Russia Olympic Hockey Team 2014: Full 25-Man Roster, Projected Lines, Pairings
For Team Russia, the pressure is on at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Not only is this group expected to bring gold home to the host nation, as Team Canada did in 2010, it must also erase the memory of its quarterfinal collapse last time out in Vancouver.
Russian players take great pride in every opportunity to play for their country, but Russia has yet to capture gold at the Olympics since NHLers started participating in 1998.
The Russians' biggest assets in Sochi will be their top-end offense and shutdown goaltending.
Complete 25-Man Roster
Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Pavel Datsyuk, Denis Kokarev, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nikolai Kulemin, Evgeni Malkin, Valeri Nichushkin, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Popov, Alexander Radulov, Sergei Soin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexei Tereschenko, Viktor Tikhonov
Defense: Anton Belov, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov, Evgeny Medvedev, Nikiti Nikitin, Ilya Nikulin, Fedor Tyutin, Slava Voynov
Goal: Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, Alexander Yeryomenko
1st Forward Line
Ilya Kovalchuk, Left Wing: Kovalchuk's commitment to his homeland became crystal clear last summer when he walked away from $77 million remaining on his contract with the New Jersey Devils to return to Russia and play for SKA St. Petersburg. He's expected to star for Team Russia and help restore his country's national pride. This will be Kovalchuk's fourth Olympics.
Pavel Datsyuk, Center: Datsyuk and Kovalchuk have played well together in the past in international competition, so they should form a strong combination once again. Widely regarded as one of the best players in the world and the ultimate two-way center, the 35-year-old will also be competing in his fourth Games.
Vladimir Tarasenko, Right Wing: The St. Louis Blues' sophomore had good chemistry with Kovalchuk when the two were paired up in the past. Tarasenko is finding his stride in the NHL this season. The 21-year-old is a veteran of two World Juniors and one World Championship.
What's Expected: Russia's top two lines are both juggernauts. This group has the skills to give opponents fits, and the youthful enthusiasm of Tarasenko should add to the spontaneity.
2nd Forward Line
Alexander Ovechkin, Left Wing: Ovechkin has been the face of the Games for Russia, starting with his inaugural torch relay run out of Greece last summer. He'll be skating in his third Olympics and finds the energy to play for his country whenever possible. Ovi is having a renaissance season in the NHL, leading the league with 31 goals.
Evgeni Malkin, Center: Malkin returned to NHL action with a three-point night on January 5 after missing nine games with a leg injury, so he should be firing on all cylinders by the time he arrives in Sochi. The 2011-12 Hart Trophy winner is having another solid season for the Penguins, sitting third in team scoring with 44 points in 33 games.
Alexander Radulov, Right Wing: Radulov's tumultuous time in the NHL was not indicative of his true talent level. He's one of the top players in the KHL and has 28 points in 26 games this year for CSKA Moscow. Radulov is blessed with explosive speed and great hands and can hold his own with his All-Star linemates.
What's Expected: This trio grew up together and has often lined up for Russia in international competition. They'll be strong once again and should carry a big part of the offensive load in Sochi.
3rd Forward Line
Nikolai Kulemin, Left Wing: This is the first Olympic nod for the 27-year-old Toronto Maple Leaf. In a support role, he'll be expected to play solid two-way hockey and possibly chip in a bit offensively.
Artem Anisimov, Center: The towering Columbus Blue Jacket is an excellent third-line pivot—a punishing hitter with decent hands around the net. Anisimov will also be making his Olympic debut.
Valeri Nichushkin, Right Wing: Still just 18 years old, Nichushkin captained his Russian team to a bronze medal in Ufa, Russia at the 2013 World Junior Championships. One year later, he'll make his debut with the Olympic team in Sochi. Nichushkin is on par with much older players, as he has shone in his inaugural season with the Dallas Stars. He has nine goals and 22 points in 41 NHL games.
What's Expected: The three Olympic rookies could provide a solid boost for the Russians. Kulemin and Anisimov are playing the best hockey of their careers, and Nichushkin has the potential to be a breakout star.
4th Forward Line
Alexander Popov, Left Wing: At age 33, this will be the Olympic debut for the undersized journeyman. Popov plays for Avangard Omsk in the KHL. He's a dependable two-way player who can cover the left side or the middle.
Alexei Tereschenko, Center: Not to be confused with the Blues' young Tarasenko, this player is a longtime KHL center. He's 33 and will be expected to play a shutdown role for Team Russia. After playing in the last six World Championships, this will be Tereschenko's first Olympics.
Viktor Tikhonov, Right Wing: The grandson of the famous Russian coach, this will be the first Olympic appearance for the 25-year-old Tikhonov. He has spent the last three seasons in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg.
What's Expected: Defense. Team Russia has placed an emphasis on solid two-way players for its Olympic roster. This group will be expected to spell the stars without putting the team in a hole.
Denis Kokarev, Left Wing: A shifty winger who can play either side, the 28-year-old Kokarev has limited offensive upside. His club team is the KHL's Moscow Dynamo, and this will be his first Olympic Games.
Sergei Soin, Center: Soin, 31, is a versatile forward who can play center or the right side. Soin has had some injury trouble this year—he's played just 16 games for Moscow Dynamo.
1st Defensive Pairing
Andrei Markov: With Sergei Gonchar off the roster, Markov will be the veteran on the Russian blue line at age 34. Markov has been both healthy and steady for the Montreal Canadiens this season and should be the same for his national team. This will be his third Olympics.
Slava Voynov: The 23-year-old Voynov will make his Team Russia debut in Sochi. His play has evolved dramatically in his three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. He won a Stanley Cup in his rookie year and is growing into one of the best defensemen in the world.
What's Expected: Markov and Voynov will have big responsibilities in Sochi. Strong play from them will go a long way toward helping Russia's chances at winning that coveted gold medal. The pair will also be expected to chip in from the points on the power play.
2nd Defensive Pairing
Fedor Tyutin: A two-time Olympian, Tyutin was injured on January 6 after being driven into the boards by Chris Kreider, so his status is uncertain. Russia will hope it's nothing serious—he's a steady blueliner who can play meaningful minutes.
Alexei Emelin: This will be the first Olympics for the 27-year-old Emelin, who has returned to the Montreal Canadiens' lineup after a long injury layoff. He's been a bit shaky defensively but should be able to contribute quality minutes.
What's Expected: Team Russia will need Tyutin and Emelin to be an efficient shutdown pair in front of their goaltender.
3rd Defensive Pairing
Nikita Nikitin: At age 27, this will be Nikitin's first chance to represent his country in Olympic competition. He's a big body at 6'4" and is having a solid year on defense for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Ilya Nikulin: The captain of the KHL's Ak Bars Kazan, 31-year-old Nikulin is a 6'3", 216-pound defender with a wealth of international experience. He played in the 2010 Olympics as well as World Championships dating back to 2005, and he's captained the World Championship squad for the past two years. He'll provide leadership from the back end.
What's Expected: This pairing has the potential to be very reliable defensively for Team Russia. Not to be underestimated.
Anton Belov: A 27-year-old NHL rookie, Belov has looked defensively suspect with the hapless Edmonton Oilers, so his announcement comes as a bit of a surprise. Belov's a strong skater, which could be an asset on the Olympic ice, but it will be tough for him to secure a regular roster spot.
Evgeni Medvedev: At 6'3" and 198 pounds, Medvedev is an Ak Bars Kazan veteran who provides a steady defensive presence and can also chip in offensively. He's 31 years old and will be playing in his first Games.
Semyon Varlamov, Starter: Varlamov was selected to the 2010 Russian team in Vancouver but didn't see a minute of action behind Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Byrzgalov. Times have changed. With his legal troubles behind him, Varlamov is continuing to play well in Colorado this season with a 2.35 goals-against and .927 save percentage. Sochi will be his time to shine.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Backup: The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner returned to game action on January 6 after missing a month with a groin injury, so he'll be ready to go if Varlamov falters. Bobrovsky's numbers have cooled after last season, but he should still be a reliable backup.
Alexander Yeryomenko, Third String: The Russians have chosen a reliable veteran as their third-stringer in the event the pressure gets to be too much for the young hopefuls. Yeryomenko is 33 and has a long list of international hockey credentials on his resume. Just 5'10", his strengths are his agility and his calmness under pressure.