Andrei Kuzmenko is going to get paid.
Whether that’s with the Vancouver Canucks or another NHL team remains to be seen.
Expectations were high for the dynamic Russian winger when he came over to North America from the KHL. At least 20 NHL teams were reportedly in the mix for his services before the 26-year-old ended up choosing the Canucks.
It’s about one of the only wins for this Canucks team in 2022-23.
With 13 goals and 26 points in 30 games, Kuzmenko is currently on pace for 35 goals and 71 points.
He’s undoubtedly earned a massive raise after signing a one-year, entry-level contract worth only $950,000. Kuzmenko could earn up to $1.8 million after bonuses, according to CapFriendly.
That’s chump change in comparison to the next contract he’s set to sign.
Who are Kuzmenko’s closest comparables?
Kuzmenko’s situation is truly unique.
Even his closest comparables in terms of KHL stars who had NHL success don’t really fit his scenario.
Both Artemi Panarin and Evgenii Dadonov signed multi-year deals when they came over to the NHL.
So, I expanded the parameters by looking at players who registered between 0.75 points per game and one point per game in the year before hitting unrestricted free agency. Kuzmenko is currently at 0.86 points per game.
The issue? Most players in that situation were still restricted free agents.
That’s where Kuzmenko has the edge. If he gets to July 1 without re-signing with the Canucks, there are 31 other teams who will be able to bid on his services.
His agent, Dan Milstein, is certainly aware of this. He tweeted out three moneybag emojis after Kuzmenko scored an overtime-winning goal against the San Jose Sharks last month.
— Dan Milstein-Hockey (@HockeyAgent1) November 28, 2022
Since Kuzmenko is a first-year player, there are no real comparables because theoretically, he should be treated like a restricted free agent.
Some of the comparables based on players who registered between 0.75 and 1 point per game were Chris Drury (2006-07), Matt Duchene (2018-19) and Nik Antropov (2012-13). All three players were experienced NHLers who were around 30 years old at the time of signing their contracts as free agents.
None of them lived up to their deals, for what it’s worth.
You’d have to look at big-ticket free-agent signings from the last few years to get a sense of Kuzmenko’s worth.
One of the closer comparables is Seattle Kraken winger Andre Burakovsky. The Austrian registered 22 goals and 61 points in 80 games for the Colorado Avalanche last year. He signed a five-year deal worth $5.5 million this offseason. He’s 27 right now, the same age Kuzmenko will be when he signs his new deal.
Things to consider with Kuzmenko’s next deal
Because his situation is basically unmatched, here are some key things that NHL teams need to ask themselves before signing Kuzmenko.
1. The Pettersson effect
So far this season, Kuzmenko has spent 243 even-strength minutes alongside Elias Pettersson, and only 97 minutes apart from him.
While Kuzmenko is a talented player who’s shown flashes on other lines, it’s clear that playing with Pettersson is a boost to his production.
Kuzmenko has registered 12 of his 15 even-strength points while Pettersson has been on the ice, and his possession metrics are far superior while playing with the Canucks best forward.
But Pettersson’s metrics also dip drastically when apart from Kuzmenko. In terms of expected goals, the duo is clicking at 56.9% together. When they’re apart, Pettersson’s expected goals for percentage is at 43.9%, while Kuzmenko’s is a ghastly 31.8%.
2. Go short-term or long-term?
Will teams trust the small sample size enough to go long-term on Kuzmenko?
While the Burakovsky deal was long-term, it’s fair to wonder if teams might want to see more before committing 5+ years to the player.
Could Kuzmenko sign something similar to what Taylor Hall got back in 2020? During that offseason, Hall signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Buffalo Sabres after registering 52 points in 65 games (0.8 points per game) between the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes.
Can the Canucks afford Kuzmenko?
The short answer is no, at least not currently.
However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kuzmenko kept around in Vancouver.
In a season full of negative storylines and remarkably bad vibes, Kuzmenko has been a beacon of positivity.
He came to Vancouver with a big smile on his face, and charmed reporters with his witty yet broken English. Kuzmenko has backed that up on the ice with a memorable start to his Vancouver career.
He’s also a player that this relatively new management team brought into the fold. While the team doesn’t have cap space now, trading a big-ticket player like Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Tyler Myers, or someone else would open the door for a Kuzmenko return.
Still, fans should hope that Canucks management takes a skeptical approach with Kuzmenko. While he’s had a hot start to his NHL career, he’s been doing it alongside one of the game’s best young players. He also has some pretty hefty bargaining power based on the fact that he could test free agency.