Can the Canucks do it again?
Virtually every NHL team was interested in signing Andrei Kuzmenko last season. The best player outside of North America, many believed Kuzmenko’s KHL stardom could translate to the NHL.
They were right, and Vancouver Canucks GM Patrik Allvin got him for the cost of a cheap entry-level contract.
While there isn’t a player available with Kuzmenko-level hype this year, the top pending free agent out of Europe fits a positional need for the Canucks.
Hardy Häman Aktell is considered by many to be the best European free agent available this year and is expected to sign with an NHL team in the coming weeks. The 6-foot-4, 198-pound Swedish defenceman is having a breakout season with the Växjö Lakers in the SHL, compiling 36 points in 51 games.
Still just 24 years old, Häman Aktell was a fourth-round pick by the Nashville Predators in 2016 but is no longer their property.
Injuries appeared to stunt his development, as Häman Aktell appeared in just 17 regular season games with his junior team in the following two years after he was drafted. The left-shot defender needed hip surgery early in the 2016-17 season and didn’t return until January 2018.
A late bloomer of sorts, Häman Aktell has managed to stay healthy, playing in Sweden’s top pro league, the SHL.
Häman Aktell finished second in scoring for Växjö, the top team in the SHL this season. He was also third in scoring among all SHL defencemen.
“I don’t view him as a big points producer in North America, but he can make a good first pass and has a strong point shot,” said prospect expert Corey Pronman of The Athletic. “His skating will be a major limitation in the NHL, but I think he defends well enough to potentially overcome that and be a third-pair defenceman in the league.”
“He can skate, move the puck and plays an aggressive, physical game,” adds Steven Ellis of The Hockey News.
Adding European free agents was a stated goal by Allvin after he took over as Canucks general manager last year. It was a mission accomplished in year one, not only for landing Kuzmenko but also Nils Aman, who has proven to be a capable bottom-six NHL centre.
Allvin also signed Swedish defenceman Filip Johansson, who scored a career-best 21 points in the SHL this season. The 23-year-old could figure into the Canucks’ future plans.
“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,” Allvin said not long after taking the job.
“You’ve got to be open-minded, and you’ve got to look for talent. You’ve got to trust your scouting staff, the people that work for you. We want to play a fast, skilled game. In order to be successful, you’ve got to be able to find players outside the first round in the NHL Entry Draft.”