Team Russia shocked the world by coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the gold medal game against Canada to win the IIHF U20 World Junior Championship one year ago. Tremendous coaching, discipline, and a lot of luck made a good team great. Several players also proved that they were the real deal, including Dmitry Orlov (currently playing in Washington), Vladimir Tarasenko (Blues prospect currently ranked fifth in KHL in goals), Maxim Kitsyn (KHL’s Metallurg Novokuznetsk), Artemy Panarin (Vityaz), and — the youngest of the bunch — Evgeny Kuznetsov. Role players from last year’s team, Nikita Dvurechenski (KHL’s Vityaz), Anton Burdasov (third-line center on the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk), and Nikita Pivtsakin (KHL’s Avangard Omsk), have also graduated to become full-time KHL players.
Unfortunately, age eligibility rules have forced a drastic change to Russia, who is looking to repeat as champions for the first time since 2002 and 2003. The only returning player is Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzya, the captain wearing #25, is sure to be a major key to success for the Russians. He’s played in the tournament before, scored, and assisted on clutch goals.
Kuznetsov’s been very successful at the professional level this year: he leads the KHL in game-winning goals (5), scored the game-winner in the Karjala Cup, and plays on the first line of the Russian league’s best team, Traktor Chelyabinsk.