No team in the World Cup of Hockey -- not Canada, not the Swedes nor the Americans -- will ice a team that has the sheer firepower of the Russians: four lines capable of wreaking havoc on opposing defenses. The rest of the team and how it all comes together, well, that's a whole other story. Here's how we predict Russia's World Cup of Hockey squad to look:
This group kind of takes your breath away, no? We moved Kuznetsov up the depth chart, but any time you throw out Kuznetsov, Malkin and Datsyuk as your one-two-three down the middle, then follow up with a strong two-way presence in Anisimov, who has played all season with Panarin and Patrick Kane in Chicago, well, the Russians are going to be a handful no matter what order they are in on the ice.
The good news for the Russians is that young players like Orlov and Nesterov have taken steps and, in the case of Orlov, big strides forward this season in terms of their development. Kulikov, playing with Aaron Ekblad in stingy Florida, will be a key piece of the Russian defense corps, along with veteran Markov.
The bad news -- or at least potentially bad news -- is that almost all of their top defensemen are left-handed shots. Alexei Marchenko of Detroit is the only right-hand shot and might make the team based on that factor alone. We have veteran Tyutin as our seventh defenseman to help add some veteran stability. But the bottom line for this group is whether they can defend well enough to allow the overwhelming firepower of the forward group to take over games.
It has been a tough couple of years for Bobrovsky, and that may open the door for Vasilevskiy, the heir apparent in Tampa, to get some World Cup action. But this has to be Varlamov's team, and he'll have a significant say in whether Russia can overturn years of international disappointment at best-on-best events.