4. Nikita Zadorov
The Canucks have spent years searching for big, strong, tough guys to boost their lineup. Nikita Zadorov could fill that role for them, in addition to a mentorship role for Podkolzin and Kuzmenko.
The 6’6”, 235-lb defenceman is approaching 500 games played in the NHL, and has steadily improved over the years. While his offensive contributions are mediocre, Zadorov has solid defensive statistics. His on-ice goals against per 60 minutes are exceptional, at 2.1 this year and 2.3 last year. That’s better than renowned defensive defenceman Jaccob Slavin — although Slavin typically faces more skilled opponents.
Zadorov was tied for 41st in the league in hits this year, and drops the gloves when necessary. He would provide grit, defense, and mentorship for the Canucks.
Having signed one-and two-year deals the majority of his career so far, the 27-year-old is probably due for a longer-term contract, and will likely make between $4 million and $5 million per year. The Canucks might be willing to give that to him.
5. Alex Radulov
At 35 years old, Alex Radulov has been around. A superstar in juniors with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, he has played 524 games in the NHL and 391 games in the KHL. He has learned how to be a professional, and could provide great leadership for the Canucks’ young Russians.
While his career is certainly on the downturn, Radulov still produced 22 points in a limited role for the Dallas Stars this year. He made $6.25 million per year over the past five years, and will certainly be available for much cheaper this year, should he decide to continue his NHL career.
6. Evgeni Malkin
While Malkin would be expensive, what better mentor could there possibly be than someone who benefitted so greatly from a mentor himself?
Should the Canucks trade J.T. Miller, the 35-year-old centre could fill the gap that would be left. Malkin is one of the greatest Russians ever to lace up a pair of skates, so Podkolzin and Kuzmenko have surely looked up to him for a long time.
Although he is quickly aging, Malkin still produced over a point per game this year, and helped the Penguins reach the playoffs for the 16th year in a row.
The Canucks’ front office is familiar with Malkin, as Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin used to make up the Penguins’ front office. They should be trusted to make the right call on Malkin, as they know who he is and what he is capable of.
Whether it’s one of these six free agents or someone acquired in a trade, the Canucks should definitely look into a veteran Russian to help Podkolzin and Kuzmenko. Just as Malkin credits Gonchar for his transition to North America, these guys could be forever grateful to a veteran mentor.