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Hypothetical "World Cup of Hockey 2023" Best-on-Best Roster: Team Russia

Mario Tirabassi Avatar
September 8, 2023

It has been far too long since the world of men’s hockey has seen a quality “best-on-best” tournament. This week marks seven years since the beginning of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the last tournament that saw the best men’s players in the world representing their countries (most of them) and putting on a world-class display of talent. The tournament in 2016 was the revival of the World Cup of Hockey that was previously played in 1996 and in 2004, and took place right before NHL teams began training camp ahead of the 2016-17 season. It was the last time a tournament like it has been played for the men’s game with the NHL not participating in the 2018 or 2022 Winter Olympics. For far too long, we as hockey fans have been robbed of seeing these players play for something incredibly meaningful in a best-on-best setting and the players have been barred from representing their countries in meaningful ways.

With the rumors that the NHL would be participating again in the olympics in 2026 swirling, and the “plan” for the World Cup of Hockey to return as an in-season tournament in 2025, it got me thinking about who could play in that tournament and which Blackhawks, if any, would be representing their countries? But why wait for a hypothetical 2025 or 2026 roster? Let’s live in the here and now.

How would the rosters look, right now, if the World Cup of Hockey were to return this September?

For this exercise, I’m implementing two rules:
1) The 2016 “Nations” (USA, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czechia, Team Europe, and Team North America) return
2) 25-player rosters to allow for expanded representation and roster rotation

Previous teams: Team Europe, Team North America, Team Czechia, Team Finland

Throw the political concerns out the window for one minute. This Team Russia squad deserves a shot to be put together in this hypothetical tournament. Like I said, all eight “nations” are coming back from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and I’m not forcing the Russian players to play under the “O.A.R.” banner, even though we all like a good Crazy Game Of Poker. Plus, what good are international competitions without a little politicalization behind them, right? The 1980 Miracle On Ice wouldn’t have been as impactful had that U.S. team just beat Finland and Sweden. They had to take down the Soviets. It takes everything to another level as spectators.

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin(C) – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Kirill Kaprizov

Artemi Panarin – Evgeni Malkin(A) – Nikita Kucherov

Andrei Kuzmenko – Ivan Barbashev – Andrei Svechnikov

Nikita Gusev – Pavel Buchnevich – Vladimir Tarasenko

Matvei Michkov – Valeri Nichushkin

Sep 22, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team Russia forward Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates after setting up a goal by team mate Vladimir Tarasenko (not pictured) against Team Finland during preliminary round play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

There is so much talent here. It’s crazy, when you take into consideration the geo-political climate of the world and the fact that the NHL has not sent their players to the last two Winter Olympics, the Russian’s have been robbed of some amazingly stacked teams.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself since this hypothetical 2023 World Cup of Hockey roster for Russia actually has six members of the 2018 Olympic Gold Medal team on it again. Even still, Russian hockey has a ton of star power. Albeit aging stars. They’re still anchored by Ovechkin and Malkin, but they are paired with a young star in Kaprizov and more high-end talent in Kucherov and Panarin. The bottom-six will have largely have to play different roles than they are normally accosted to in their NHL lives, but most great players on highly talented teams in these kinds of tournaments have to deal with that.

Defense

Mikhail Sergachyov – Ivan Provorov(A)

Dmitry Orlov – Alexander Romanov

Vladislav Gavrikov – Artem Zub

Alexander Nikishin – Nikita Zadorov

Sep 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team Russia defenceman Dmitry Orlov (9) hits a slapshot during a 4-3 win over Team North America in preliminary round play in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s where the talent-gap shows up for the Russian side. Sort of in the same vein of the Finnish team, the Russian defense is “fine” but it’s not likely going to be the “x-factor” that pushes them over the top in this tournament. There’s a stud top-pair player in Sergachyov, but beyond that it’s NHL guys who would all be just OK options as second and third-pair defenders. The Russians might be able to get away with this average defensive group though, considering the talent in the forwards group and the trio of goaltenders behind them.

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Igor Shesterkin

Ilya Sorokin

I mean…holy crap. Literally, take your pick and you’re not wrong here. Each player could play a game in the group stage, and the Russians would have no worries about who it was. Now, naming a starter through the elimination round, should they go that far, would be a difficult task. If it were me, by the slimmest of margins, I’m still betting on Vasilevskiy being the best of the three.

Last Cuts

Alexander Radulov, Kirill Marchenko, Ilya Mikheyev

I really like the Russian chances in this hypothetical World Cup of Hockey. Like, really like their chances. If I were trying to put underdog odds on a team beyond Canada and the U.S., it might be on this Russian team. While the defense is just alright, that forwards group and the goalies are enough to make most believers. The biggest weakness I could see being an issue in this tournament for Team Russia would be the G.A.F. meter. But, I’d think with their first opportunity to represent Mother Russia in a best-on-best format, this squad would pull together a spirited effort.

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