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Campbell's Cuts: Team Russia won't be a pushover

After essentially sandbagging their exhibition competitions against Canadian junior teams for the past four years, it looks as though the Russians will have a legitimate team compete in the Canada-Russia Super Series later this summer.

Russia unveiled its 32-man roster yesterday and it features seven players from its World Junior Championship team last year, including Alexei Cherepanov, the first-round pick of the New York Rangers in the June draft.

Other first-rounders on the team include goalie Simeon Varlamov, taken 23rd overall by the Washington Capitals in 2006 and defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy, selected 27th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2006.

The team certainly promises to be a big improvement on the Russian teams that have taken part in the annual ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. Since 2003, all-star teams from the OHL, WHL and QMJHL have compiled a record of 15-3 against the Russians and have outscored them 122-48. The only Russian wins have come against QMJHL teams.

That's because the Russians have historically sent inferior teams to the challenge. Part of the reason for that is they don't want to tip their hand so close to the WJC and the fact that most of their best young players can't get out of their Russian Super League commitments.

“This is a very good roster,” said one NHL scout. “They're not sandbagging this one for a couple of reasons. First of all, this is (Russian federation president Vladislav) Tretiak's baby and they have four games in Russia that they have to try to sell, too.”

One scout said the only two prominent young Russian players missing from the roster seem to be Ruslan Bashkirov and Max Gratchev, both of whom play in the QMJHL. Also included on the roster are several players eligible for the 2008 draft in defensemen Maxim Chudinov and Vyacheslav Voinov and forwards Nikita Filatov and Kirill Petrov.

One scout said there's a good reason why there are so few players that were draft this year on the team.

“That 1989 group was just not a good group,” he said. “On their team at the under-18s last year, they had eight 1990-born players on the team.”

One thing is certain: the series will be much more evenly matched than the most recent exhibitions. Several scouts feel Canada has more depth of talent up front and a better defense corps, but Russia might have an edge in goal, which is usually not the case against Canadian teams.

Canada has four returnees from last year's gold-medal squad at the WJC – goalie Leland Irving, defenseman Karl Alzner and forwards Sam Gagner and Brad Marchand.

But there is load of first-round picks on the team, including goalies Irving and Jonathan Bernier, defensemen Alzner, Keaton Ellerby, Thomas Hickey and Ty Wishart and forwards Gagner, Angelo Esposito, Colton Gillies, Claude Giroux, Zach Hamill, David Perron, Brandon Sutter and Kyle Turris.

Defenseman Drew Doughty and forward Zach Boychuk should be top-10 picks in the 2008 draft and John Tavares is the odds-on favorite to go first overall in 2009.

The eight-game Super Series begins with four games in Russia (Aug. 27 and 29 in Ufa and Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 in Omsk) and finishes in Canada with games in Winnipeg (Sept. 4),Saskatoon (Sept. 5), Red Deer (Sept. 7) and Vancouver (Sept. 9).

Ken Campbell's Cuts appears regularly only on The Hockey News.com. Want to get the inside edge from Ken himself? You can reach him at kcampbell@thehockeynews.com.

One of THN's senior writers, Ken Campbell gives you insight and opinion on the world of hockey like no one else. Subscribe to The Hockey News to get Ken's expertise delivered to you every issue.

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