Ovechkin, Kuznetsov head Russia's World Cup roster

Publish date:

Alex Ovechkin is once again eager to represent Russia on the international hockey stage.

Sweden's World Cup of Hockey roster is so deep there's no room, yet, for high-scoring Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg.

As for the Czech Republic, general manager Martin Rucinsky is crossing his fingers that 44-year-old Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr will decide to compete in the eight-team tournament being held in Toronto in September.

''He wants to concentrate on the rest of the season right now,'' Rucinsky said after announcing his first 16 player selections Wednesday. ''He's a very important piece to a team. Let's see what happens. I wish he will play.''

The last thing Rucinsky wants to do is force the issue with the four-time Olympian, who won a gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Games.

''I'm not going to try to convince him,'' Rucinsky said. ''Jagr deserves a lot of respect from all of us.''

Teams have until June 1 to make their final seven selections to complete their 23-player rosters.

There were few surprises when the four European nations plus Team Europe - consisting of players from countries not competing - released their rosters over a 13-1/2-hour stretch.

The Swedes are stocked with a balanced mix of veterans and youth. The familiar faces include goalie Henrik Lundqvist and forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Vancouver's twin brothers, Henrik and Daniel Sedin. And then there's a crop of youngsters, such as Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog and Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

With a pool of 83 NHL players to choose from, general manager Tommy Boustedt said Sweden's roster has the potential of being the strongest in team history.

It's hard to argue given that he filled six of Sweden's defensive slots without Klingberg, the second-year player, whose 53 points rank third among NHL defensemen.

''John Klingberg is of course one very strong contender,'' Boustedt said. ''But I think so far we have picked the six best.''

Russia opened the selection process by releasing a lineup that included Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Montreal's Andrei Markov.

For Ovechkin, the chance to represent his country never gets old.

After all, with a broken foot, he once boarded a plane the day after the Washington Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs to represent Russia at the world hockey championship.

''Doesn't matter which tournament, it's huge honor,'' Ovechkin said.

The question is whether Russia can shake off the string of struggles at recent Olympics and World Cup events.

Following a fifth-place finish on home soil at the 2014 Sochi Games, Russia hasn't won an Olympic medal since a third-place finish at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. As for World Cup/Canada Cup tournaments, Russia won in 1981, with Vladislav Tretiak in net, and lost to Canada in the 1987 final.

Perhaps, the addition of Ovechkin's Capitals teammate, 23-year-old Evgeny Kuznetsov, could provide a spark after being left off the 2014 squad.

With 20 goals and 45 assists, Kuznetsov is fifth in the NHL in scoring.

''Everybody knew he had like, talent to be one of the best players in the league,'' Ovechkin said. ''I'm pretty sure 20 goals is just the beginning for him. He can score 40, you know, easily in this league.''

Team Europe is making its tournament debut. The initial roster features five Slovakians, including Zdeno Chara, and has seven nations represented.

Having no flag to play for has GM Miroslav Satan wondering how quickly his squad can capture a sense of identity.

''New team, new logo with no history,'' Satan said. ''This is going to be the biggest challenge for us.''

Finland announced a roster full of NHL players, with forwards Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild and Jussi Jokinen of the Florida Panthers joining Boston goalie Tuukka Rask.

''They are a great mixture of experience, talent, and open-mindness,'' coach Lauri Marjamaki said. ''For the players the World Cup is a huge thing. Their motivation is high and they all want to be part of the team.''

For a nation with a population of 5.5 million, Finland has been competitive on the national stage winning Olympic bronze medals at Sochi and Vancouver in 2010.

Last week, Canada general manager Doug Armstrong acknowledged he's always been a Finnish fan.

''My favorite country outside of Canada is the Finns,'' Armstrong said. ''I admire their tenacity. I admire their lunch-bucket attitude.''


AP Sports Writers James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed to this report.