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Andrei Kuzmenko commits to Canucks but deal is not yet finalized

The highly sought-after Russian free agent has picked the Canucks after sampling several other NHL cities.
Kuzmenko signs with Canucks Instagram post
Andrei Kuzmenko "signs" with the Vancouver Canucks.

After Andrei Kuzmenko flirted with multiple other NHL teams, such as the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers, he made things "Instagram Official" with the Vancouver Canucks.

The highly sought-after Russian free agent indicated his intent to sign with the Canucks with a post on his Instagram account, making a show of signing a contract that he can’t officially sign until free agency opens on July 13. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Andrey Kuzmenko (@kuzya_096)

That raises the question — what exactly is Kuzmenko signing if not his NHL contract? Or maybe it is his NHL contract and he's just pantomiming a signature or postdating it like a cheque. Either way, it's good theatre.

The news was confirmed by Kuzmenko’s agent, Dan Millstein, and Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin.

“I have been watching Andrei since his 2014-15 season and have been impressed with his development and improvement on the ice," said Allvin in a press release. "Once the contract details are finalized, we look forward to welcoming him to the Canucks organization and helping him continue to grow as a hockey player."  

The Canucks had several advantages over their competitors when it came to signing Kuzmenko, starting with the city of Vancouver itself. The city is consistently ranked one of the best cities on earth, just as long as you can ignore the cost of living, which is less of an issue for an NHL player, even one on an entry-level contract like Kuzmenko’s will be.

Allvin and Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford reportedly took Kuzmenko to two restaurants owned by the Aquilini Group, which also owns the Canucks — Blue Water Cafe and Elisa, rated the best steakhouse and seafood in Vancouver by the annual Vancouver Magazine Awards.  

That’s a step above what Edmonton offered — a trip to Joey, a chain restaurant that offers “the ultimate in casual dining.” To be fair, they also threw in a signed Wayne Gretzky jersey.

The Canucks could also offer Kuzmenko familiarity. Vasily Podkolzin was one of Kuzmenko’s teammates with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL and the two even briefly played on a line together. 

Podkolzin quickly commented on Kuzmenko’s Instagram post, “good choice😄.”

A former Canuck also commented on Kuzmenko’s post — Oscar Fantenberg. The defenceman played for SKA this past season and cheered on the prospective signing, saying, “Atta boy, Andreyyyyyyyyy🔥🔥🔥.”

The familiarity of having Podkolzi on the team should not be overlooked for a player like Kuzmenko coming from a different culture with a different language. As much as Kuzmenko has reportedly been diligently working at his English, having someone on the team with whom he can speak Russian and who can introduce him to the city is a big bonus.

Most importantly, of course, the Canucks can immediately offer Kuzmenko a spot in the lineup.

According to reports, the right fit was the most important thing for Kuzmenko, which makes a lot of sense. No team could offer Kuzmenko anything more than an entry-level contract, with set maximums for cap hit and bonuses. Other teams might not have been able to make the same promises that the Canucks could make to undrafted free agents.

“Our sales pitch to those people is that we can guarantee guys spots on the team,” said Rutherford back in February. “It's not like we're coming off going to the Finals. We're a team that's still trying to build the team up and when we say to those free agents, you're going to be on the team, our word is good — they're going to be on the team.”

Kuzmenko shoots right but typically plays on the left wing, an area of weakness on the Canucks’ depth chart. 

The Canucks have Conor Garland, Tanner Pearson, and Nils Höglander at left wing, with no prospects knocking on the door. That leaves ample opportunity for Kuzmenko to battle for a spot in the team’s top six, particularly if Tanner Pearson gets dealt during the offseason.

Getting Kuzmenko committed is a big win for the Canucks, as it costs them no assets beyond a contract and a promise. Kuzmenko has legitimate highlight-reel skill and could be a dangerous weapon on the wing, especially on the power play, where Kuzmenko typically plays in front of the net and as a playmaker below the goal line.

That said, it’s good to temper expectations for Kuzmenko. He’s coming off a big season in the KHL, with 20 goals and 53 points in 45 games to finish second in KHL scoring, but many players who put up points in the KHL couldn’t cut it in the NHL. Other top scorers this past season included former Canucks Nikolay Goldobin and Nicklas Jensen, for instance.

Some undrafted free agents out of Europe and Russia become bonafide stars, such as Artemi Panarin, who just put up 96 points in 75 games for the New York Rangers this past season.

For every Panarin, however, there are dozens of players who don’t live up to the hype, like Fabian Brunnstrom, or immediately crash out of the NHL altogether, like Vadim Shipachyov, who finished first in the KHL in scoring this season, ahead of Kuzmenko.

Kuzmenko is also already 26 years old — he’s not exactly a young prospect with a bunch of room to grow. At this point, Kuzmenko likely is who he is — there’s room for him to adapt his game to the NHL but not necessarily to get much better than he already is. 

The win for the Canucks, however, is that he doesn’t have to be a star. If Kuzmenko can be a second-line winger with some power play upside, that’s massive for the Canucks. But even if Kuzmenko doesn’t become an impact player in the top-six, he has the two-way ability to still play in the NHL in a bottom-six role and he won’t break the bank on his entry-level contract. 

In other words, Kuzmenko is affordable depth with the potential for a lot more. 

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