The Vancouver Canucks have been in the news quite a bit lately, even though the 2019-20 season is still on pause. The latest is that Nikita Tryamkin, the towering 6-foot-7 defenceman from the 2014 draft, has indicated through his agent that he is eyeing a return to the NHL.
Tryamkin was last seen during the 2016-17 season when he played 66 games for then-head coach Willie Desjardins, then bolted to Russia when the Canucks wouldn’t guarantee him a spot in the NHL for the 2017-18 season. So now that he could be back in North America in the near future, what kind of impact can he make on the defence core when the 2020-21 season gets underway?
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Tryamkin’s Stint in the KHL
When Tryamkin returned to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for the 2017-18 season and beyond, he joined his former club, Yekaterinburg Automobilist and proceeded to play the next three seasons there. He was relatively productive too, scoring 14 goals and 47 points in 150 games, and was his usual truculent self, amassing 201 penalty minutes as well.
Unfortunately, most of the production came in Tryamkin’s first season when he scored nine goals and 25 points in 51 games. He only put up 22 points in his final two seasons with the team. He also had his captaincy stripped in 2019-20 and his role severely decreased. Because of all this, he probably sees greener pastures in Vancouver.
Tryamkin’s Issues With the AHL
The issue will lie in his willingness to accept an assignment to the American Hockey League (AHL) and the Utica Comets. The fact that he turned down a contract with a two-way component, and bolted to Russia because general manager Jim Benning wouldn’t budge shows me that he doesn’t want to play in the NHL’s top development league. His agent also repeated that desire in a recent interview. That puts Benning and head coach Travis Green in a bit of a predicament, especially when their mantra has always been performance above age or contract.
If Tryamkin gets outplayed by another prospect and stays on the team regardless, it could send mixed messages throughout the organization and create some discontent amongst the players. That’s something Green and Benning will want to avoid at all costs. So it will be interesting to watch this storyline unfold in training camp if he does indeed return to the NHL.
Tryamkin’s Impact on the Canucks Defence
There’s no denying that Tryamkin’s presence on the Canucks blueline will be a welcome one. In his short stint with the team in 2016-17, he showcased his speed, shot and most of all, his physicality and toughness, leading the team with 145 hits and throwing his body in front of 87 shots. He was already an intimidating sight just standing there at 6-foot-7 but unlike another hulking defenceman they employ, Tyler Myers, he also threw that frame often into unsuspecting bodies. That’s the sort of toughness the Canucks haven’t had since Kevin Bieksa’s rookie days. Could you imagine if he was 6-foot-7 when he played? Opposing players would be running for the hills.
Despite preaching team toughness, the Canucks still need a defenceman that can scare other players into perdition. Since Elias Pettersson became a star in the NHL, other teams have been taking liberties on the young Swede. Mike Matheson’s WWE takedown and Jesperi Kotkiniemi’s hook in 2018-19 were just two extreme examples of what he’s had to go through so far without his teammates deterring that sort of behaviour.
The liberties continued this season even with the additions of Myers, Jordie Benn, and Micheal Ferland, who were supposed to provide that deterrent. Maybe Tryamkin’s physicality and willingness to stand up for his teammates will finally make teams think twice before taking a shot at the Canucks’ young stars.
Tryamkin isn’t just a physical presence out there, he also can skate, handle the puck and score the odd goal, as we saw during his time with the Canucks in 2016-17. His slap shot is NHL caliber and he’s a great penalty killer who can even play the power play at times. He could be a huge addition to the defence (no pun intended).
The potential issue will, once again, be his willingness to take any tough love shown by Green and the coaching staff without getting upset and complaining to the media. He will also have to accept that he won’t always get prime ice time, especially with Myers, Alex Edler, Quinn Hughes and potentially Chris Tanev on the team. In the end, he will have to be a good teammate and consummate professional in order to have success in the NHL. He may also want to consult his good friend Nikolay Goldobin on the merits of listening to what Green preaches, as he toiled in the AHL for most of the season.
Tryamkin’s Next Contract
Before all that can happen, a contract will have to be signed. If he can accept a two-way deal, at a reasonable cap hit, say between one and two million, then the Canucks should be able to fit him in even after dealing with all the free agents they have this offseason. He’s still a restricted free agent (RFA), so they can take all the time they need to sign him. The worst that can happen is that he remains in Russia, which is not the end of the world. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t attempt to get him back in the fold, because he definitely has potential.
Tryamkin is an NHL caliber defenceman who has already shown the ability to match up well against the best. He probably would also be one of the cheapest free agent options out there. His time in the KHL and the World Championship has prepared him well to succeed in the big leagues. Hopefully, he can put aside his ego, work hard and accept any feedback the coaching staff has to offer, even if that means starting in the AHL. If he can do that, the sky’s the limit for the man they call The BFG.