Sochi 2014: Russia Olympic Team Review
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of RotoWire’s Olympic Preview for the 22nd Winter Olympiad, we have asked six of our hockey writers to review each team in depth to analyze each team’s strengths and weaknesses, and what they think their chances are for winning the Olympic gold. Make sure you check in each day this week for a new team preview.
Centers: 8 / 10
Regardless of what team you root for or expect to medal, it would be heard to beat Russia’s top-two pivotmen. Datsyuk, despite being 35 and having suffered some injuries, is still a world class, two-way center. Malkin is probably 1a to Crosby in Pittsburgh and elite in his own right. Anisimov is a perfect third-line center, able to score a bit while responsible defensively and physical. Tereschenko has spent his whole career in the KHL while Soin, who can play both center and wing, will be an extra forward.
Wingers: 7 / 10
Ilya was a top-tier NHL winger when he “retired” and walked away from $77 million to go back home. Tarasenko, an up-and-coming winger, who has shown he can score on a solid Blues team, played with Kovy in past world tournaments. You could easily flip-flop the top-two lines or at least the left-wingers. Ovi is now the face of Russia and will have a ton of pressure on him to carry the team to the medal round. Radulov never translated his elite talent into production for Nashville and landed back in the KHL, where he scored 26 points in his first 28 games. Kulemin best fits as a third liner but the player I will have my ye on is Nichushkin. He doesn’t enter the Olympics under the best of circumstances, as Russia GM Alexei Yashin wanted Nichushkin, while coach Zinetula Biyaletdinov was not as sold, believing Nichushkin hadn’t done enough yet to warrant a spot. You have to wonder if Biyaletdinov wanted Alexander Semin, who was a mildly surprising snub, or Nikita Kucherov, another young winger, on the team. This battle of wits could result in Nichuhskin landing on the bench, depriving us of seeing his vast talents on the bigger ice surface. In addition, Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Capitals first round pick in 2010 and probable future team of Ovechkin, likely wasn’t selected due to the leg injury he suffered in last-December that comes on the heels of the shoulder injury he had back in September. The fourth line will be counted on to be more of a checking trio, who can possibly chip in a bit offensively but be counted on for defense. The known name is Tikhonov, due to his grandfather and because he’s a teammate of Kovalchuk’s at SKA St. Petersburg.
Update: Alexander Semin was added on January 20 to replace an injured Sergei Soin, who was going to be used as a checking line forward. The lines with the addition of Semin likely will be adjusted and it’s possible Semin could just slide onto the third trio replacing Soin.
Defensemen: 5 / 10
Markov has had a nice rebound season while Voynov, who burst on the scene in a few years ago for LA, may be Russia’s best blueliner. Tyutin is solid, as he can be a bit physical and can run the second PP while Emelin gives Russia two Montreal d-men, though he is nowhere near as good or steady as Markov. Nikitin at times gets lost in the shuffle in Columbus, but he has shown in the past he can get hot and rack up points while Nikulin is a big – 6’3. 216-pound – d-man with lots of international experience. It would not be shocking if he was the team’s captain. The fourth pairing is nothing special, as Belov likely should have been left off for Sergei Gonchar while Medvedev is like Nikulin, as he has lots of international experience and currently playing in the KHL, which is probably why he was selected over Dimitry Kulikov and Anton Volchenkov.
Goalies: 7 / 10
Varlamov looks like the goalie who carried Washington in the post-season a few years ago while Bobrovsky hasn’t put up the numbers he posted last season when he won the Vezina but has played well since coming back after he missed a month with a groin injury. Varlamov was the third goalie behind Nabokov and Bryzgalov in 2010 and should get the first chance for Russia. If he falters, Biyaletdinov will have no qualms about turning to Bobrovsky. Yeryomenko is practice fodder and is there as just the third goalie, nothing more, though Russia likely should have had Anton Khudobin over Yeryomenko in that role.