2019-20 Team: University of Connecticut
Date of Birth: Mar. 21, 2002
Place of Birth: Murmansk, Russia
Ht: 6-foot-3 Wt: 201 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2020 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting: 28th (Among NA skaters)
- Bob McKenzie, TSN: 61st
- ISS: 30th
- Future Considerations: 95th
- The Hockey Writers (Bell): 87th
- The Hockey Writers (Fisher): 82nd
- The Hockey Writers (Forbes): 70th
Expectations weren’t very high for Yan Kuznetsov this season. Yes, he’s a good player who already had a season of North American hockey under his belt with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede. But he put up four assists through 34 games and was going into a league with much harder competition – and he was about to be the youngest player in the NCAA.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
But Kuznetsov exceeded expectations and has proven that he has a ton of potential. In his freshman season with the University of Connecticut, he collected two goals, nine assists and 11 points in 34 games. While that doesn’t exactly jump off the page, let’s first take into account that he’s the only U18 defender from this season.
In fact, he’s only the fourth U18 defender in the NCAA in the last decade – along with Noah Hanafin, Zach Werenski (both in 2014-15) and Dillon Simpson (2010-11). Kuznetsov’s point-per-game rate comes in lower than these three, but keep in mind that the Russian’s game is quite different from guys.
While Kuznetsov contributes offensively, his bread and butter is his defensive game. I’d argue his one of the best defensive players in this draft class. He uses his body to clear traffic in front of the net, he blocks passes, wins puck battles along the boards and he can deliver some big hits. His defensive awareness is along the top of this draft class and should have a big impact on where he’s drafted in the 2020 NHL Draft.
That being said, I believe Kuznetsov will surprise a little bit with his offensive ability. He’s a good skater – not great, but this will improve over time – that can lead the rush, and he has a cannon of a shot. He won’t be an offensive defenseman by any means, but he should bring a solid two-way game to the team that drafts him.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Yan Kuznetsov – NHL Draft Projection
Kuznetsov will be an interesting name to watch in the 2020 NHL Draft because he’s ranked all over the place. The defender has the talent to be a second-round pick, but he seems to be a bit under the radar and underrated overall. He might end up being one of the biggest steals of the draft if he slips into the third round or later.
“The 17-year-old Russian is arguably one of the best defensive players in this draft class. He uses his stick well, easily stripping the puck from opponents and uses both his stick and his body to move traffic from the front of the net. He’s extremely intelligent and poised, something that is a rarity for defensemen heading into the draft.” – Josh Bell, The Hockey Writers
“A big, rangy defender with physicality who covers a lot of ground with fluid movements in all directions…His biggest contribution on offense comes in the form of joining the rush and unleashing a heavy and accurate shot, but Kuznetsov also goes end to end thanks to a clean, powerful stride and impressive acceleration. His vision, creativity and pass accuracy are average, but he’s good at eluding pressure and playing keep-away long enough until forward support arrives… He normally is very good at defending the rush and is composed and decisive in one-on-one situations. Kuznetsov also excels at breaking up entry attempts outside his own line, and his speed and reach allow him to loosen his gap rather than misjudge the oncoming puck carrier’s speed. There’s no longer a rawness about his puck skills, as his hands are quite soft, plus his agility and speed for a defender his size are enough of a foundation to build on.” – Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
“As a defenseman, he’s not a massive point producer however, in terms of positional play, he does it well. He’s 6-foot-3 and would be a good body for any blue line considering that. Outside of his size, he plays with an offensive mind. He can work hard along the boards and gets the puck to the forwards for lead rushes effectively. During his stint in the USHL, he demonstrated a strong sense of what the forwards were doing around him. He is good at remaining alert to the action on the ice and not getting stuck. That ability saves costly turnovers or icing calls if dumped desperately.” – Rachel Anderson, Access Hockey MI
- Defensive Awareness
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
The Russian defender has the tools to be a top-four defenseman on an NHL team. I’m not certain that he can be on the top line but he could be a consistent second-pairing guy. Expect him to play big minutes in the role, playing as a main penalty killer for the team that drafts him. He’ll be able to chip in some offense as well, giving him the potential to be a highly-regarded NHL defender one day.
Risk – 2/5, Reward – 4/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 6/10, Defence – 9/10
Kuznetsov has shown that he can be a part of a winning team, coming away with a gold medal with Russia in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2018-19 and a USHL Clark Cup with the Sioux Falls Stampede later that season. In 2019-20, he helped U18 Team Russia in the World Junior A Challenge, collecting one assist, but standing out with his defensive play.
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Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.