Power Ranking Every Forward on the 2014 Russia Olympic Hockey Team
When the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi next month, the Russian hockey team will be looking to avenge a disappointing sixth-place showing from Vancouver in 2010. Their nation's expectations will be resting squarely on their shoulders while their home fans do everything in their power to cheer the team on to gold.
To a North American eye, this year's Russian squad is an interesting mix of familiar stars from the NHL and lesser-known players who have carved out important roles in Russia, both in the KHL and with the national team.
Here's a look at Russia's 14 Olympic forwards, ranked by their potential to impact the proceedings as the much-anticipated Olympic hockey tournament unfolds in Sochi.
14. Sergei Soin
Career Accomplishments: That's Soin in the background of the photo, behind former national team head coach Vyacheslav Bykov. That's the kind of player he is: a lifelong KHLer who won gold at World Juniors in 2002.
He has played in just two World Championships in his career—2003 and 2013, where Russia failed to medal both times. Soin has been part of the KHL's Gagarin Cup-winning Moscow Dynamo for the past two seasons, which is likely where he has earned his national-team recognition.
By the Numbers: Soin's a two-way player, with 104 points in 263 KHL games. The 6'0", 205-pound forward had an outstanding playoff for Dynamo in 2013, with 11 points in 21 games.
Why He's Here: Per Igor Kleyner, via Allan Muir of SI.com, Soin has suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of the Olympics. UPDATE JAN 21: Though Soin was selected for his defensive prowess, Russian hockey writer Igor Eronko is reporting that Alexander Semin will join the team as his injury replacement.
13. Alexander Popov
Career Accomplishments: Alexander Popov was named to the 2013-14 KHL All Star Game, thanks to his solid season with Avangard Omsk. He reached the Gagarin Cup final in 2011-12, which Omsk lost in seven games to Moscow Dynamo. He's a two-time member of the World Championship squad and was part of the 2012 group that won the gold medal. Sochi will be his first Olympics.
By the Numbers: Popov's 33 years old—a utility forward who's on the small side at 5'10" and 181 pounds. He's played his entire career with Omsk, collecting 185 points over 276 KHL games and 129 points in 319 games when the team was part of the Russian Super League.
Why He's Here: Popov has paid his dues for Russia, taking years to work his way up the national ranks. He may prove shifty against NHLers who can't skate as well on the big ice, but his size could be an impediment to his effectiveness.
12. Denis Kokarev
Career Accomplishments: Not drafted by an NHL team, Kokarev's a winger for Moscow Dynamo. He's in his fourth season with the team, which has won the last two KHL Gagarin Cup championships. Kokarev's a two-time member of Russia's World Championship squad, including the team that won gold in 2012. Sochi will be his first Olympics.
By the Numbers: Kokarev's 28 years old, on the small side at 5'10" and 168 pounds. He has 56 goals and 80 assists in his 294-game KHL career and 39 points in 67 playoff games. He has been a key offensive contributor in Moscow Dynamo's last two KHL championships.
Why He's Here: Kokarev gets the edge over Popov in these rankings, thanks to his relative youth and his championship experience over the past couple of years. He's a winner, and that confidence could help Team Russia if the going gets tough.
11. Nikolai Kulemin
Career Accomplishments: Kulemin was drafted 44th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006 and is now in his sixth NHL season. Kulemin was part of Russia's silver-medal winning World Junior team in 2006 and has three World Championship medals in five appearances: bronze in 2007, silver in 2010 and gold in 2012. Kulemin was named as an injury alternate in 2010, but Sochi will be his first Olympics.
By the Numbers: The 27-year-old has 188 points and 100 penalty minutes in 389 NHL games. His most productive season was 2010-11, when he tallied 30 goals and 58 points. He's been a steady producer at the World Championships, with 17 points in 44 games.
Why He's Here: Kulemin has never matched his 30-goal season, but he hasn't been blessed with the same linemates either. With all the talent the Russians have up front, it's unlikely he'll find his way up to the top six; expect Kulemin to be employed primarily as a grinder.
10. Alexei Tereschenko
Career Accomplishments: Alexei Tereschenko was chosen as an alternate for the 2010 Olympics but didn't draw into action. The 33-year-old center will get his chance in Sochi. He has three gold medals in six World Championship appearances and has been an alternate captain for the last two years, so Team Russia will be relying on his leadership as well as his playmaking.
By the Numbers: Tereschenko is small at 5'11" and 176 pounds. He has 177 points in 279 KHL games as well as 149 points in 370 games in the Russian Super League before that. His Salavat Yulaev Ufa team won the last Super League title in 2007-08 before the KHL was born, with Tereschenko putting up nine points in 16 games.
Why He's Here: Tereschenko is in tight with the decision-makers at the Russian national team, so he'll get every chance to make an impact in Sochi. He has experience playing with the NHLers at World Championships, so he should be able to find a way to make a contribution.
9. Valeri Nichushkin
Career Accomplishments: Just 18 years old, Nichushkin was selected 10th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2013 draft. Starting at age 17, he played 18 regular-season and 25 playoff games for the KHL's Traktor Chelyabinsk in 2012-13 before being drafted. Nichushkin was a bronze medalist for Russia at the 2013 World Junior Championship and has been a regular in his rookie NHL campaign.
By the Numbers: At 6'4" and 205 pounds, Nichushkin has a man's size on his 18-year-old body. He has nine goals and 22 points for the Stars this season, but he has been scratched in Dallas' last two games as the team looks to reverse a losing skid.
Why He's Here: The grind of the long NHL season may be starting to wear on Nichushkin, which could affect his impact at Sochi. Or, his youthful adrenaline could fuel him to a great tournament. Maybe the rest is just what he needs.
8. Artem Anisimov
Career Accomplishments: A product of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv organization in Russia, Anisimov was a second-round draft pick by the New York Rangers in 2006. He won silver at the World Junior Championship in 2007 and bronze in 2008. In 2010 he was part of Russia's silver-medal squad at the World Championships in Germany. Sochi will be Anisimov's first Olympics.
By the Numbers: The 25-year-old's most impressive number is his height: He's a giant of a forward at 6'4". Anisimov's best NHL season was with the New York Rangers in 2010-11 when he went 18-26-44. This year, he's on pace to score a career-best 20 goals with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Why He's Here: Anisimov's size helps to make up for the smaller stature of some of Russia's other forwards. He could be used to create space for the skill guys, and he has the ability to make plays on his own. Either way, Anisimov should be very interesting to watch.
7. Viktor Tikhonov
Career Accomplishments: Chosen 28th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008, the grandson of legendary Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov lasted just one season in the NHL before being relegated to the minors.
For the past three seasons, the 25-year-old has played with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. Tikhonov won bronze at World Juniors in 2008, but Sochi will be his first appearance as a member of the men's senior national team.
By the Numbers: Tikhonov had a strong finish to his 2012-13 season, including 10 goals in the KHL playoffs. His 29 points in 45 games for St. Petersburg this season are a new high, and as a result, he was named to the KHL All Star Game. At 6'2", Tikhonov has NHL size which could help the versatile forward compete against some of the deeper teams at the Olympics.
Why He's Here: After flaming out in the NHL, Tikhonov now seems to be realizing his potential. He's on an upswing, so he could be poised to break out in Sochi.
6. Vladimir Tarasenko
Career Accomplishments: Chosen 16th overall in 2010 by the St. Louis Blues, Tarasenko is enjoying a breakout season in his second NHL campaign. Tarasenko was a gold medalist for Russia at the 2011 World Juniors and will be representing his country at the Olympics for the first time in Sochi.
By the Numbers: With 15 goals, Tarasenko trails only Alex Ovechkin in goals by a Russian-born player in the NHL so far this season. The 22-year-old right wing has 48 points in his 85-game NHL career and has developed a solid two-way game with the Blues.
Why He's Here: Like Tikhonov, Tarsenko's a player with plenty of upside heading into the Olympic break. If he gets quality ice time and can translate what he's learned in St. Louis this season to the Sochi stage, he has the potential to be a breakout star.
5. Alexander Radulov
Career Accomplishments: Alexander Radulov had an inauspicious NHL career, best remembered for getting scratched in Nashville's 2012 playoff series against Phoenix after breaking curfew. He's a star in Russia, however.
Radulov won silver at World Juniors in both 2005 and 2006, then scored bronze at the 2007 World Championships, followed by gold in 2008 and 2009. He's made six appearances in total at World Championships and was also at the Olympics in 2010.
By the Numbers: At the end of the 2012-13 season, Radulov was the KHL's all-time leading scorer with 322 points and led the all-time list with 209 assists. He also holds the single-season scoring title, with 80 points in 2010-11 with Salavat Yulaev Ufa. The 27-year-old has 30 points in 29 games with CSKA Moscow this season.
Why He's Here: Radulov suffered a concussion in early January but is back in the lineup for CSKA and producing. He's a serious offensive talent who will be motivated to succeed for Mother Russia. Expect a big tournament from the enigmatic winger.
4. Pavel Datsyuk
Career Accomplishments: Two Stanley Cups (2002 and 2008), four straight Lady Byng Trophies from 2005-06 to 2008-09 and three straight Frank J. Selke Trophies from 2007-08 to 2009-10.
Datsyuk has three World Championship medals: bronze in 2005, silver in 2010 and gold in 2012, as well as a bronze medal from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Datsyuk's currently on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Assuming he's ready to play in Sochi, this will be his fourth Olympics.
By the Numbers: Now 35, the shifty center finished 10th in NHL scoring in 2012-13 with 49 points in 47 games. His career highs offensively came in 2007-08 and 2008-09, when he tallied 97 points each year. During the Wings' Stanley Cup season in 2007-08, he also won the NHL plus-minus award with a plus-41, cementing his reputation as one of the top two-way players in the game.
Why He's Here: Datsyuk has been named captain of Team Russia, but he is currently on the injured list with a lower-body issue. With no timetable for his return at this point, it's hard to know how much he'll be able to bring at the Olympics. A healthy Datsyuk would rank among the team's top players, but he drops a bit in the ranking due to his uncertain status.
3. Ilya Kovalchuk
Career Accomplishments: Selected first overall in the 2001 NHL draft, Kovalchuk played 11 seasons in the NHL, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2011-12 with the New Jersey Devils. Kovalchuk has played in nine World Championships, winning two gold medals, two silvers and a bronze. He was named tournament MVP in 2009. This will be his fourth Olympics; he won bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002.
By the Numbers: Kovalchuk scored 816 points in 816 NHL games before leaving the New Jersey Devils to return to Russia in the summer of 2013. The 30-year-old has 39 points in 41 games, leading SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL in scoring this season.
Why He's Here: When Kovalchuk moved back to Russia last summer, he talked about how playing there during the 2012-13 lockout whetted his appetite to move home, per Jeff Z. Klein of The New York Times. All Russian players are committed to playing for their country any time they can, but Kovalchuk might have the most personal motivation of the entire group in Sochi.
2. Evgeni Malkin
Career Accomplishments: Drafted second overall behind Alex Ovechkin in 2004, Evgeni Malkin won the Stanley Cup in 2009 and has also achieved many personal accolades.
He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2006-07, the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer in 2008-09 and 2011-12, the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player in 2008-09 and both the Hart and Ted Lindsay awards in 2011-12.
Malkin won silver in both his World Junior appearances. In five World Championships, he has four medals: bronze from 2005 and 2007, silver from 2010 and gold from 2012. He'll play in his third Olympics at Sochi.
By the Numbers: Malkin has had three 100-plus-point seasons in the NHL and scored 50 goals in 2011-12, the same year he was named MVP at the World Championship while leading his country with 11 goals and 19 points on the way to the gold medal. He has 607 points in 495 NHL games and 12 points in 11 games from the past two Olympics.
Why He's Here: At 27 years old, Malkin has had an amazing hockey career. He'd like nothing more than to add an Olympic medal to his trophy case, especially if it's of the gold variety.
1. Alexander Ovechkin
Career Accomplishments: The first overall pick in the 2004 draft, Ovechkin has a long list of personal achievements.
He won the Calder Trophy over Sidney Crosby as the top rookie of 2005-06. He's a three-time winner of the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Trophy, both awarded to the league's MVP. He's also a three-time Maurice Richard winner as the NHL's leading goal-scorer and won the Art Ross as the league's overall leading scorer in 2007-08.
Stanley Cup success has eluded Ovechkin, however; he has yet to even reach the Eastern Conference Final with the Washington Capitals.
On the international stage, Ovechkin has gold and silver medals from three World Juniors and two bronzes, two silvers and a gold in nine World Championship appearances. He'll play in his third Olympics in Sochi.
By the Numbers: Ovechkin has four 100-plus point seasons in his eight complete NHL campaigns. He has also scored 50 goals or more four times and is currently leading the league with 35 goals in 47 games. Overall, Ovechkin has 784 points in 648 NHL games and 46 points in 56 games at the World Championships.
Why He's Here: Ovechkin can try to be humble, but he's the face of Team Russia on both sides of the ocean. Datsyuk may be captain, but Ovechkin was selected to be Russia's first torchbearer to start the Olympic relay out of Greece last summer. He's also charming the U.S. media as he makes his rounds. If Russia is going to deliver the gold on its home soil, Ovechkin will need to be the one to lead the way.