When the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to get Evgeni Malkin to play in the NHL this season, the nine other world junior teams should have shuddered.
Had the Pens secured Malkin, it's doubtful he would have been made available for the 2006 world junior tournament. Instead, Malkin has been a dominant player in the Russian Super League with Magnitogorsk and has the ability to carry Russia to a gold medal if the pieces fall into their proper places.
"Put it this way," one long-time NHL scout said. "Malkin is going to play in the Olympics. How many other players can you find at the world junior who will do that? None."
Malkin not only played for Russia at the world junior in the U.S. last winter but also suited up at the world championship in the spring.
After Malkin, Russia is not loaded with stars. And there have been times in the past when Russia has shown up at the world junior with a group of players who clearly have their own agendas. Not so with this group, coached by Sergei Gersonsky, who also was behind the Russian bench last year.
"What they have here is a team,"a scout said. "They lost badly to Canada in the final last year, but that experience could help them. It would not be a surprise if they are there at the end."
Including Malkin, 10 players from the team that won silver last winter were on the Russia's preliminary roster.
Experience often can count for a lot at the world junior, and Russia will have plenty. Among those players are Nashville's 2004 first-rounder, forward Alexander Radulov, and a trio of forwards selected in the second round of the 2004 draft -- Roman Voloshenko (Minnesota), Enver Lisin (Phoenix) and Mikhail Yunkov (Washington).
The starting goalie, Anton Khudobin, a Minnesota prospect, also returns. The blue-line group is not overly deep.
After finishing seventh on home ice in 2001, Russia rebounded to win gold in the next two years before a fifth-place finish precipitated its silver one year ago.