By: Trent Leith / June 19, 2022
It’s June in Vancouver which means the Canucks are far from the top of mind. The Stanley Cup playoffs are drawing to a close, ̶T̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶u̶n̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶s̶h̶i̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ it is still raining, and we are finally getting away from our TVs. But every once in a while you tune into Sportsnet 650, Twitter or r/Canucks to see what’s happening around the Canucks and all you see is people talking about Andrei Kuzmenko.
The thing is however if you missed the beginning of this saga as your apathy towards the Canucks set in while recently watching the league’s top teams face off against each other, you probably want to know who Kuzmenko is, but you’re too afraid to ask? Well, we have you covered.
Andrei Kuzmenko is an undrafted 26-year-old Russian free agent who is looking to sign with a team in the NHL. Kuzmenko was almost drawn out from Russia in 2018 before signing a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg. Kuzmenko put up 154 points and 64 goals in his four years with SKA and is coming off a career-best 53 points in 45 games.
The KHL team SKA St. Petersburg may sound familiar to many Canucks fans because this is the same team that Podkolzin was playing for up until the 2021/22 season. The two players were even briefly linemates.
Kuzmenko is 5’11, 194lbs and shoots right. He has some impressive offensive talent, which is clear by his 20 regular season goals this season.
Kuzmenko is an offence-first type player, leaving his defensive play lacking. That isn’t necessarily a problem for a player in a top role, as it allows for a faster breakout if they are less worried about backchecking. However, a player like Kuzmenko has never played in North America, and him walking into a top-six role that allows him to only focus on offence is far from guaranteed.
If Kuzmenko can find a home on one of Vancouver’s top two lines, his ability to break out and carry procession into the offensive zone could lead to success. Kuzmenko possesses the great passing skill and has a tendency to set up shop behind the net in Gretzky’s office.
What does a fit look like?
Firstly Kuzmenko can only sign a one-year $925,000 deal to enter the league, after that he will be a proper free agent who can sign for whatever he’d like. Kuzmenko’s camp is looking for a team that is a longer-term fit beyond just one year.
There is no shortage of options for Kuzmenko to join the NHL, as the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers look to be the front runners, but there are at least two other suitors in the United States as well.
If the Canucks win his favour off the back of the Blue Water Cafe, there is a good chance he will have every shot in the world to earn a top-six role, especially if there is already some semblance of chemistry with his countryman Vasily Podkolzin.
If Kuzmenko signs with the Vancouver Canucks, it makes the prospect of trading either Brock Boeser or J.T. Miller a little easier, as Kuzmenko is a player who has the potential to at least partially fill the whole either of those players might leave.
Being such an affordable gamble and one with such high upside, it would be a no-brainer to sign Kuzmenko, especially as the Canucks are short on cap space to grow their team in more traditional ways over the summer.
It’s no Guarantee
There is no guarantee that a player coming over from the KHL to the NHL will have their game transition smoothly. The talent in the NHL is higher, the ice is smaller and the playstyles are different.
That said, sometimes a player comes over and they are an immediate success story, just look at Artemi Panarin’s success since leaving SKA. Panarin even put up similar numbers on the KHL as Kuzmenko did before heading to North America.
But for every Panarin there is a handful of Nikita Gusev’s or Vadim Shipachyov’s. Not every KHL star player makes a seamless transition from one league to the next.
When Patrick Allvin was hired as the Canucks’ head coach he said “You need to compliment the organization with college and European free agents.” As a frontrunner for the best European free agent this year, it looks like he meant it. Kuzmenko is expected to make his decision sometime this week.