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Team Russia roster projection for World Cup

by Vassili Ossipov / NHL.com

Heading into the 2014 Sochi Olympics, there was one main priority for the entire host nation of Russia: Win a gold medal in hockey.

The Russians won three of five games in the group stage but were eliminated before the medal round, losing 3-1 to Finland in the quarterfinals. It was the most disappointing loss for Russia since it was upset by the United States in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.

In Sochi, Russia seemed to be a team of individuals rather than a unit.

Now Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and the rest of Russia's talent will be more than eager to redeem themselves against other hockey powers at the 2016 World Cup.

Here is what the Russia roster could look like in Toronto (alphabetically by position):

FORWARDS

Artem Anisimov, Chicago Blackhawks, C -- A solid two-way center who will give Russia depth in the middle, Anisimov is injury-prone, but when healthy can be helpful on each end of the ice. The 27-year-old is reliable, disciplined, and very experienced in international play (two World Juniors, four World Championships, 2014 Sochi Olympics).

Alexander Burmistrov, Winnipeg Jets, C -- His first stint in the NHL (2010-13) wasn't a success, but the 23-year-old has matured. His progress should continue back with the Jets under coach Paul Maurice. Burmistrov is smart and defensively sound, has the skill set of good penalty-killer, and will be used mostly to thwart opponents' offense.

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings, C -- With arguably the best hands in hockey of the past decade, the 37-year-old continues to be a puck-handling magician who possesses outstanding defensive instincts. The start of his NHL season could be delayed because he is recovering from ankle surgery, but if healthy, he will be one of the key weapons in Russia's powerful offense.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, one of the NHL's rising stars, is expected to team up with Alex Ovechkin and his fellow Russians at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. (Photo: Getty Images)

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals, C -- The 23-year old can be dazzling at times, showing off elite puck-handling skills. His dynamic skill set will bring another offensive threat. He may be the center who can help Capitals teammate Alex Ovechkin excel at the international level.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, C -- Nagging injuries the past few seasons have not made things easier, but Malkin possesses the combination of intimidating size (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), dazzling skill and elite vision. The 29-year-old will undoubtedly be Russia's go-to guy.

Ilya Kovalchuk, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL), LW -- Kovalchuk is a pure goal-scorer who can erupt at any point of the game. A rare blend of skill, speed and strength, the 32-year-old has represented Russia at the Olympics three times, including the bronze medal-winning team at 2002 Salt Lake City; nine World Championships; one World Junior Championship; and the 2004 World Cup. He will look to erase bad memories from the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Nikolay Kulemin, New York Islanders, LW -- A solid, versatile, two-way forward, the 29-year-old has good instincts at each end of the ice. A very mobile skater with a keen sense of anticipation, Kulemin makes responsible decisions with the puck, works hard in the corners, and possesses a strong work ethic. He will be given key defensive responsibilities.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals, LW -- One of the most dominating NHL players of the past decade, Ovechkin, 30 on Sept. 17, has not been as successful at the international level. The Capitals captain will have a lot to prove. It's up to Russia coach Oleg Znarok to figure out the best linemates.

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning, RW -- Kucherov had a breakout season with the Lightning, setting career highs in every major category and helping Tampa Bay reach the Stanley Cup Final. The 22-year-old is considered one of the most talented young Russians and should have a major role.

Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars, RW -- With great size (6-foot-4, 210) and skill, Nichushkin draws comparisons to Ovechkin. He is an excellent skater with quickness, agility, a dangerous shot and good playmaking ability. Last season was marred by injuries, but the 20-year-old has the potential to be a top-six forward.

Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks, LW -- With fantastic puck-handling and playmaking skills, Panarin might need an adjustment period coming to the smaller ice of the NHL and getting used to the more physical game. The 23-year-old has the talent to be a top-six wing.

Alexander Radulov, CSKA Moscow (KHL), RW -- When it comes to professional hockey players outside the NHL, Radulov is among the best. The 29-year old is a veteran of international play since the junior youth level, winning a silver medal at the 2005 and 2006 WJC. His explosive, physical style makes him a legitimate threat to any opponent.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St Louis Blues, RW -- He has an amazing, quick-release shot with superb accuracy, and is a great passer and teammate. After signing an eight-year contract with St. Louis worth $60 million, there will be pressure on the 23-year-old to perform. If he is able to handle it, Tarasenko will emerge as one of the elite players at the World Cup.

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov brings veteran savvy and power-play prowess to Russia's blue line for the World Cup of Hockey. (Photo: Getty Images)

DEFENSEMEN

Anton Belov, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) -- The former Edmonton Oilers defenseman will bring size (6-foot-4, 218) and toughness. Considered one of the top defensemen not playing in the NHL, he is capable of containing top forwards and gives Russia depth on the penalty kill. Last season, the 29-year-old helped SKA St. Petersburg win is first Gagarin Cup, given to the Kontinental Hockey League champion.

Maxim Chudinov, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) -- The 25-year-old is hard-nosed and can move the puck. He is an excellent skater and uses mobility and speed to compensate for his lack of size (5-foot-11, 187). He relishes the physical game and uses his low center of gravity to his advantage, similar to former NHL defenseman Darius Kasparaitis.

Alexei Emelin, Montreal Canadiens -- Emelin is known for a rugged style of play Russia can certainly use. He established himself as a key member of the Canadiens defense, often playing with countryman Andrei Markov. Emelin, 29, is prone to injuries, sacrificing his body delivering hits and blocking shots. If he stays healthy, he will be a valuable asset.

Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens -- One of the alternate captains for the Canadiens is a key piece of Russia's power play, where Markov often serves as a playmaker. He seems to have overcome multiple knee injuries, and at 36 years old continues to be one of the two top defensemen for Montreal, along with P.K. Subban (Canada).

Yevgeni Medvedev, Philadelphia Flyers -- The 33-year old played eight seasons in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan, where he won the Gagarin Cup twice before signing his first NHL contract in May 2015. He is a solid all-around defenseman who can play at even strength or on the power play.

Ilya Nikulin, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL) -- Nikulin has been the Russia captain at the World Championship since 2011, though he wasn't at Sochi (Datsyuk). He has won three World Championship gold medals, one silver and one bronze. The 33-year-old is a versatile player and likely will be among the top four.

Sergei Bobrovsky, who played for Russia in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, will compete with Semyon Varlamov again for playing time in the World Cup of Hockey. (Photo: Getty Images)

Yegor Yakovlev, SKA St. Petersburg -- The 23-year-old quickly moved up the ranks and this summer signed a three-year contract with the Gagarin Cup champions. Yakovlev is a great skater with a strong shot and playmaking ability who can have an impact on the power play.

GOALIES

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets -- The only Russian to win the Vezina Trophy, Bobrovsky has established himself as its No. 1 goaltender. The 26-year-old had a 1.15 goals-against average and .962 save percentage in Sochi.

Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche -- After a strong 2013-14 when he set an Avalanche record for wins (41), Varlamov struggled at times last season, and Colorado missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 27-year-old likely will be Bobrovsky's backup.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Russia's most talented young goaltender, the 21-year-old has a fair share of high-profile games on the international level, including a 0.50 GAA in two games at the 2014 World Championship. He will serve as the third goalie to help his development.

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