Ovechkin, Malkin explosive 1-2 punch

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

The myriad talents of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin will be on full display at the 2005 world junior championship, but exactly what the rest of the Russian team brings will be intriguing to witness. Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick last June by the Washington Capitals, and Malkin, who went next to the Pittsburgh Penguins, possess the ability to carry Russia all the way to the final. While tournament observers expect Russia to finish with a medal, it may have to overcome average netminding to do so.

"Even if Russia doesn't get great goaltending, they will still be very explosive on offence," Maple Leafs director of amateur scouting Barry Trapp said. "It's going to be interesting to see what Russia does. Sometimes they like to play possum in the round-robin and then come out much stronger."

That's what happened in 2002, when Russia lost twice in the round-robin but wound up beating Canada 5-4 in the final. A year later, the Russians went 6-0 in the tournament, again beating Canada by one goal (3-2) in the gold-medal game.

Goalie Anton Khudobin, a Minnesota Wild draft pick, was sharp against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in the recent Canada-Russia Challenge and was a major factor in the Russians' two victories. The other two goalies on Russia's preliminary roster were Vladislav Fokin and Andrey Kuznetsov. Although Khudobin was in goal when Russia won gold at the 2004 under-18 world championship, scouts want more when they watch him play.

"Their defence and goaltending is just okay," another NHL scout said. "What they have to guard against is playing that individual style they have succumbed to in the past. They have to play a team game where everybody contributes something."

There have been times in the past when dressing-room turmoil has derailed the Russians at the world junior championship. But Ovechkin is a level-headed kid who is well-liked by his teammates, so there shouldn't be any major internal issues this year. His ability is limitless but unlike countryman Ilya Kovalchuk, who would make decisions based on a whim, there isn't much emotional unpredictability at this age.

The NHL lockout has given Canada Patrice Bergeron, and it's probable that Jeff Carter, Anthony Stewart and Ryan Getzlaf could have made NHL inroads this season had it unfolded as usual. Ovechkin and Malkin, though, likely would have been the only two European teens in the NHL had the lockout not happened.

"Ovechkin and Malkin are two of the top young players in the world," an NHL scout said. "The overall lack of depth behind them is a bit of a worry but they could be fine."


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