Sochi Olympics 2014: Russia Roster Analysis

Image courtesy of thestar.com.

The eve of the World’s greatest international hockey competition is upon us.  As teams jet into Sochi, make their final preparations, and strategise for the tough road ahead, Ice Nation UK is going to break down each and every roster in attendance.

Keep checking in over the next couple of days as we bring you the very best in analysis, and you might learn a thing or two about how the best hockey nations on the planet stack up against each other “on paper”.

Next up: the home side, the Olympic hosts, the team under the most pressure to perform, Russia.

THE ROSTER

Forwards (14):

  • Image courtesy of examiner.com.

    Anisimov, Artem

  • Datsyuk, Pavel
  • Kokarev, Denis
  • Kovalchuk, Ilya
  • Kulemin, Nikolai
  • Malkin, Evgeni
  • Nichushkin, Valeri
  • Ovechkin, Alex
  • Popov, Alex
  • Radulov, Alex
  • Semin, Alex
  • Tarasenko, Vladimir
  • Tereshenko, Alexei
  • Tikhonov, Viktor

Defence (8):

  • Belov, Anton
  • Markov, Andrei
  • Medvedev, Evgeni
  • Nikitin, Nikita
  • Nikulin, Ilya
  • Tyutin, Fedor
  • Voynov, Vyacheslav
  • Emelin, Alexei

Goal (3):

  • Bobrovsky, Sergei
  • Varlamov, Semyon
  • Eremenko, Alexander

Notable omissions?

Image courtesy of fromrussiawithglove.com.

Nail Yakupov is one of Russia’s best young talents, but unfortunately a sub-par second pro season means he didn’t earn a spot on the Russian team, and it’s tough to argue with that decision.  The 2012 1st overall selection by Edmonton had a strong rookie campaign, leading all rookies in goals and tied for the lead in points, but has struggled to gain any traction while receiving little opportunity to break out of his funk.  His natural talent should see his career bounce back before long – he has incredible skill, great speed and a howitzer of a shot.

Sergei Mozyakin, a 32 year old winger playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, has been one of the top scoring forwards in the league since its inception in 2008, tallying 387 points in 317 games, winning four scoring championships along the way.  He was a member of two Gold medal winning teams at the World Championships in 2008 and 2009 and won a Silver medal in 2010.  Russia enjoys outstanding depth on the wings, so it’s not necessarily surprising he wasn’t selected, but nonetheless his domestic record suggests he would have been a strong consideration.

FORWARDS

Russia Forwards Analysis – Scoring Stats

In order to analyse the forward selections, the first port of call is quite obviously their scoring numbers.  Hockey is won by the team that scores more goals, so what better way to evaluate the players whose job it is to do just that?

The following table displays each forward named to Russia, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

RUS FWD - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • The talent Russia possesses at forward is unreal, and is probably bettered only by Canada in this tournament, though their center depth isn’t nearly as elite.
  • Kovalchuk, Malkin and Ovechkin are all former winners of various NHL scoring awards and the latter two have both won Hart Trophies, not to mention Evgeni Malkin’s Conn Smythe performance a few years back.  Needless to say, these three are elite, and still very much in their prime.
  • Not to be outdone, they are joined by Pavel Datsyuk, winner of two Stanley Cups, three Selke Trophies and four Lady Byng awards, and who is still an elite NHL forward despite his age, and Alexander Radulov, who while he may be seen as a major disappointment in the NHL, is one of the very best in the KHL having won three MVP awards and the Gagarin Cup.
  • Even the secondary players are capable scorers in two of the best leagues on the planet, so scoring goals shouldn’t be a worry for the home side.

Russia Forwards Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each forward on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — players like Pavelski are probably unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams — but it does give some indication as to how Russia might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

RUS FWD - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Kovalchuk, Popov and Radulov are clearly invaluable members of their KHL teams, taking on a tonne of minutes.  Kokarev, Tereschenko and Tikhonov aren’t far behind, either.  Russian management has evidently not been afraid to pluck the best their own league has to offer, not just go to the NHL stars for help.
  • Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are the clear-cut offensive superstars in their primes, being run ragged on the powerplay and at even strength.
  • Anisimov, Datsyuk and Kulemin are obvious PK choices, though without a breakdown of the KHL players’ TOI it’s tough to know whether they’ll be relied upon for those minutes too.
  • Vladimir Tarasenko might be a dark horse on this team.  He doesn’t play big minutes in any situation on a deep St Louis team, yet he is still putting up good offensive numbers.  If he gets an opportunity with one of Russia’s big guns, who’s to say he won’t explode offensively?

Russia Forwards Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Finally, let’s dig a bit deeper and explore these players’ underlying numbers.  Thanks to Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, we can track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on.  The following chart displays this information for the Russian forwards.

RUS FWD - PUC

  • The bluer the bubble, the better the player’s Corsi number; the x-axis displays the offensive zone start percentage, and the y-axis is the quality of competition.
  • The slightly worrying thing about this image is the usage of each player: all but two of them receive pretty extreme offensive zonestarts, and that won’t be the case in Sochi – it will be interesting to see how they adapt.
  • Nonetheless, these guys get the job done at even strength, dominating the possession game against above average competition.
  • Nikolai Kulemin really is criminally underrated in Toronto; he may not be the offensive player people hoped for but he is relied upon night after night to take on sub-40% offensive zonestarts and some of the toughest competition there is.  His possession numbers don’t look great, but that combined with Toronto’s eschewing of a possession-style system means he would be extremely unlikely to.  Don’t be surprised to see him playing against other teams’ top lines at the Games.

The following table displays each forward, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.

RUS FWD - ADV

Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • The team overall has decent possession players, and Kulemin will likely be a lot better on a stronger team.
  • Datsyuk is just an absolute freak of nature; he dominates the possession game at age 35, and is just a pure treat to watch whenever he’s on the ice. Likely one of the team’s top two centers, watch him join Kulemin as the trusted tough-minutes wizard.

DEFENSE

Russia Defense Analysis – Scoring Stats

The following table displays each defender named to Russia, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

RUS DEF - STATS

 

  • Russia is certainly not as strong on defense as they are up front.  There is no elite puck-mover in the group, though Nikulin comes very close in his KHL career to being that guy.  Whether that’ll translate against NHL players remains to be seen.
  • Anton Belov is in his first NHL season after several spent in the KHL, culminating in a season where he was deemed by some to be unofficially the best defender in the league.  He has had ups-and-downs in Edmonton, showing up as a smart defender willing to use his size at least somewhat, though he has been healthy-scratched a lot recently by the Oilers.  His selection to the squad highlights the respect he has earned over his career.
  • Andrei Markov is still a highly capable puck mover, but has missed much of the last 4 years with injury and is slowing down with time.
  • Nikita Nikitin has proven to be a very good NHL player in Columbus, along with fellow Russian Olympian Fedor Tyutin, who has to be one of the most underrated top-pairing guys in the league.

Russia Defense Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each defender on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — players can be unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams or the way in which their coach manages their ice time — but it does give some indication as to how Russia might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

RUS DEF - TOI

 

 

  • A useful group of players in good leagues, 6 of the 8 defenders receive significant minutes in at least one discipline, and three of those are clear top-pairing players.
  • They are certainly not elite, however, with none of them offering truly dominant two-way ability, or even overwhelming ability in one area; Markov isn’t the offensive player he used to be, though Tyutin really is an excellent defensive player.

Russia Defense Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Let’s use Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts to track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on.  The following chart displays this information for the Russian defense.

RUS DEF - PUC

 

  • Voynov is the only true possession force here, but he does receive some extreme offensive zonestarts which likely enable him to achieve a better number, not to mention playing on the best defensive team in the league.
  • Emelin takes on the tough minutes role for Montreal, tackling the toughest competition and horrendous zonestarts.
  • Belov and Nikitin are pretty sheltered in comparison, starting close to 50% of their shifts in the offensive zone and playing well below average competition.

The following table displays each blueliner, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.

RUS DEF - ADV

 

  • As a group they don’t look like the most outstanding possession players, but looking at the team percentages indicates that they are not playing for particularly impressive possession teams, with the exception of Voynov.
  • A Suter, Weber, Doughty, Chara type player would really be beneficial to the Russians, but unfortunately for them Nikita Zadorov will not be ready for the big time for a while yet.
  • In the meantime they have to settle for an adequate, but rather bland, defensive corps.  This could prove to be their undoing.

GOAL

To evaluate goalies, the number most indicative of actual ability is likely even-strength save percentage.  By removing their numbers on the powerplay or while shorthanded, we remove the wildly fluctuating numbers, year-to-year, of special teams play and can focus instead on the discipline at which the vast majority of each game is played.

RUS GOAL - SV%

 

  • Who plays in net should not concern the Russians too much – they have last years’ Vezina Trophy winner and one of this season’s best netminders playing for them.
  • Both players have been pretty consistent in terms of ES SV% over the last few years.
  • Varlamov has won one Gold medal and one Silver at the World Championships, and Eremenko has many international games to his name over a long and successful career.

CONCLUSION

Image courtesy of Fox Sports.

The tournament hosts are always considered contenders for Olympic Gold, and will be looking to bounce back from an embarrassing 6th place finish at the Vancouver Games.  They have strong goaltending and some elite-level forwards, but if a team can exploit their comparatively week defensive unit then the team will fall hard.

However, it is not that their defensive group is bad; it is simply that they are not comprised of perennial Norris-contenders.  If that unit holds together, who knows how far this Russian squad will go, but a 3rd/4th place finish sounds about right.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Follow Chris on Twitter, and whilst you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk.

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