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NHL players still have Russian team majority

Saturday, 12.19.2009 / 11:00 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

"Team Canada, the U.S., the Czechs, the Finns, Sweden, everybody has a shot to win the Olympic Games. Every game is a final for us, every game. In 1980, we looked at the U.S. and thought the U.S. wasn't a good team, so we prepared for the Czech Republic. Then Team USA beat us." -- Vladislav Tretiak, Russian Olympic team GM

Vladislav Tretiak, the general manager for the Russian Olympic team, is an equal opportunity employer. Why else would he admit his final roster headed to the 2010 Olympics would offer a balance between players from the NHL and KHL.

"Maybe half and half," Tretiak told The Canadian Press during his visit to Montreal to watch the Canadiens play the Washington Capitals Nov. 28. "The KHL is a good league, the hockey is very tough. We have maybe 10 or 12 good players. It's going to be very tough for the coaches to make the team because there are so many good players; there are good players in the NHL and good players in the KHL. Everybody has a shot to play for Russia."

That only makes Tretiak's job all the more difficult as Russia, the two-time defending world champion, is out to snap an 18-year Olympic gold medal drought.

"Team Canada, the U.S., the Czechs, the Finns, Sweden, everybody has a shot to win the Olympic Games," Tretiak said. "Every game is a final for us, every game. In 1980, we looked at the U.S. and thought the U.S. wasn't a good team, so we prepared for the Czech Republic. Then Team USA beat us."

While Tretiak wouldn't provide definitive answers on which players would make up his final Russian Olympic roster, NHL.com is here to sort it all out for you with our final take on the Russian contingent headed to Vancouver in February. For the record, we've selected 15 NHL players and eight from the Kontinental Hockey League to represent our squad.

Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks -- Look for the Kazakhstan-born netminder to earn the majority of starts for coach Vyacheslav Bykov. The runner-up for the Vezina Trophy in 2008 was the anchor of the '08 World Championship squad that won gold.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes -- An easy choice here as Bryzgalov has simply been one of the season's biggest surprises in the desert. I'd still consider him the backup at this point behind superb numbers, including a League-leading four shutouts.
Semyon Varlamov, Washington Capitals -- Earlier this season, his confidence seemed rattled, but the rookie was marvelous up until he suffered a groin injury on Dec. 10. So much so I'd have him ranked ahead of veteran Nikolai Khabibulin at this stage. The 21-year old has won 10 of his 14 starts (12-1-2). He was 7-0-2 with a 1.53 goals against average and .945 save percentage in his last nine games prior to the injury, which will keep him out of action until later this month.

Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh Penguins -- One of the finer point men on the power-play, Gonchar is a two-time Olympic medal-winner -- earning a silver in '98 and a bronze at the 2002 Games. He's also competed in the 1993 World Junior Championships, two World Cups and two World Championships.

Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens --
The veteran was left off our initial list last month when it was thought he'd be sidelined until February with a lacerated tendon in his ankle. But Markov informed Tretiak that his goal is to return sometime in January. If that's the case, we might as well pencil him in because that's how much he's valued.

Denis Grebeshkov, Edmonton Oilers -- A veteran of international competition, Grebeshkov has won two gold medals in the World Junior Championships and two golds at the World Championships. His shot-blocking ability is a huge boon for the Russians.

Fedor Tyutin, Columbus Blue Jackets --
The 26-year-old is coming off a career season as he recorded personal bests with 9 goals and 34 points in 2008-09. His propensity to step in front of oncoming forwards and shots is something this club needs.

Dmitri Kalinin, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) -- The 1998 first-round draft pick (No. 18) of the Buffalo Sabres provides experience and dependable defensive play along the blue line. Kalinin, a veteran of nine NHL seasons, won gold in 2008 and '09 for Russia in the World Championships. He's been a point-per-game player in Russia this season.

Anton Volchenkov, Ottawa Senators -- One of Russia's top defensive-defensemen, Volchenkov has returned from an elbow injury and is slowing getting back into the swing of things in Ottawa. In 15 games this season, the 6-foot-1, 226-pound blue liner has 41 hits and 42 blocked shots.

Ilya Nikulin, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL) -- The 27-year-old defenseman might just be the best blue liner in the KHL right now. In 28 games this season, Nikulin has connected for 5 goals and 22 points while averaging just under 26 minutes each night.


G-A-P: 21-17-38
+/-: 17 | PIM: 46 | PP: 6

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals -- The best Russian forward in the world will look to continue his dominance on the international stage. Ovi leads all Russians in the NHL in goals (20), points (32), shots (126) and hits (64).

Sergei Fedorov, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL) -- To complement this offensive machine, it's imperative to bring some players with defensive acumen; Fedorov is that type of player. Don't forget, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau had Fedorov manning the blue line at times last season. Plus, Fedorov centered Ovechkin and Alexander Semin at the 2008 World Championships in Quebec.

Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals -- The next-best Russian forward for the Capitals, behind Ovechkin, just so happens to be among the top-six Russian forwards in the game. He finished with 6 goals and 13 points in nine games to help lead his country to a gold medal in the World Championships last year.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers -- Kovalchuk has won two gold medals and two bronze medals at the World Championships, a bronze in the 2002 Winter Olympics and a gold and silver at the World Under-18 Championships. He has 313 goals and 584 points in 567 NHL games.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins -- After leading the 2008-09 regular season with 113 points and the '09 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 36 points, Malkin will look for the hat trick with plenty of production in the 2010 Olympics. We expect him to center a line between Kovalchuk and Alexander Frolov.

Alexander Frolov, Los Angeles Kings --
The 6-foot-2 left wing was selected for the 2006 Games in Turin, but only played three games after suffering an injury. There's no doubt he'll be itching to make a bigger impact this time around. The Kovalchuk-Malkin-Frolov connection played a part in Team Russia's third-place showing at the 2007 World Championships in Russia.

Aleksey Morozov, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL) -- Since leaving the NHL following seven seasons in Pittsburgh, Morozov has been quite productive in the KHL for Ak Bars. He's connected for 157 goals and 345 points in 297 games, including 18 goals and 33 points in 29 matches this season.

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings -- Nothing seems to slow Datsyuk down. He finished 2008-09 with 97 points (32 goals, 65 assists), matching his career high established one season earlier. He's won back-to-back Selke trophies and will be the perfect pivot for Morozov and Danis Zaripov.

Danis Zaripov, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL) --
The 6-foot, 180-pound left wing is in the midst of a career season with Ak Bars, hitting for 13 goals and 33 points in 30 games. He's also struck for six power-play goals while averaging just over 18 minutes of ice time per game.

Alexander Radulov, Salavat (KHL) -- We'll round out the roster with some skilled puck-handlers, starting with Radulov. After registering 48 points and a plus-26 rating in 52 games last season in the KHL, Radulov hasn't missed a beat this year, scoring at better than a point-per-game with six power-play goals.

Maxim Afinogenov, Atlanta Thrashers -- The 30-year-old Moscow native has already produced his highest goal total in three seasons and has been a major part in Atlanta's turnaround this campaign alongside Slava Kozlov and Rich Peverley. Afinogenov has proven to be responsible away from the puck as he leads the Thrashers with 30 takeaways.

Sergei Zinoviev, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) --
A veteran of international competition, Zinoviev has been regarded as a leader among Russian centers for quite some time now. He played in the 2005, '07, '08 and '09 World Championships and has notched 14 goals and 38 points in 33 games this season with Salavat.

Oleg Saprykin, St. Petersburg SKA (KHL) -- Saprykin, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound left wing, was a member of the Russian team that garnered gold at the 2009 World Championships. It's possible coach Vyacheslav Bykov will have Saprykin, a first-round choice (11th overall) of the Calgary Flames in 1999, work a fourth line with Zinoviev and Radulov.

There are some notable absentees from the roster, including forwards Alexei Yashin, Slava Kozlov and Nikolai Zherdev and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.

Alexei Zhitnik, who plays for Dynamo Moscow, and Sergei Zubov (SKA St. Petersburg) are also notable omissions along the blue line. The return of Markov, who's expected to return from his season-opening injury sometime in January, will keep Zubov off this roster. The Olympic Games begin Feb. 12.

"Andrei Markov is one of the key figures in our team's defense," Bykov told the Moscow daily Sport-Express. "He is a very strong defenseman in attacking and defensive work. You know that we always tried to develop traditions of Soviet attacking hockey. Attack is often the best way of defense and in this respect our fans should be satisfied with our hockey."

Goalie Khabibulin injured his back on Nov. 21 and has been supplanted in the Edmonton Oilers lineup by Jeff Deslauriers. The "Bulin Wall" is listed as day-to-day. If Varlamov isn't recovered from his injury and Khabibulin is, then Tretiak may opt for the veteran.

Said Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk, "I'm no predictor, but I know everyone is looking forward to this."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com