Not only have the Canucks gone to the Russians, they’ve got the entire country covered, including some distant regional dialects. Andrei Kuzmenko is from the Russian far east, the city of Yakutsk, the coldest of its size in the world. Cue the arrival of Vitali Kravtsov, from even farther east, the city of Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan. His hometown is 4,000 miles from Moscow and 1,000 miles away from Kuzmenko’s.
They make up just 50-percent of the growing main contingent. Ilya Mikheyev is from Omsk to the countries middle-south, while Vasily Podkolzin is a big city boy from Moscow.
Long-time NHL defenceman and present defensive development coach Sergei Gonchar is from Chelyabinsk near the Ural Mountains, the dividing point between continental Europe and Asia. It’s where Kravtsov played pro hockey beginning in 2016 until his joined the New York Rangers during the 2nd half of the 2020-’21 season.
Other than being a former Soviet block republic, Latvia is independent, not an ally, and the language is different. Canucks goalie Arturs Silovs hails from the capital of Riga, sight of the IIHF World Championship during Covid in 2021 and the co-host with Tampere, Finland coming up this May. Latvian is closer to Lithuanian but there’s a good chance Silovs can converse with the Russian lads as more than a quarter of his country speaks Russian.
Danila Klimovich of the Abbotsford Canucks is from Belarus, which is a Russian ally, and will fit right in. He wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the IIHF event, by the way. Russians are also banned. In fact, Russia was originally supposed to host this year’s tournament.
One wonders if in a country that giant, Kravtsov’s diverse background factored into his development. Or how much of it involves his own attitude.
Vitali Kravtsov never seemed to fit in with the New York Rangers organization. They had high hopes for their 9th-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, but he didn’t pan out for a number of reasons.
The fact that he needed to be surrounded by Russians, or needed communication assistance and familiarity is debunked by the fact he played with Artemi Panarin, Pavel Buchnevich and Igor Shesterkin along the way. It’s not like they were ignoring the kid. Much of this is simply learning to play the game the right way.
That said, the Canucks did a nice job snagging the cast-off for a 7th-round pick in 2026 and Royal Oak, Michigan native Will Lockwood. Lockwood had his opportunities with the Canucks club that drafted him in the 3rd-round in 2016. The feisty winger’s heart is in it, but the overall skill level just isn’t. Lockwood had one assist in limited ice time in 28 career NHL games. Barring an injury rash, it’s doubtful he’ll be getting a chance to finally blast home that first NHL goal with this Rangers roster.
The Canucks will see how Kravtsov does over the final quarter of the season, it’s that simple. He’s a restricted free agent this summer. He’s a big lefty who, like so many Russians, prefers playing on the off-wing. He played in BC representing Russia during the 2019 World Junior Championship.