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Russia isn’t sending their big guns to Super Series

Team Russia celebrates a goal during the 2012 Subway Super Series

For the past few seasons Team Russia entered the annual Subway Super Series with a mix of players from the Russian major junior hockey league (MHL) and their compatriots representing various CHL teams. Russia’s goal coming into the tournament has been to build a core for the world junior team and take a closer look at CHLers.

This year it’s going to be a little different.

Russia’s top players historically are a rare sight at the Super Series. Former junior superstars like Nikita Filatov, Alexei Cherepanov, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov never took part in the tournament.

In fact, the only time Russia brought their big guns to Canada was last year when coach Mikhail Varnakov’s roster at the Super Series was an exact match to the one he used at the world juniors. The team was captained by Nail Yakupov, who was tied with Mikhail Naumenkov and Maxim Shalunov for first on Team Russia in points.

However, if in the past Russia was missing a few key players at the Super Series, in 2013 the list is rather long.

Varnakov didn’t call up a number of KHL players who are very likely to make the world junior roster. Here’s the list of those potential players from the KHL:

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevsky (Salavat Yulaev, KHL)
Igor Ustinsky (Stalnye Lisy, MHL)

Defencemen

Andrei Mironov (Dynamo Moscow, KHL)
Gleb Koryagin (Dynamo Moscow, KHL)
Nikita Tryamkin (Avtomobilist, KHL)
Dmitry Yudin (SKA, KHL)
Ilya Lyubushkin (Lokomotiv, KHL)
Valery Vasiliev (Spartak, KHL)
Dmitry Ogurtsov (CSKA, KHL)

Forwards

Anton Slepyshev (Salavat Yulaev, KHL)
Slava Osnovin (Traktor, KHL)
Damir Zhafyarov (Metallurg Novokuznetsk, KHL)
Daniil Zharkov (Torpedo, KHL)
Bogdan Yakimov (Neftekhimik, KHL)
Pavel Buchnevich (Severstal, KHL)
Vadim Khlopotov (Lokomotiv, KHL)

Team Russia will also be without three potential NHL players – Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo Sabres), Mikhail Grigorenko (Buffalo Sabres) and Valeri Nichushkin (Dallas Stars).

Russia called up nine players from the CHL this year, including Nikita Scherbak of the Saskatoon Blades. He was under everyone’s radar up until his departure to Canada where he’s scored 12 goals and 30 points in 21 games in the WHL. The tournament will be his one and only shot to convince Varnakov he’s world junior material.

Among players representing Russian clubs, Vladimir Tkachyov is the one who really stands out. An undersized (5’8, 138 pounds) forward, he has great acceleration and is very elusive with the puck.

Highly skilled he’s got a knack for generating scoring opportunities. At the most recent under-18 world championship in Sochi, Russia he scored five goals and had six assists for 11 points in seven games.

He led the tournament in assists and was drafted by the Moncton Wildcats this past summer 39th overall at the import draft. Nevertheless, he decided to stay with his hometown team Avangard Omsk. In 12 games with their junior team he scored six goals and 13 points.

Starting goalie for Team Russia is expected to be Igor Shesterkin who represents Spartak Moscow’s junior team. He was a starting goalie for the Russian team at the U18’s in Sochi and is having a tremendous season in the MHL so far. With a 1.07 GAA, four shutouts and .957 save percentage in 12 games, he’s one of the top goalies in the league.

The only Super Series returnee on Team Russia this year is defenceman Pavel Koledov, who plays for Lokomotiv’s junior team. The Novosibirsk native cracked Russia’s lineup at the 2013 World Juniors in Ufa, Russia and won a bronze medal. He has some pro experience as well as he played 35 games last season on Lokomotiv-2 – Lokomotiv’s farm club in the VHL. This season he played 20 games in the MHL scoring two goals and six assists for eight points with a plus/minus of plus-10.

It isn’t very plausible that Russia’s roster at the world junior championship in Malmo, Sweden will include many of the players we’re going to see at the Super Series but there’s a flipside: The higher the level of competition, the higher the motivation.

As if Russian teams ever need extra motivation when they lace’em up against Canadian teams.

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Cam Charron, Kelly Friesen