World Junior Championships: Team Russia - What Could Have Been

Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympics - Day 12
Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympics - Day 12 / RvS.Media/Monika Majer/GettyImages

While tensions are still high in Russia, the talent hasn’t taken a back seat, which begs the question, what would the team resemble.

I’m not a Russian prospect guru, but there are a couple of names, whether it be in Russia or players developing in North America. The talent is boiling over, and the kettle whistling is loud. I won’t say the Russians would unseat the tournament's best squads, but they have some very talented players. 

Last year's seventh-overall pick, Matvei Michkov would likely be in the mix for captain and would be the Russian's offensive catalyst. The 2024 Draft also has two top 15 projected prospects. And the Canadiens also have a goalie that could have been in the conversation for the roster. 

Russia would have increased the level of competition, and seriously threatened for a bronze medal, at minimum. They are explosive offensively, and they have some tenacious back checkers to pick from. On the blueline, there is a nice blend of defensive and offensive-minded blueliners. 

What Could Have Been

Because I can’t predict every one of the vacant roster spots, I will just dive into a potential group of five to ten players that would likely represent the Russians in Sweden. 

The first selection for the Russians would be Matvei Michkov without any hesitation and that’s pretty easy to assess. The offence would run through him, and that’s precisely why he would run the top powerplay. Not only that, but he would sit atop the teams' first line.

A smart bet for the second pick is a toss-up between a defenseman and a forward. Both 2024 Draft eligible players, bring very important tools to the team. I give Anton Silayev, the 6’7” menace in the KHL the slight edge, as he is already dominant against guys 10-15 years older than him in the KHL.

Ivan Demidov would slot in as the third pick for the team, in my opinion, anyway. And the offensive talent at the top of the roster is already looking pretty hot. Demidov is still developing, but he has all the tools to develop into a top-line NHL winger. 

Washington Capitals prospect Ivan Miroshnichenko, who made his NHL debut on Wednesday night would fill another top-six role for the team. He is a tenacious forechecker and backchecker; bullying opponents with his defensive stick and body checks to steal pucks. In the offensive zone, he is a dynamo, be it an accurate shot with some zip or a rush to the net. 

Arizona Coyotes 2023 sixth overall selection Dmitriy Simashev would add another huge pillar on the blueline. The 6’4” 201 lbs defender would provide the squad with another great two-way defenseman. The 18-year-old defender has five points through 36 games in the KHL, where he has been developing his all-around game.

The Coyotes took advantage of the Russian flavour, following up their sixth overall pick with another Russian. Daniil But is a huge winger, at 6’5” and 203 lbs winger is a massive presence. But don’t let his size fool you, he has some great offensive tools - passing, shooting and his knowledge of how to use his size already. 

Mikhail Gulyayev is the third defenseman off the board for the Russians, perhaps the most talented offensive defenseman. He is one of the strongest skaters in the ‘23 draft, and the Colorado Avalanche decided he was far too talented to pass on at 31 overall. With Gulyayev running the powerplay, the Russians would have been a nightmare to play against on the penalty kill.

Roman Kantserov, the Chicago Blackhawks ‘23 second-round selection, is a smaller winger, at 5’9” and 176 lbs. Though he is small, he is quick and loves to make plays. His passing is the engine that runs his game, and he does so quite well, with Metallurg Magnitogorsk he has eight points in 34 KHL games.

The Russians ultimately lack a strong option for the top-six centers. But the wingers are dynamic. Igor Chernyshov is a top prospect for the 2024 Draft, and he is projected to go early, which is no surprise given his production in the MHL (19 points in 17 games, including 10 goals). 

Yevgeni Volokhin was the fifth round, 144 overall selection for the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs' third goaltender off the board is developing his skills in the Russian MHL. There are likely a few options for the Russians between the pipes, but Volohkin has played very well. And he is a Hab. 

Certainly, Pavel Mintyukov would probably be the number one defender and a sure bet for the captain. But I don’t see a scenario where the Anaheim Ducks would have released him to go play in Sweden. He is the do-it-all top-of-the-blueline defender and is ascending the Ducks depth chart. 

This is only ten players, but the team would have been right in the mix for the medal round.