The Vancouver Canucks are in the mix to land the most coveted European free agent available this offseason.
Andrei Kuzmenko interviewed with Canucks management today, Rick Dhaliwal of CHEK reports. It doesn’t mean he’s definitely coming to Vancouver, but Dhaliwal did say on the Sekeres and Price Show recently that he thinks the Canucks are “high on his list.”
Free agent F Andrei Kuzmenko interviewed with the #Canucks today.
There is good interest from both sides.
Decision still a few weeks away.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) May 6, 2022
— Sekeres and Price (@sekeresandprice) May 2, 2022
Nearly every NHL team is after Kuzmenko, and it’s easy to understand why. The 26-year-old highly skilled Russian finished second in KHL scoring this season, with 53 points (20-33-53) in 45 games with SKA St. Petersburg. He added 14 points (7-7-14) in 16 playoff games.
There’s also no acquisition cost for Kuzmenko, who was never drafted by an NHL team and is an unrestricted free agent.
The job for GM Patrik Allvin and the Canucks will be to sell Kuzmenko on Vancouver as a place where he can make the team and be given an opportunity to thrive.
“This organization, with fewer [draft] picks coming up, I think this is a great landing spot for a lot of European and college Canadian players. So you’re gonna get opportunities,” Allvin said after he was hired in January. “We don’t want to use any excuses. We need to find ways to get better every day, and I’m sure our scouting staff will be up for the task to find more players, better players.”
The Canucks haven’t drafted in the first round in two years and selected just one player in the first 136 picks at last year’s draft. It’s a big reason why the Canucks want to add prospects through free agency and also a good reason for young players to choose Vancouver — there’s less competition.
“In order to be successful, you’ve got to be able to find players outside the first round in the NHL Entry Draft. You need to compliment the organization with college and European free agents.”
Kuzmenko made his pro debut seven years ago, so he shouldn’t be considered a prospect. Instead, the 5-foot-11, 194-pound left-winger is a player that will be looking to step into the NHL right away and make an immediate impact.
Sometimes that kind of player turns into Artermi Panarin, who was undrafted and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks out of the KHL at the age of 23 in 2015. Other times, they turn into Fabian Brunnstrom, who was a YouTube sensation the Canucks nearly signed in 2008 and that went on to play just 104 NHL games before returning to Europe four years later.
How will Kuzmenko fare? We should begin to find out next season.
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