals. They would be extremely difficult to defend.
FORWARD LINE 2: Alex Ovechkin (36), Vadim Shipachyov (34), Andrei Svechnikov (21)
We’ll assume Ovi and Svechnikov bond over their 2019 post-season fight. They bring a heavy forecheck and sniping ability, while Shipachyov will be tasked with setting them up.
FORWARD LINE 3: Kirill Kaprizov (24), Artem Anisimov (33), Vladimir Tarasenko (30)
Kaprizov, the best hockey player in the world right now outside the NHL, will be a star on this team. When I profiled him for Future Watch 2020, scouts couldn’t think of a flaw. They describe him as having Panarin’s puck skills with Tarasenko’s bullish physique.
FORWARD LINE 4: Nikita Gusev (29), Ivan Telegin (29), Valeri Nichushkin (26)
Gusev isn't a natural fit with two defense-minded forwards in Telegin and Nichushkin, but it's also tough to picture Gusev out of the lineup given his impact at the 2018 games. The resurgent Nichushkin emerged as one of the NHL’s top defensive wingers this season.
SPARE FORWARDS: Evgenii Dadonov (32) Ilya Kovalchuk (38)
Why pick Kovalchuk over able-bodied NHLers like Pavel Buchnevich and Denis Gurianov or prospects like Vasily Podkolzin and Grigori Denisenko? I'm predicting Kovalchuk gets a loyalty vote if he isn't retired. Kovalchuk is synonymous with Russian hockey and might get the call to essentially be a dressing room guy and mascot even if he doesn’t start.
Final cuts: Pavel Buchnevich, Alexander Radulov, Denis Gurianov, Vasily Podkolzin, Ivan Barbashev, Ilya Mikheyev, Grigori Denisenko, Vladislav Namestnikov, Mikhail Grigorenko
DEFENSE PAIRING 1: Ivan Provorov (25), Slava Voynov (32)
Provorov is a no-brainer as the team’s horse defenseman, especially after he really got his career back on track this season in Philly. As for Voynov: this isn’t a list of who I want to make the team. It’s a list of who I think will make it. We don’t have to like it, but Voynov’s nation evidently forgave his transgressions when it included him on the 2018 gold-medal squad.
DEFENSE PAIRING 2: Dmitry Orlov (30), Nikita Zaitsev (30)
A steady but unexciting pair. Both are mobile, both have plenty of experience in top-four roles battling NHLers, neither is elite in any category.
DEFENSE PAIRING 3: Mikhail Sergachev (23), Artyom Zub (26)
By 2022, Sergachev may have ascended to the point he’s a second-pairing option on this team, so perhaps I'm being too conservative. Zub, the fresh Ottawa Senators signee, had an interesting blip with 13 goals in the KHL this season but is more of a shutdown defenseman. Zub would probably get lots of work on the penalty kill.
SPARE DEFENSEMEN:Bogdan Kiselevich (31), Alexander Romanov (22)
Kiselevich makes the squad because he has a ton of international experience. Romanov is a projection on my part. I’m all in on him. I expect him to challenge for the 2020-21 Calder Trophy. He makes the 2022 team for his upside.
Final cuts: Vladislav Gavrikov Igor Ozhiganov, Nikita Zadorov, Nikita Nesterov, Ilya Lyubushkin, Dmitry Kulikov
Starting goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy (27)
Big, powerful and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Vasilevskiy is considered the best goalie in the world today by most. Easy pick for the starter.
Backup goaltenders:Igor Shesterkin (26), Ilya Samsonov (24)
Where’s Sergei Bobrovsky? Well, considering these two sensational stoppers outplayed ‘Bob’ even as rookies this season, I’m expecting both to ascend to borderline elite status within a couple years. Both were always expected to. Shesterkin’s and Samsonov’s great debuts in 2019-20 could not have been less out of nowhere. Russia’s goaltending depth is truly remarkable, the best in the tournament by a mile.
Final cuts: Sergei Bobrovsky, Ilya Sorokin, Vasily Koshechkin, Semyon Varlamov
ROSTER AT A GLANCE
Spares: Dadonov, Kovalchuk
Spares: Kiselevich, Romanov
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