During the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Winnipeg Jets found themselves with four picks – 18th, 50th, 82nd, and 146th. During the first round, the club chose USHL star forward Chaz Lucius at 18th overall, and in the second round snagged Russian playmaker Nikita Chibirkov at No. 50.
With their third-round pick at 82nd overall, they opted to go a different route and selected Belarussian defenceman Dmitri Kuzmin from Dinamo-Molodechno of the Belarusian Extraleague.
Who is Dmitri Kuzmin?
In this past season, Kuzmin intended to move over to North America so that he could play in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Flint Firebirds. Unfortunately, the OHL was unable to play their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he spent the past season with Dinamo-Moldechno, where he had 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 46 games. Though he stands 5-foot-10, which is small for a defenceman, he plays a big game, and because of that, his size can be overlooked. An offensively-minded defenceman, he possesses solid skating, excellent agility, mobility, and awareness. In his own end, his positioning is sound and he has proven to be an excellent slot-defender, able to stop open lanes and deflect scoring chances. He is calm and can control the tempo well, often he will bring the puck behind his own net to slow down the play so he and his teammates can regain control.
Kuzmin recorded five points (one goal and four assists) in five games while representing Belarus at the U18 World Junior Championship in 2021. In the 6-3 win over Latvia, he had three assists and was a crucial part of the victory. Upon finishing the tournament, he was named one of the top-three players for Team Belarus. As a result of Kuzmin’s performance, his stock grew, and he proved that he can compete with the best prospects.
Kuzmin has a knack for getting behind the net. He scored three goals this past year from behind the net in a Michigan/lacrosse style goal. He has a high level of offensive creativity, which will only help him improve his offensive game. Even though he is a reliable puck distributor and is capable of making tape-to-tape passes, he needs to improve his passing in the offensive zone.
Jets Defence Crop Continues to Grow
In summary, Dmitri Kuzmin is a “project player,” but with the right development, he could potentially fill a third-pairing defensive role and see some time on a power-play unit. While it is unclear whether Kuzmin will make the trip overseas to play with the Flint Firebirds here in North America, it would be a good move for his development to play in the OHL.
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The Jets add yet another intriguing prospect to their pipeline, as Kuzmin will join a plethora of young defencemen like Dylan Samberg, Leon Gawanke, Simon Lundmark, Declan Chisholm, and others who are all looking to make an impact. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been busy this past week trying to upgrade the Jets’ defence. On July 26, the club dealt a pair of draft picks to the Washington Capitals for Brenden Dillon, who is expected to provide some much-needed stability. Most recently, the Jets dealt a third-round draft pick to the Vancouver Canucks for defenceman Nate Schmidt. Both have experience playing in crucial games and can provide some much-needed help and guidance for the younger defenders.
Born and raised in Kamloops B.C. and a die-hard fan of the Kamloops Blazers, hockey has always been a part of his life. Now, Colton is exploring the sports media world and looking to make it a career. He currently covers the Winnipeg Jets, as well as contributes to World Juniors, and draft-related content. He is co-host of the WesternCentric Podcast, which revolves around the WHL.