There might not be a more intriguing team in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey than Russia, a team so skilled, so scary on paper and yet so consistently unable to maximize the tremendous firepower it carries into every best-on-best tournament.
In March, Russia named 10 forwards, three defensemen and three goaltenders to the team. Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, arguably two of the top five forwards in the NHL, headlined the initial roster.
Coach Oleg Znarok and head scout Alexei Zhamnov will announce the final seven players on the roster Friday, but here are NHL.com's picks:
THE FINAL 7
F: Vadim Shipachyov (SKA Saint Petersburg), Alex Radulov (Currently without contract), Valeri Nichushkin (Dallas Stars),
D: Alexei Emelin (Montreal Canadiens), Nikita Zaitsev (Toronto Maple Leafs), Alexei Marchenko (Detroit Red Wings), Nikita Nesterov (Tampa Bay Lightning)
With great size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) and skill, Nichushkin often draws comparisons to Ovechkin, although still has to drastically improve the physical aspect of his game. The 21-year-old is an excellent skater with quickness, agility, a dangerous shot and good playmaking ability. He has the potential to be a top-six forward.
Video: NJD@DAL: Nichushkin opens the scoring on pretty move
Radulov may become the best player to join the NHL this summer from overseas. He is exploring his options as an unrestricted free agent (his contract with CSKA Moscow expired April 30). The 29-year old is a veteran of international play, winning a silver medal at the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships. When Radulov is healthy, his explosive, physical style makes him a threat.
Shipachyov is an excellent playmaker and has just completed his second consecutive point-per-game season with SKA. The 29-year-old center won a gold medal in 2014, and a silver medal in 2015 and bronze in 2016 at the IIHF World Championships, and was a key player in SKA's Gagarin Cup win last season. The 6-foot forward has scored 335 points in 395 regular-season games in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Emelin is known for a rugged style of play Russia can certainly use. He has established himself as a key member of the Canadiens defense, often playing with countryman Andrei Markov. Emelin, 30, is prone to injuries because he often sacrifices his body delivering hits and blocking shots. However, if he stays healthy he can be a valuable asset.
Marchenko and Nesterov are young defensemen with enough size and skill to compete in the World Cup of Hockey. While Zaitsev has yet to play in the NHL, he is regarded as one of the best up-and-coming defensemen in Russia. Zaitsev plays a smart two-way game and is a fine passer with a solid shot from the point.
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Vladimir Tarasenko
Artemi Panarin - Evgeni Malkin - Nikita Kucherov
Nikolay Kulemin - Pavel Datsyuk - Alex Radulov
Vladislav Namestnikov - Artem Anisimov - Valeri Nichushkin
Andrei Markov - Dmitry Kulikov
Dmitry Orlov - Alexey Marchenko
Alexei Emelin - Nikita Zaitsev