Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Future Stars. Over the next week or so, we will be previewing the 2014 World Junior Championships, a tournament that will be played in Toronto and Montreal from December 26, 2014 to January 5, 2015. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Today we preview the Russian Team and take a look at the players to watch in this year’s tournament. After medalling in the last four tournaments (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze) the Russian come to Canada expecting nothing less than a medal and striving for gold. As usual, they come into the 2015 tournament with a strong lineup to try and get that medal.
Note players must be born on January 1st, 1995 or later to be eligible for the tournament. 1994 birthdates are not eligible.
Yesterday I looked at the Swedish Team. Prior to the selection camp rosters being released; I looked at Team Canada’s Forwards, Defence and Goalies; Team USA forwards, and Defense and Goalies . Click the links to check them out. Now without further ado, on to Team Russia.
Team Russia World Junior Preview: Players to Watch
Ilya Sorokin: A third round pick of the New York Islanders in the 2014 NHL Draft, Sorokin is already a starter with Metallurg Novokuznetsk in the KHL, as the youngest starting goaltender in the league. He has good height at 6’2″ but is extremely slight as he weighed just 168 pounds last year. Sorokin is an extremely athletic, butterfly style goaltender. He gets side to side quickly, and makes a number of saves that will leave your jaw dropping. He never fully gives up on a play and can show very quick recoveries. There are some issues though, as he isn’t the most fundamentally sound goalie out there. He doesn’t fully take advantage of his height as Sorokin could come out further to cut down angles and give shooters less to look at. He also has issues with rebound control, and the Russian defence must keep the front of the net clear to help him.
The Russians were hoping to have Nikita Zadorov of the Buffalo Sabres for the tournament and all indications are that the Sabres were thinking about loaning him out. However, an injury to defenceman Mike Weber, means that Zadorov will stay with the Sabres.
Ivan Provorov: The young Russian defenceman is draft eligible in 2015. He is playing his rookie season in the WHL after spending last year with Cedar Rapids in the USHL. He has adapted well and put up 10 goals and 32 points in 31 games for the Wheat Kings. He is a very good skater and stickhandler who isn’t afraid to lead the rush. When he does go up ice, he has the speed to get back to the defensive end and cover up as well. Has both a very good wrist shot and a slap shot from the point. Provorov can play the role of powerplay quarterback and is extremely good at moving laterally to open up passing and shooting lanes. When there is a lane he makes crisp tape to tape passes.
Rushin Rafikov: Drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 7th round of the 2013 NHL Draft, Rafikov is a stay at home defender who isn’t afraid to play an aggressive, physical game. He is a good skater in both directions and has good agility and edgework allowing him to cover a lot of ice. He maintains good gap control and can quickly change directions to explode into hits if given the opportunity. Rafikov is good positionally and keeps his man to the outside while cutting down passing and shooting lanes. While Rafikov isn’t one to rush the puck up the ice, he does make a good first pass, and start the transition game in that way.
Rinat Valiev: Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft, Valiev has put up 22 points in 19 games for the Kootenay Ice this year. He is a two-way defender with solid skating, decent stick handling, good vision and passing skills, and a strong shot. He also has a good frame at 6’2″ 207 lbs and isn’t afraid to use it to play a physical game at the defensive end of the ice. He clears the front of the net well and battles hard in the corners. However his positioning is a work in progress, though it has improved a lot over his last year and a half with Kootenay.
Ivan Barbashev: A second round pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 2014 NHL Draft; Barbashev is a pure sniper, he has a great arsenal of shots with a terrific wrister, slapshot, snapshot, backhand and one-timer. These shots also feature an excellent release which can fool goalkeepers and the puck will be in the back of the net before he knows it. Barbashev also has good stickhandling skills, and the creativity and vision to make passes which surprise opponents and set up teammates for easy goals. When he doesn’t have the puck, he does a good job in finding open areas, and easy passing lanes for a teammate to get him the puck. He reads the play well and has a high hockey IQ. He plays a strong two-way game, though he does need to work on his face-off skills, as he transitioned from wing to centre last season.
Pavel Buchnevich: A third round pick of the New York Rangers in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Buchnevich is a terrific skater. He has very fast top end speed, excellent acceleration and great first step quickness. This makes him extremely dangerous off the rush, and he is not afraid to go wide on a defenceman and then cut to the net. He also has great agility, and good balance on his skates. Buchnevich is able to play all three forward positions which is a major plus for any prospect. He’s a pure sniper, with a fantastic wrist shot and snap shot. They are both powerful, accurate, and feature quick releases. He also has a very good one timer. Buchnevich is often able to force defenders to give him space due to his skating and it as at this point he can unleash is shot on the rush. He has good stickhandling skills and protects the puck very well. He’s not afraid to go through traffic and take the puck right to the net in order to get chances. Buchnevich is a skilled playmaker as well, he is very creative and is willing to try things that most players wouldn’t have the skill level to dream about. He also is willing to work hard in the corners and digging for loose pucks.
Nikolay Goldobin: Selected in the first round of the NHL Draft by the San Jose Sharks, Goldobin has outstanding offensive skill. He has all the tools to put up points as he did scoring 94 for a poor Sarnia team last year. He is blessed with the ability to stickhandle in a phone booth. His wide array of moves can leave defenders spinning. He also has a killer wrist shot, and an outstanding release. Goldobin also has a very effective one-timer. Add to all of this great hockey sense and the ability to find holes in the defense. Top it all of with some incredible vision and passing skils, and there is no doubt about Goldobin’s abilities in the offensive end of the ice. When he is on his game, he is quite simply a dynamic offensive catalyst for Sarnia. Goldobin can play a high speed game off the rush, or he can show poise with the puck and be patient and wait for an opening in the offensive zone. He doesn’t seem to get flustered often with the puck on his stick, and if he has the time and space out there, chances are that he will take advantage of it. Goldobin is a very good skater. His top end speed and his acceleration are both well above average. He also has outstanding agility and edgework which makes him extremely elusive both off the rush and in the cycle game. His balance could be improved, as he will need to add strength. He can sometimes be knocked off the puck by bigger and stronger defenders, and this also hurts him in his ability to win board battles. Goldobin will also need to improve his defensive game going forward.
Vladislav Kamenev: A second round pick of the Nashville Predators, Kamenev is extremely fundamentally sound for his age. His game shows very few weaknesses and while he may not have the absolute high end skill of some of his teammates, he has very few weaknesses. He just does everything well. Kamenev is a good skater, and has good size and excellent balance which allows him to protect the puck and to win board battles down low. Kamenev is more of a play maker than scorer, with very good vision and passing skills. He makes his linemates better by extending plays on the cycle and finding them in good spots. He has strong stick handling, helping him to protect the puck and slow the game down in the offensive zone. Kamenev has very good hockey IQ, and almost always seems to make the smart play with the puck on his stick. Kamenev likes to hit and is very good on the forecheck. Even though he is more of a play maker, he can score by getting to the front of the net, or with an accurate wrist shot. Kamenev’s defensive game is strong. He is good on faceoffs. He is gritty and aggressive in all three zones and supports his defence well on the backcheck. Kamenev is positionally sound, reading the play extremely well, and cutting down passing and shooting lanes. Kamenev should be a key match-up player, and penalty killer for Russia.
Vladimir Tkachev: After being undrafted in 2014, he attended Oilers training camp, and nearly signed. Unfortunately the contract was voided and he will re-enter the draft in 2015. Tkachev is an undersized but highly skilled forward. He is a great stickhandler who has great skating including a strong change of pace, and great agility. If he can add some muscle to his frame we could see him taking the next step and being an offensive producer in the NHL. He does need some work defensively though. Already has great chemistry with Barbashev from their play together with Moncton in the QMJHL.
Sergey Tolchinsky: Undrafted in 2013, he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes. Despite being 5’9″ he is one of the most skilled players in the OHL.Tolchinsky is a fantastic skater. He has a tremendous first step, great acceleration, and strong top end speed. He can beat defenders wide on the rush, by turning on another gear and blowing past them, or he can cut quickly to the inside to go to the net. Add silky smooth hands and moves, and a strong wrist shot and great release, and you have the recipe for a sniper. Tolchinsky has also become a great playmaker, as he shows outstanding vision, and the ability to make a pass through the eye of a needle. He’s not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice, at least in the offensive zone, to make plays. Defensively, he’s very much a work in progress. Tolchinsky can float in his own zone, and will often take off and leave early looking for the breakaway pass as soon as his team has the puck. He really will drive coaches crazy with his play in his own end of the ice, and really needs to work on this.
Valentin Zykov: A second round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2013, Zykov is a big forward (listed at 6’2″ 205 lbs) who plays with a gritty edge and is potential NHL power forward. He goes to the net very hard and knows what to do when he gets there. He has great hands in tight and can make slick moves, tip in shots, or bury rebounds. A natural goal scorer Zykov also has a strong wrist shot and quick release. He also works extremely hard in the corners, winning board battles, and playing a gritty, physical game. Zykov is very strong on the puck and protects it extremely well in the cycle game. He uses his body to shield off checkers and is strong on the puck and rarely knocked off of it by contact. As mentioned, he became more of a playmaker this year, finding open teammates off the cycle game, and using his ability to control the puck to extend plays, and wait for teammates to get open. He has very good vision and hockey sense.
Check back tomorrow as we continue to go through the players to watch at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships.
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