Rick Dhaliwal of CHEK TV and The Athletic informed fans on Monday that the Canucks had reached out to Dan Milstein, Kuzmenko’s agent, inquiring about the forward’s future along with other interested teams.
Kuzmenko, born in Yakutsk Russia, and turned 26 at the beginning of February and has spent the past four season with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. At the time of this writing, he is second in league scoring with 53 points in 45 games, and recently hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his pro hockey career. He has played parts of the past eight seasons in the KHL, accumulating 200 points in 315 games. There is no doubt that the former World Junior Championship silver medalist would have been a big part of the Russian Olympic Committee’s team in Beijing, but he unfortunately suffered an injury prior to the team’s first game.
Though he stands at just 5-foot-11, and weighs in at 194 pounds, Kuzmenko is fearless when attacking the net. He makes excellent use of his strong edge control to cut through defence like a hot knife through butter, scoring many of his goals from on top of the crease. Though his shot isn’t necessarily the hardest, his accuracy and release are elite. He could get rid of the puck in a phone booth, often stunning goalies by picking the puck out of piles of players and discharging it in a flash.
I know that all sounds pretty good, but it’s the Russian’s puck skills that truly shine. Kuzmenko is no stranger to scoring goals between his legs, or ending up on KHL highlight reels with ankle breaking dekes. Furthermore, he seems to have solved the majority of the goalies in the league, exploiting their weaknesses on breakaways to embarrass his opponents. He certainly appears ready for more challenging competition in the crease.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Kuzmenko’s on-ice vision is next level. He can often be seen shocking his linemates with seeing-eye passes that land right on the tape, consistently finding the open man up ice with one fluid motion. This assists him greatly in his own zone as well. Although his defensive habits are not outstanding by any means, he is able to break the puck out with ease and is always an attractive option for his defencemen.
What is most impressive about Kuzmenko’s excellent season is that he has been able to make the impact he has while averaging a total ice time of just 16:58.
The Canucks interest in the offensive star should excite fans as general manager Patrik Allvin is already on his way to keeping his promises.
“For [the Canucks] to become a consistent playoff team and a consistent contender, we need to build up the depth of the organization,” said Allvin in his first media availability as Canucks GM. “That’s through the draft and signing of European and college free agent players.”
The Canucks current president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford has said many times that Allvin’s connections in Europe will serve as valuable to the organization, and it is great to see him already putting them to use.
A big reason the Canucks are likely interested in Kuzmenko is his prior relation to Vancouver rookie Vasili Podkolzin. Podkolzin played parts of the past three seasons with SKA St. Petersburg, occasionally playing on Kuzmenko’s opposite wing. The two players’ styles fit together like a glove. With Kuzmenko’s vision and playmaking, and Podkolzin’s shot and physicality, they could become quite the dynamic duo if the Canucks were to reunite the Russians. It would definitely be a positive for Kuzmenko as the transition to North America can often be difficult, especially after extended time in the KHL. Having an acquaintance to help him along would be appealing.
It is also worth noting that Kuzmenko’s agent Milstein has represented multiple Russian players jumping from the KHL to the NHL over the years. Each one has come over on an initial contract of around $1,775,000 AAV on a one-year deal, though Kuzmenko’s current status will likely earn him slightly upwards of that. Milstein also represents Canucks prospect Danila Klimovich.
With Dhaliwal also reporting that Kuzmenko will not interview with teams until his season is finished, it may be too early to look this far ahead. However, I feel the connection is too strong to ignore, and adding another skilled, reliable forward who could mesh with Podkolzin, who has struggled occasionally this season, is an attractive opportunity.