Russia announces roster for 2013 World Juniors

Monday, 12.24.2012 / 1:28 PM

First-round NHL Draft picks Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko will highlight a star-studded lineup for the Russian National Junior Team on home soil at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa beginning Wednesday.

The Russian Ice Hockey Federation announced its official 23-man roster for the 10-team tournament on Monday.

The duo played a part in helping Russia win the silver medal at the 2012 WJC in Calgary, Alberta. The Big Red Machine will be hosting this year's WJC for the first time since 2001, and Yakupov and Grigorenko are hoping to recapture gold. The Russians last earned the top medal at the 2011 WJC in Buffalo, N.Y.

The 2013 WJC runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Ufa, and Russia will compete in Group B with Canada, Slovakia, the United States and Germany. It will open the tournament Dec. 26 against Slovakia (NHLN-US).

Yakupov, taken by the Edmonton Oilers with the first pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, had no goals but tallied nine assists in seven games at last year's tournament. Grigorenko, taken No. 12 overall by the Buffalo Sabres, chipped in with two goals and three assists in six games, but was at less than 100 percent for most of the tournament with an ankle injury.

Additionally, goalie Andrei Vasilevski, the 19th overall pick of last year's draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, went 4-1 with two shutouts, a 2.01 goals-against average and .953 save percentage in five appearances. Buffalo Sabres prospect Andrei Makarov, who joins Vasilevski between the pipes to create perhaps the best one-two punch in goal for any team in the tournament, went 1-1 with a 0.88 GAA and .979 save percentage in three appearances.

"Russia is always strong and this year's team is as strong as the gold medal-winning group two years ago," NHL Director of European Scouting, Goran Stubb, told "The goaltending is better now."

This year's team, which will be coached by Mikhail Yarnakov, includes seven defensemen, 13 forwards and three goalies, including one emergency backup in case of injury.

Also returning from last year's team are forwards Nikita Kucherov, Yaroslav Kosov and Alexander Khokhlachev, and defensemen Artyom Sergeyev and Nikita Nesterov.

A few top 2013 NHL Draft prospects are also sprinkled throughout the lineup, including right wing Valeri Nichushkin and left wing Anton Slepyshev. Nichushkin, a 6-foot-4, 196-pound right wing, has two points in six games with Chelyabinsk in the KHL after starting the season in the minor leagues. NHL Central Scouting rated him No. 1 in its preliminary ranking of Russian skaters for the 2013 draft.

"He's a big, strong two-way winger," Stubb said of Nichushkin. "He's tough to stop when driving to the net from either wing -- a defenseman's nightmare in one-on-one situations when at top speed. He handles the puck well in traffic, makes good decisions in those situations. Has a high overall skill level and moves well for a big guy. Smooth hands. Good playmaker."

Slepyshev, a 6-2, 194-pound forward, was passed over in the 2012 NHL Draft. He is rated No. 3 among draft eligible skaters in Russia entering the '13 Draft.

"It was a big surprise that nobody drafted him in 2012," Stubb admitted. "He spent the fall with Novokuznetsk in the KHL. This is a guy who is dancing on the ice; he's an excellent skater with excellent skill level. He creates a lot of scoring chances with quick moves in the offensive zone."