The Vancouver Canucks announced Thursday they’ve signed Russian winger Andrei Kuzmenko to an early birthday present, a two-year contract with a cap hit of $5.5-million over the next two seasons.
It’s a nice bump from the $950,000 he’s making this season.
It’s also a solid step in the right direction for a team whose playoff hopes for this season are long gone, while it reflects the accuracy of European scouting reports prior to his initial signing last June.
“I know Kuzmenko really well and believe he is good signing by the Vancouver Canucks.”
That’s what Janne Vuorinen, the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s Chief European Scout since 2007, told Vancouver Hockey Insider following the summer “Kuzmenko sweepstakes” that saw a number of NHL teams courting the winger.
“Andrei is a creative player with noticeable puck skills and fine skating.”
That was Artem Yanchenkov, who works for the bureau in Russia.
“He is strong player close to the boards, stays on the puck really well and can create scoring chances really well in 1 vs 1 situations,” Vuorinen wrote. “He has a good shot and puck skills. Strong on his skates, but could improve his pace.
“For me he has been one of the better players in the KHL the last couple years and the best older NHL prospect since Kaprizov left to NHL,” Vuorinen concluded.
Kirill Kaprizov played six years in Russia’s top Kontinental Hockey League before departing in 2020 at age-23 to join the Minnesota Wild, going on to win the Calder Trophy in 2021 as NHL rookie-of-the-year. He followed up his initial 27 goal, 51 point season with 47 goals and 108 points last season, good for 5th most in the NHL. He’s making $9-million per season for three more after this one.
Kuzmenko, who turns 27-years-of-age next weekend, wasn’t considered Kaprizov’s calibre, but with the best Corsi possession numbers among Canucks forwards, the best on-ice expected goal percentage, and twenty goals and 42 points in 47 games, he might be getting pretty darn close.
He’s ineligible for the Calder based on his age.
Coming off the previous season in which he produced 20 goals and 33 assists in 45 KHL games in Russia, the only comment of concern was “Koozy” exhibiting “too much individual play”, not uncommon from scouts when watching prospects there, especially in junior tournaments.
Kuzmenko has proven to be unselfish off the ice, where he has an infectious personality, and on it, where he has a unique chemistry with star Canucks center Elias Pettersson.
He’s step one in the roster “surgery” Canucks management must perform.