Here are the Russian players we'll be keeping an eye on at the 2013 WJHC starting December 26th. This is not a ranking of their top players or prospects, just the guys that we're interested in scouting and assessing their future fantasy hockey potential.
#15 Valeri Nichushkin, LW (2013 Eligible) - 6'4" with great wheels, this kid looks like a keeper. He's played eight games in the KHL this year but has done most of his damage in the Russian 2nd tier (VHL) with 8+2=10 in 15 games. ISS has him ranked at #7 for the 2013 draft, so lofty praise but I need to see more before I'm convinced that he's more than just eye-candy for the scouts.
#16 Nikita Kucherov, RW (TB-2011-2nd-#58) - May not be big or look particularly fast but has a real knack for slipping behind defenders for breakaways and all this guy does is score... led the 2011 U-18s in scoring with 11+10=21 in seven games, had 2+5=7 in seven games at the WJCs last year and has 9+13=22 in 13 games in the Q this season. He has great chemistry with Grigorenko having played on the same line at various times during the past few years... so keep an eye out for that and watch how many breakaways this guy gets.
#25 Mikhail Grigorenko, C (BUF-2012-1st-#12) - At first I wasn't a big fan of his but the more I see of him the more he grows on me as while he may give the impression that he's not putting in much effort, maybe he just makes it look easy? He is a tremendous playmaker and with his great size and puck possession skills, I think he'll make a number of teams regret their decision to let him slide to Buffalo at #12. The spotlight for the Russian team is on Yakupov but I wouldn't be surprised if Grigorenko steps up and carries this team.
#17 Anton Slepyshev, RW (Undrafted 2012) - Was a regular in the KHL last year and showed well at the U-18s but was curiously passed over at the NHL draft which makes us think that the "Russian Factor" was in play. A strong display on a stage like the WJCs would certainly make it more likely that he's drafted next summer.
#8 Maxim Shalunov, RW (CHI-2011-4th-#109) - Has appeared in a number of international events for his country and has shown flashes of having a lot of skill to go along with good size. I'd worry that he's plateaued as he's nearly 20 and has only played in seven career games in the KHL.
Others to Watch:
#30 Andrei Vasilevski, G (TB-2012-1st-#19) - Only 18 and we're not trying to rush him but he has yet to progress from dominating the Russian junior league (MHL). As a result, short tournaments like this are the only real opportunities we get to measure him up against top competition.
#20 Andrei Makarov, G (Signed as FA with BUF) - In addition to Vasilevski, we'll also be keeping an eye on the other goalie in the platoon as Makarov was tremendous at the WJCs last year with a .979 sv% in three games and earned himself a contact with the Sabres during the offseason.
#9 Nikita Nesterov, D (TB-2011-5th-#148) - Although he doesn't stand out when you watch him play he quietly finds a way to put up points as he was 3rd in the MHL in scoring by a dman last year and led Russian dmen with 2+3=5 in seven games at last year's WJC. Word is that Tampa will try to bring him over to North America (likely the AHL) next season.
#7 Artyom Sergeyev, D (Signed as FA with TB) - Was never drafted but had a try-out with the Red Wings in 2011 before signing with Tampa as a FA last summer. I can't say I really understand why. I'll be watching him closely to see what I'm missing.
#12 Andrei Sigarev, LW (Undrafted 2011 & 2012) - He's taken an interesting route as he played in the EJHL two years ago and has developed more in the VHL than the MHL before recently being acquired by a top KHL team, SKA St.Petersburg. I liked what I saw from this guy in both the Summit Series and the Super Series as he scored some clutch goals.
Anyone I missed?... let me know in the comments.