With the Calgary Flames‘ playoff hopes fading further and further away, there hasn’t been a lot of positive news to talk about lately. That isn’t the case right now, however, as they announced the signing of defenceman Yan Kuznetsov to a three-year, entry-level contract. They selected the Russian defenceman in the second round (No. 50 overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Kuznetsov, 19, was born in Murmansk, a Russian city with a population of over 300,000. Murmansk has had multiple other NHLers over the years, most notably former Detroit Red Wings defenceman Vladimir Konstantinov.
Prior to the 2018-19 season, Kuznetsov had only ever played in Russia, but elected to head over to the USHL that year and play for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. In 34 games with them, he posted just four assists, but was only 16 years old at the time. While his offence was lacking, however, his defensive game was extremely impressive and as a result he committed to the University of Connecticut in April of 2019.
He played for Connecticut the next season and was not only the youngest player in the NCAA that year, but became only the fourth defenceman in the past 10 years to be under the age of 18 for the entirety of the season. Despite making the jump to college, his numbers improved slightly from the season prior, as he managed 2 goals and 11 points in 34 games.
This season, Kuznetsov has played in 16 of his teams 23 games, registering one goal and five assists. Flames fans were able to get a first-hand view of him at this year’s World Junior Championship, where he suited up in all seven of Team Russia’s games.
Though Kuznetsov was held off of the scoresheet entirely at the World Juniors, anyone who tuned in to a Russia game would have certainly noticed him. The reason for that is that he simply stands out amongst his peers given his hulking frame. Standing at 6-foot-4, 201 pounds, he has been described by Brad Treliving as a “fridge” (from ‘Flames prospect Yan Kuznetsov displays defensive dependability at world juniors’, Calgary Sun, 01/05/2021) .
While size is a great asset, it can also be somewhat of a hindrance in today’s NHL given how fast the game is. Thankfully for Kuznetsov, that isn’t an issue as another great asset he possesses is his foot speed. Both his size and speed allow him to almost always be in fantastic positioning defensively, and he is very strong at boxing opponents out from the net.
Getting this contract signed is very exciting news for the Flames, as some college players, such as Adam Fox who Calgary drafted in 2016, chose not to sign a deal with the team who drafted them in order to become a free agent and get to pick a team themselves. It also means that Kuznetsov’s time with the University of Connecticut is done and he will become a professional hockey player.
His pro career may begin sooner than you would think, too, as reports are suggesting that he will join the AHL’s Stockton Heat once he has finished the league’s mandatory quarantine. It will be interesting to see how the 19-year-old performs when he does get called upon this season, given that he will be one of the youngest players in the league.
While there may be some bumps along the way, being able to grab Kuznetsov late in the second round continues to look like a very solid selection by the Flames early on. He will almost certainly require at least this season and next in the AHL to continue developing, but is on the right trajectory to become a solid NHLer at this point. Considering the size he has, he would be an extremely welcomed addition to Calgary’s back end.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.