The Vancouver Canucks could be adding a key piece to their roster for the 2022-23 season this week in Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) free agent Andrei Kuzmenko. The ongoing saga has been a great distraction for Canucks Nation as they wait patiently for another long offseason to end without the excitement of playoffs in their living rooms and at Rogers Arena. After meeting with general manager (GM) Patrik Allvin and head coach Bruce Boudreau in Michigan on June 10 and touring a few NHL cities including Edmonton on June 15, he made his way to the West Coast for a second interview with Canucks brass.
Kuzmenko Visits Vancouver on Tour of NHL Cities
On the weekend, Kuzmenko finally made his long-awaited visit to Vancouver on his tour of teams he is considering joining for the 2022-23 season. The skilled 26-year-old Russian scored 20 goals and 53 points in 45 regular-season games and seven goals and 14 points in the playoffs for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL and has become a highly sought-after forward this offseason. Over the last few weeks, he has whittled his list down to a few teams, which reportedly include the Canucks and Edmonton Oilers as the only Canadian teams.
Whichever team ultimately signs Kuzmenko will be hoping he replicates the same NHL career Artemi Panarin has in the seven seasons since he joined the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015-16. In Panarin’s case, he was a 24-year-old coming off a campaign where he scored 26 goals and 62 points in 54 games with the same SKA St. Petersburg team Kuzmenko has been a part of for the last four seasons.
While it would be unfair to expect the same goal and point totals Panarin has put up in the NHL (187 goals and 569 points in 508 games), it’s interesting to note that even though Kuzmenko played one more season in the KHL than Panarin, they are pretty close in every statistical category. Numbers are just that, numbers, but it’s still encouraging to see if you are a Canucks fan (especially if the Canucks do end up signing him).
Kuzmenko Scouting Report
As for what Kuzmenko could bring to the Canucks, he is described as a “playmaking winger with excellent speed” and a player who possesses a high motor (from ‘Lowetide: How Edmonton Oilers would benefit from signing Andrei Kuzmenko’, The Athletic, 6/18/22). Attributes that are on president Jim Rutherford and general manager (GM) Patrik Allvin’s checklist to add to the lineup in the future. So, it shouldn’t be too shocking to see them pursuing the 5-foot-11 dynamo.
Kuzmenko may not turn into the high-flying top-line winger Panarin has become, but he definitely has the potential to be a productive part of any NHL team’s middle six. From the video I have seen, he appears to have a knack for setting up plays from behind the net, which could come in handy on the power play. His wrist shot and one-timer also look capable of beating NHL goaltenders, and his hands and puckhandling skills have been known to beat a defender or two as well. Yes, expectations should be tempered, but he sure looks like an NHL player to me.
Unfortunately, despite positive reviews out of Vancouver, fans have been through this dance before with Jesse Schultz and Fabian Brunnstrom, who both left them at the alter by signing with the Oilers and Detroit Red Wings respectively. While both did not pan out as superstars in the NHL, the Canucks still weren’t the winners of those particular sweepstakes. Hopefully, this time will be different, because I really believe Kuzmenko is the real deal – maybe not as good as Panarin – but at least a 20-goal scorer who consistently plays in the top nine and the power play. Considering his playmaking abilities, he could be a good fit on the second line with Bo Horvat and Vasily Podkolzin, the latter being a former teammate of his. He would not only add speed and skill to a lineup that desperately needs it but also more offensive options for Boudreau to work with.
Should Canucks Fans Get Their Hopes Up?
With Kuzmenko meeting with the Oilers, who have the prospect of playing with superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in their corner, the Canucks might appear they are behind the eight-ball a bit. However, considering the beautiful locale of Vancouver (despite the rain), the familiarity of a Russian and former teammate Vasily Podkolzin on the roster, and the supposed guarantee of a spot in the lineup, they might have a better chance at signing him than you think.
Canucks Need To Get Creative With Limited Cap Space
In one of his initial press conferences after being named GM of the Canucks on Jan. 26, Allvin announced his plans to heavily pursue both college and European free agents during the season and in the offseason. While he has yet to sign anyone out of the NCAA, he has succeeded at finding some potential diamonds in the rough in Nils Aman and Filip Johansson, both left unsigned by the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild respectively.
Kuzmenko represents the best of the bunch when it comes to players from overseas, and he could potentially be the most budget-friendly premium free agent on the market this offseason (if he pans out in the NHL, that is). Since he will be signing a one-year deal worth a maximum of $925,000 (per the CBA), the Canucks won’t have to shell out the money to add him to the roster, which would be the case for any free agent with his skillset. If all goes well, they could be adding a 20-25 goal scorer and complementary piece to the offence for less than $1 million.
Kuzmenko will have to choose the Canucks as his team first, and after touring many NHL cities with different opportunities for ice time, linemates and living situations, he has plenty of options when it comes to his home for next season. One way or another, the hockey world will find out where he will be plying his trade in 2022-23 very soon, as he will reportedly make his decision in the coming week. Hopefully, it’s Allvin and the Canucks who are putting out the press release.
Editor’s Note: This article was published an hour before Kuzmenko announced that he would be signing with the Canucks.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.