Who Are They? Team Russia at the Men’s U18 Worlds
By now, you have probably seen the news stories (and if not, I mentioned it in the last post here): last week, the Russian Hockey Federation (the FHR) announced unexpectedly that the entire men’s Under-18 team had been dropped from the upcoming World Under-18 Championship in North Dakota, and would be replaced by the Under-17 team. Coach Vitaly Prokhorov was fired, and his place taken by U17 bench boss Sergei Golubovich. On Friday, the FHR confirmed that doping was the issue; the Under-18 team’s players had been given the heart medication Meldonium, which was placed on the banned list of the World Anti-Doping Agency on January 1st, 2016. According to the official statement, the team stopped using Meldonium in November, when word of the impending ban came down, but uncertainty over how long it would take the drug to leave a person’s system led to the decision to change the team entirely.
Read on, for a bit more discussion, and a look at the Team Russia roster for the U18 Worlds.
The decision to leave the Under-18 team at home, in addition to obviously being a devastating turn of events for the athletes involved, came after a great deal of effort had been put into the program over the past few months. Russia’s last medal at the U18 Worlds was the bronze in 2011, and to end this slump the FHR decided this season to have the Under-18 team play as club in the MHL, Russia’s junior (i.e. Under-20) league affiliated with the KHL. It was hoped that the players would develop togetherness, and increase their ability to operate as a team on the ice, and it seemed to work fairly well; the U18s finished second out of 15 in the MHL’s West Conference, although they bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. The youngsters also won a silver medal playing against Under-20 teams at the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Canada. All seemed well, until last week.
So who will actually be going to Grand Forks for the U18 Worlds? Well, as noted, much of Team Russia will be made up of the Under-17 national squad, comprised of players born in 1999. However, a few 1998-born kids have been added from teams based in North America. Most of the team — those players born after September 15th, 1998 — will not be eligible for the NHL draft until 2017. Here, then, is a quick word or two on each of the kids who will be taking part in the tournament for Russia (I have listed each player’s birth year and current club team in brackets):
Daniil Tarasov in action for the Russian Under-17 team. (Image Source)
Daniil Tarasov (1999, Salavat Yulaev Ufa U17): Posted excellent numbers (12 gp, .958 sv%) in the U17 league, and got into some games for Tolpar Ufa in the MHL (9 gp, 918 sv%).
Maxim Zhukov (1999, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl U17): A GAA of 1.66 in the U17 league is good (no sv% data, unfortunately), and he did ok in a brief MHL-B cameo, too, posting a sv% of .927 in four games.
Both the goalies are big lads; Zhukov, still only 16 years old, is 6’2″ and 180 lbs, while Tarasov, who just turned 17, is already 6’3″, although he’s a lanky 154 lbs.
Alexander Alexeyev (1999, SKA-Serebryanye Lvy St. Petersburg [MHL]): He scored a modest 1-1-2 in 20 games in his rookie MHL season, but had four assists in six games at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge this past November.
Veniamin Baranov (1999, Dynamo St. Petersburg U17): Baranov has yet to make his junior hockey (MHL or MHL-B) debut, but scored 3-4-7 in 11 games in the U17 league in 2015-16.
Mikhail Kozlov (1999, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl U17): Kozlov actually split this season between the U17 league and MHL-B (38 gp, 0-7-7 total between the two), and in the latter, a tougher league, he had a very fine playoff run, scoring 1-4-5 in five games.
Alexander Osin (1999, Dynamo Moscow U17): One of eight players from the Dynamo Moscow system on this team, Osin scored 4-5-9 in 13 games in the U17 league, and added three points in six matches at the World U17 Challenge.
Alexei Rarov (1999, CSKA Moscow U17): Rarov had a scoring line of 3-8-11 in 16 games this season for CSKA’s youngsters.
Mark Rubinchik (1999, HK MVD Balashikha [MHL]): Rubinchik is another Dynamo prospect, who scored one assist in 15 MHL games this season but also had a cup of coffee with the Under-18 national team in that league (6 gp, 0-1-1).
Dmitry Samorukov (1999, CSKA Moscow U17): He scored well — 12 gp, 3-6-9 — in the U17 league this season, and earned a three-game stretch with Krasnaya Armiya of the MHL, where he recorded an assist.
Mikhail Sergachyov (1998, Windsor Spitfires [OHL]): 6’2″ and 205 lbs. already, he scored a remarkable 17-40-57 in 67 games as a rookie for Windsor this season, and should go fairly early in the first round at this year’s NHL draft.
Dmitry Zaitsev (1998, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights [NAHL]): Zaitsev is another one of the last-minute recruits who does not come from the U17 program; 18 years old (and 2016 NHL draft-eligible), he scored 7-15-22 in 53 games in his first season in North America.
Sergachyov, one of the top prospects for the upcoming NHL draft, is the fellow the scouts will be watching on the Russian blueline, and a large proportion of his team’s hopes will ride on his shoulders as well. Among the others, Zaitsev has useful experience on North-American-sized ice and Rubinchik was already on the radar of the Under-18 program to begin with, so those are definitely two guys to keep an eye on as well.
Vitaly Abramov (1998, Gatineau Olympiques [QMJHL]): Possessing bundles of skill, Abramov was fifth in QMJHL scoring this season, and first among rookies (63 gp, 38-55-93); he is likely to be picked in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft.
Yaroslav Alexeyev (1999, HK MVD Balashikha [MHL]): He scored 7-8-15 in 29 games for Dynamo Moscow’s junior team in Balashikha this season, and added three goals in six contests at the World U17 Challenge.
Mikhail Bitsadze (1999, HK MVD Balashikha [MHL]): Bitsadze managed just 6-2-8 in 27 MHL games in 2015-16, but he also had 13 points in 12 games for Dynamo’s team in the U17 league.
Ivan Chekhovich (1999, HK MVD Balashikha [MHL]): Chekhanov’s MHL numbers were unspectacular (he scored 3-4-7 in 19 games to go with 8-4-12 in 17 contests in the U17 league), but he had a fine time at the World U17 Challenge, with four goals and three assists in six games.
Pavel Dyomin (1999, Dynamo Moscow U17): His numbers on the U17 circuit are good but not eye-popping (10 gp, 3-6-9), but he did get into four MHL games for HK MVD this season, and scored 1-1-2.
Andrei Grishakov (1999, Traktor Chelyabinsk U17): An elite scorer for Traktor’s U17s this season (16 gp, 10-16-26), Grishakov also did very, very, well in a brief stop on the U18 circuit, scoring 4-5-9 in only four games.
Klim Kostin (1999, HK MVD Balashikha [MHL]): Team Russia’s Captain at this tournament, as he was at the World U17 Challenge, Kostin scored 8-13-21 in 30 MHL games in 2015-16, and also potted 11 goals in 11 games for Dynamo’s team in the U17 league.
Ivan Kozlov (1999, Loko-Yunior Yaroslavl [MHL-B]): Kozlov also played in the U17 league and the MHL this season, but spent most of his time in MHL-B, where his scoring line was 28 gp, 8-5-13.
Vladimir Kuznetsov (1998, Acadie-Bathurst Titan [QMJHL]): Kuznetsov scored 25-33-58 in 68 games in the ‘Q’ this season, good numbers if not spectacular for that league, and he also has useful size for this tournament — 214 lbs. on his 6’1″ frame.
Alexei Lipanov (1999, HK MVD Balashikha [MHL]): Lipanov is a bit of a work in progress; he scored very well in the U16 league in 2014-15 (his line was 33 gp, 21-28-49) but struggled this season in his first MHL and U17 campaign (32 gp, 3-5-8 in the MHL — 10 gp, 0-8-8 in U17 hockey).
Daniil Lobanov (1999, Krasnaya Armiya Moscow [MHL]): There were just two assists in 18 games in his first MHL campaign for Lobanov, a little guy at 5’9″, 134 lbs. He did better in the U17 league, scoring 5-8-13 in 11 games.
Maxim Marushev (1999, Irbis Kazan [MHL]): For Marushev, who is an “old” 1999 alumnus (January 1st is his birthday), a scoring line of 5-6-11 in 30 games represented a solid if unspectacular rookie season in Russia’s top junior league. He failed to record a point in six games at the World U17 Challenge.
Kirill Maximov (1999, Saginaw Spirit [OHL]): Maximov (it’s often spelled “Maksimov”) is Russian-Canadian, hailing from Concord, Ontario. His rookie OHL season saw him score 6-15-21 in 54 games, which is not too bad for a 16-year-old.
German Poddubny (1999, Philadelphia Jr. Flyers [EHL]): I confess to not knowing much about the EHL, an American Tier III junior league (roughly the equivalent of Canada’s Junior ‘A’). However, Poddubny’s 2015-16 scoring line of 29 gp, 25-23-48 is impressive in any league.
Alexei Statsenko (1999, CSKA Moscow U17): Statsenko scored six goals and added six assists in ten games at the U17 level in 2015-16, although he like Marushev he was held scoreless in six contests at the World U17 Challenge.
Andrei Svechnikov (2000, Ak Bars Kazan U16): He just turned 16, already stands 6’2″ (176 lbs.), and utterly demolished his U16 league this season; his line of 18-8-26 was achieved in only seven games! He also scored 17 points in six games for the Under-16 national team, and had ten in twelve contests for Russia’s Under-17 side.
I suspect that Abramov will get most of the attention paid to the Russian forwards at this tournament, which is fair enough given his excellent season in the QMJHL. Vladimir Kuznetsov, too, is eligible for the 2016 NHL draft, and is “of age” for an Under-18 competition. I am also very interested in seeing what Grishakov and Kostin can do at this level, as their numbers suggest that they are among the most developed of the Under-17 crew.
However, for me, the most fascinating player among the forwards is Andrei Svechnikov (see picture at beginning of post). The kid from the Ak Bars Kazan system, younger brother of Detroit Red Wings prospect Yevgeny Svechnikov, is obviously far too good for his own age group and has already shown well in the next level up. Given his age (he is the youngest player on the Russian team), he is likely to be a factor in this tournament for a couple more years, and North American fans should remember his name; they are likely to hear more and more of it as his 2018 NHL draft eligibility approaches.
For the team as a whole, there will be two big, obvious, questions to be answered at this year’s Under-18 World Championship. First of all, how much is that roughly one year of difference in age going to matter? And secondly, can the team recover from the sudden-ness of their appointment as the Under-18 representatives, and develop enough cohesion to make a mark on the tournament? As noted at the beginning of this piece, Russia has been in something of a medal drought at the men’s U18 Worlds, and it is probably too much under the circumstances to expect this team to end it in North Dakota. However, there is some definite talent on that squad, and — again, under these circumstances — there will be little pressure on the players, so who knows what might happen? It should all make for fascinating viewing!
Sergei Golubovich’s crew will play their first game on Thursday, April 14th, against the host Americans, then will face Switzerland, Latvia, and Sweden to close out the group stage of the competition.