Following a crushing 5-0 defeat to Canada in the semifinals and a listless loss to Finland in the bronze medal game of last year’s World Junior Championship (WJC), Team Russia will be looking for revenge in 2022. This edition of Team Russia boasts a new coach in Hockey Hall of Famer Sergei Zubov and a squad that features some of the most dangerous offensive weapons outside of the NHL.
Related: 2022 World Junior Championship Guide
Let’s take a look at three Russian players going into this year’s WJC who should make this tournament entertaining.
Matvei Michkov is a goal-scoring machine with nearly two goals per game at the MHL (junior level), and at only 16 years old, he’s already playing in the KHL with two goals and five points in 13 games. He continuously generates highlight-reel plays and has NHL scouts salivating already. Despite not being draft-eligible until 2023, he is seen as a clear choice as the first overall selection that year and has already been tagged as a future “franchise player.”
Due to his age, Michkov will be a fixture in this tournament for several years. It’s also expected that he will play a significant role for Team Russia in this tournament despite his age. Because of this and his undeniable skillset, namely, speed, mobility and a laser-accurate shot, he’s expected to challenge offensive records. What this means for this year’s WJC is that he will be a formidable weapon for Russia, one that will cause fits for opposing defenses and goaltenders.
Not a flashy player, Nikolai Makarov, a 2021 fifth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, will still play an important role for this edition of Team Russia. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound defender brings a rare element to the Russian blue line: size and some toughness. Adding to his great size, the first-time member of the under-20 WJC squad is a highly mobile skater and a quality puck-mover.
He will be expected to play significant minutes in all situations. The silver medalist with the under-18 WJC squad in 2020 has a heavy yet accurate shot from the point that he can use as a power-play weapon. Makarov is also defensively sound and can log time on the top penalty-killing unit.
At five-on-five, his smooth skating stride and accurate first pass will be necessary to allow Russia to create offense off the rush, which is a key element for their top offensive talent, Michkov.
Ivan Miroshnichenko is a player to watch for the upcoming 2022 draft. He was ranked the second overall prospect on the TSN pre-season draft board behind Shane Wright and could challenge for the top spot with a solid performance at this year’s WJC.
“The right-shot left winger already boasts an NHL-caliber shot and plays a solid two-game way game with no discernible shortcomings in his tool box. He projects as a top two-line pro winger”
– Bob McKenzie
Miroshnichenko possesses an accurate and deadly release, making him one of the top goal scorers in his draft class. The combination of his elite shot with his elite skating stride and offensive IQ, placed in a 6-foot-1, 189-pound frame of a player who is able to play a physical style, makes him highly difficult to defend against.
In 22 VHL (KHL’s minor league) games, Miroshnichenko has four goals and nine points, which seems underwhelming for a top prospect. However, KHL teams tend to want to protect their top stars from North American exposure, and if they can’t, they’ll often underplay them prior to their trip over to North America.
As always, Russia is considered one of the top contenders at the WJC. Although not listed here, New Jersey Devils’ 2020 first-rounder Shakir Mukhamadullin will be a cornerstone player for Russia’s defense. The 6-foot-4 defender is highly mobile and will be instrumental in leading their transition game. He moves very well for his size and has already collected three goals and seven points in 34 KHL games this season as a 19-year-old.
Russia’s gold medal hopes will depend heavily on the performance of Yaroslav Askarov in net, who has proven himself capable of stealing games in a short tournament. Also, the late addition of Zubov as head coach could be a factor as he will have to impose his systems quickly, with no time or room for error in the team’s camp and pre-tournament games.
“I am ready to work in this role at the World Junior Championship, I think that our coaching staff has enough knowledge and experience to work at such a large tournament. We have a talented team and we’re preparing for the competition.”
Zubov’s experience playing 16 years in the NHL, as well as his three seasons of head coaching experience in the KHL, should make this transition a smooth one. After a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 2021 WJC in Alberta, the goal for Russia will be Gold as well as to regain their role as a world hockey power.
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Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.