It's the second year in a row just one Calgary Flames prospect will be representing his country at the World Juniors. Last year, Jon Gillies won Team USA's starting goalie job, but only managed to lead his team to a fifth place finish. Gillies is now 20, and coming up fast on his 21st birthday, so he's ineligible for the tournament. The one kid we hope to cheer for one day in the NHL that's going? A Russian.
The last Russian the Flames had was defenceman Andrei Zyuzin, he and all 49 games he played for Calgary during the 2006-07 season. Before him it was a slightly more memorable name, Oleg Saprykin, who was dealt as part of a package for Daymond Langkow. You probably remember his final goal as a Flame.
Rushan Rafikov, a defenceman, comes to the Flames by way of the 2013 NHL Draft. He was the Flames' penultimate pick that year, selected in the seventh round, 187th overall (John Gilmour, a Canadian defenceman, was the Flames' final pick at 198th overall). He was one of Team Russia's final cuts for the 2014 World Juniors, but with another year of age and experience under his belt, he's been chosen to represent his country in his final year of eligibility for the tournament.
Rafikov, 19, is the eighth oldest member of Team Russia going, and the third oldest on the blueline by four days. He played all six games of the Subway Super Series, putting up one goal and two assists as he captained Russia to a 4-2 record over the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL. He has one goal and six points total over 12 games of U-20 international competition so far this season.
Outside of international competition, Rafikov played just two games for the MHL's Loko Yaroslavl (Russian junior hockey), scoring a goal, before joining the VHL's HK Ryazan (the Supreme Hockey League, and second to only the KHL when it comes to Russian hockey). With Ryazan, he has 13 assists over 25 games.
With Rafikov wearing the "C" for Russia throughout the Subway Super Series, combined with his age and roughly half-a-point-per-game pace throughout this season, we can probably expect him to be a leader for the Russians throughout the World Juniors. He's the highest scorer on both Russia and Ryazan's backend, and comes to the World Juniors seventh in his VHL team's scoring. He's tied for eighth in overall VHL defencemen scoring as well, and is at least four years younger than everyone ahead of or tied with him.
Team Russia, who defeated the Canadians last year to capture a bronze medal, is playing in Group B, alongside Teams Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Denmark. They'll spend the entire tournament in Toronto. All four of their round robin games will be broadcast:
|Friday, Dec. 26||11 a.m.||Denmark||TSN3|
|Sunday, Dec. 28||3 p.m.||Switzerland||TSN3|
|Monday, Dec. 29||3 p.m.||Sweden||TSN2|
|Wednesday, Dec. 31||3 p.m.||Czech Republic||TSN2|
The only conflicts are if the Russia/Sweden game runs a little long, it may cut into the Canada/Finland game immediately following, and Russia/Czech Republic starts an hour after the famed Canada/United States matchup. There are no conflicts with any Flames games.
Just like last year, injuries are preventing more Flames prospects from taking part in the World Juniors. Patrick Sieloff would have been the Americans' lone returnee on defence, but a staph infection that kept him sidelined for pretty much the entire year forced him out of the tournament.
This year, there were two Canadian hopefuls. Morgan Klimchuk, who currently has 10 goals and 25 points for the WHL's Regina Pats over 23 games, was invited to the Canadian camp, but was one of the first cuts. Meanwhile, 2014 fourth overall pick Sam Bennett - who is currently recovering from shoulder surgery that has kept him from playing this season - certainly would have been a lock for the Canadian roster, assuming he wasn't playing for the Flames full time (as Sean Monahan was last year).
It's worth noting that due to Emile Poirier's 1994 birthday, he is too old to play in the 2015 World Juniors. He was born Dec. 14, 1994. Had he been born just 18 days later - Jan. 1, 1995 - he would have been eligible, and almost certainly a strong consideration. Instead, he's spending his season playing for the Adirondack Flames in the AHL with a chance at an NHL call up, so... that's probably okay.