What Can We Expect from Nikita Tryamkin?

The date was March 8, 2016, and the Canucks had just lost a stinker to the Los Angeles Kings, 5-1. It was the team’s eighth loss in their last 11 games, effectively slamming the door shut on any potential playoff hopes. Interest was waning for a fan base that was about to watch their team plummet to a 28th overall finish.

With the Canucks mired in mediocrity, all of the attention fell on the massive shoulders of 6’7″ defenceman, Nikita Tryamkin. Earlier in the day, the Canucks signed the intriguing Russian defenceman to a two-year contract after his KHL team, Avtomobolist Yekaterinburg, was eliminated from the KHL’s Gagarin Cup playoffs.

It was all anybody could talk about in Vancouver at the time. To be fair, it’s not every day that you see a 21-year-old version of Zdeno Chara walk into the dressing room. We all wanted to know how he would fare on an NHL ice surface against the best players in the world. Scouts routinely say he skates fast for a big man, but how would he keep up?

Fast forward to the end of the Canucks season and Tryamkin made it into 13 games with the Canucks, averaging 17:31 ice time per game. He recorded an assist on one of his first NHL shifts. He showed a willingness to throw his body around with 31 hits in 13 games, and he gave the Canucks an intimidating presence in the defensive zone. On the flip side, Tryamkin ranked last on a Canucks team that had poor possession stats, with an on-ice Corsi of 43.3%.

Considering the circumstances, it was a successful first slew of games for Tryamkin. However, it’s hard to get a good read on a player after just 13 NHL games. So what are the expectations for Tryamkin going into this season?

Tryamkin Is One of Vancouver’s Most Intriguing Players

Under normal circumstances, Tryamkin should be on the roster bubble going into training camp. He would be competing for a bottom pairing role with players such as Luca Sbisa, Phillip Larsen, Andrey Pedan, and Alex Biega.

However, Tryamkin’s contract loophole doesn’t make this an ordinary situation. Since Tryamkin’s contract is structured in such a way that he can return to Russia if the Canucks try to send him down to the AHL, Tryamkin will assuredly begin the season in Vancouver.

The Canucks should realize that sending Tryamkin back to Russia won’t help his development as an NHL player. Aside from that, Tryamkin has at the very least earned a long look at being the Canucks sixth or seventh defenceman on the depth chart to begin next season. He exceeded expectations early on last season and made a rather seamless transition to the NHL considering his abrupt arrival.

Another crucial point is that in a fickle hockey market with waning interest, Tryamkin got Canucks fans excited when he hit the ice. He brings more intrigue to the organization that any of the Canucks other bottom pairing defenders. If the Canucks want to sell tickets, Tryamkin is a guy who can help.

In a year likely to be full of growing pains for the Canucks players and fan base, Tryamkin should get the chance to play a full NHL season. There will be mistakes from the young Russian as he starts to face tougher matchups, but the Canucks desperately want his size on the back end, in a physical Pacific Division.

With the addition of Gudbranson, general manager Jim Benning has shown that he wants defencemen with size on the back end. The Canucks were lacking in this department last season, especially with injuries with Alex Edler and Sbisa.

One more thing Canucks fans would like to see is head coach Willie Desjardins use Tryamkin in the front of the net on the powerplay. Surely, the Canucks 27th ranked powerplay could use a boost. While Loui Eriksson will help in this department, using Tryamkin in front of the net is a strategy worth a long look. Tryamkin has played this role before in Russia, and Desjardins used him there sparingly towards the end of last season.

Expectations for Tryamkin are not sky-high, but regardless he will remain  one of the most intriguing Canucks heading into next season. Whether or not he can develop into that intimidating shutdown defender that the Canucks envision waits to be seen, but he will have ample opportunity to prove himself.