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Nikita Tryamkin isn't Vancouver's Zdeno Chara. So who is he?

Early this season, the story on Vancouver’s blueline was all Troy Stecher. It may yet be again. Stecher is one heck of a player. But right now, the spotlight is all on the BFG: Nikita Tryamkin. Well, three spotlights actually.
Nikita Tryamkin Face

Early this season, the story on Vancouver’s blueline was all Troy Stecher. It may yet be again. Stecher is one heck of a player. But right now, the spotlight is all on the BFG: Nikita Tryamkin.

Well, three spotlights actually. The standard lamp only illuminates 35% of the giant Russian’s frame.

At 6’7 and 240 pounds, he’s one of the biggest players in the league, and thus the comparisons to Boston’s Zdeno Chara are inevitable. But he’s not Chara, not at all. Don’t let that get you down, Canucks fans; according to Tryamkin, he plans to be even better.

It’s been quite a transition for Piotr Rasputin, er, I mean Tryamkin. He didn’t play much to start the season. His English needed work and so did his conditioning. He refused a requested assignment to play in Utica (his contractual right.) There were even rumours he might be returned to the KHL.

What a difference a few key injuries make, hey?

Losing Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, and then later Erik Gudbranson and Ben Hutton created a hull breach in Vancouver’s defensive core that only a man the size of the Colossus of Rhodes could patch.

We all know how sixth or seventh defenders generally work in Vancouver: they’re bad. They play 11 minutes a night. Their lack of playing time amplifies their gaffes, and Canucks fans eagerly polish their pitchforks.

This all-too-common narrative coloured what I expected for Tryamkin. I predicted he’d be big, tough, lumbering, unreliable.

Right, right, wrong, wrong.

Nikita has been better than expected, and intriguingly, he doesn’t seem to be finished improving. We’d already noticed the effectiveness of his reach in the defensive zone, and the fact that he moves well for a guy of his size. But then when he was asked to jump up on the play more, he did it. And when he needed to be a netfront presence, he did it. And on Tuesday against the Predators, he needed to smash Smashville to smithereens. Boy did he ever.

Like this:

And this:

He’s not just the biggest hit machine since the King of Pop. He’s got a soft underbelly too! Good thing… there’s no better way to worm your way into the hearts of Canucks fans than dishing out big hits while also being the nicest.

What a guy!

Here’s the thing though. Tryamkin is tough as nails, but mainly because he is a physical giant. He swats away opponents like flies. His hits are effortless. He knocks the wind out of you when removing a loose thread from your sweater.

But he’s not Zdeno Chara, and despite their size similarity, we shouldn’t expect him to be.

Chara has a big mean streak, a killer scoring touch, and a 108 MPH slapshot. Tryamkin, on the other hand, is shaping into a tough, defensively sound, smooth skating defender with a good work ethic. He doesn’t score much, but he clears the net and throws forwards off their game. His Corsi is a respectable 49%. As his mastery of English improves and his tentativeness fades away, Tryamkin looks like a defender worthy of the 21 minutes he played on Tuesday.

Does any of this sound oddly familiar?

Do you remember when Jim Benning went out and traded a top prospect and two picks for a defender? A defenseman who was supposed to be tough, defensively sound, and capable of clearing the crease and reliably playing 21 minutes per night? Totally worth it though, right? Who wouldn’t pay a king’s ransom for a defender like that?

Yeah… Tryamkin’s basically Erik Gudbranson. Or at least, he’s what Gudbranson was advertised as.

Now, the prospect looms that Gudbranson will be signed to an ungodly contract. Expect it, fear it. Meanwhile, Vancouver arguably has a better, cheaper alternative. He’s also an RFA at the end of this season, but my spidey senses tell me he could be re-signed for a lot less than Gudbranson’s going to ask for.

I couldn’t have predicted his emergence, or Stecher’s. Isn’t it remarkable that the difference maker for Vancouver this season may end up being two rookie defenders? (With a height differential of nine inches?)

It’s hard to say how the remainder of Tryamkin’s season (or his NHL career for that matter) will shape up; the sample size is awfully small. But right now the BFG is winning fans and helping keep Vancouver above water.

Enjoy that time in those three spotlights, big man. You've earned it.