Canucks: Coveted free agent Andrei Kuzmenko to sign in Vancouver

Kuzmenko’s ability to pace and execute with skilled linemates will bring an added dimension. Those who have closely followed the Russian call him “an incredible passer” and “very smart.”

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The picture was worth more than 1,000 words.

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Free agent Andrei Kuzmenko appeared on his Instagram account Monday. Pen in hand and dressed in a number 96 Vancouver Canucks jersey that his compatriot Pavel Bure once wore here, he was ready on paper to take the next step in his career.

All the Kontinental Hockey League veteran has to do is sign on the dotted line, once the contract details are reached because technically he can’t sign until July 13 because he’s a European player who hasn’t since. on June 1, to make it official that the Canucks had successfully ended their long search for the coveted winger.

Kuzmenko is expected to pocket $855,000 in base salary, a $95,000 signing bonus, $80,000 if in the minors and $850,000 in Performance A bonuses.

“I have been watching Andrei since his 2014-15 season and have been impressed with his development and improvement,” Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said in a statement. “Once the contract details are finalized, we look forward to helping him continue to grow as a hockey player.”

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There was a wow factor when Allvin first saw Kuzmenko. At the time, he was the director of European scouting for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The winger obviously made the right impression because he has been on the NHL’s radar for years and is a target of many clubs. Kuzmenko was just as impressed by the direction the Canucks are expected to take.

“We were impressed with what the Canucks organization wants to accomplish and the winning culture they are building,” said Kuzmenko’s agent, Dan Milstein. “Andrei felt a good connection with the management team and is looking forward to playing for Bruce Boudreau.”

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Kuzmenko plays down the left side, but shoots down the right. That alone brings up several tempting options on the roster and the curiosity of where the Canucks are headed in costly contract extensions for JT Miller and Brock Boeser.

Will the dynamic that we’d like to sign him from Canucks management change if Miller’s camp continues to chase an $8 million annual salary in the US using comparable points per game over the past three seasons? The Canucks’ leading scorer had better numbers than Mika Zibanejad and Thomas Hertl. Miller had 217 points in the regular season, while Zibanejad had 206 and Hertl had 143. Miller was also 15th in points per game this season with 1.24, while Zibanejad was 51st with 1.00 and Hertl 115th with 0. .78.

Zibanejad, 29, agreed to an eight-year, $68 million US deal with the New York Rangers on Oct. 10, 2021, a mammoth jump from a $5.35 million cap that expires. And Hertl, 28, signed an eight-year, $65.1 million contract extension with the San Jose Sharks on March 16. His salary cap to beat this season was $5.625 million.

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Kuzmenko, 26, had 20 goals and 33 assists in 45 games for SKA St. Petersburg last season. There is little risk in what will eventually be an entry-level one-year deal because with eight seasons in the KHL, he is a household name and this is far from a reach.

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That’s why the Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators were also courting the 5-foot-11, 194-pound forward. But the Canucks went the extra mile to meet with Kuzmenko in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He had to be impressed. It’s one thing for multiple suitors to offer you top-six minutes and promise power-play time. Another thing is when bosses meet you at your agent’s office.

Obviously, the Canucks need to add top-six players with decent contracts, and Kuzmenko’s ability to pace and execute with slick linemates will bring an added dimension. Those who have closely followed Kuzmenko call him “an incredible passer” and “very smart.”

He also played three KHL seasons with Canucks winger Vasily Podkolzin, and not only will that bring a potential reunion in the same vein, having a compatriot on the bench and in the room is another plus for comfort and camaraderie.

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Milstein recently told the Canucks Conversation podcast that would not be the deciding factor in his client’s fate. But it’s no exaggeration to suggest that a little familiarity helps.

Russian striker Andrei Kuzmenko celebrates a goal during the Euro Hockey Tour Channel One Cup ice hockey match between Russia and Sweden at CSKA Arena in Moscow on December 17, 2020.
Russian striker Andrei Kuzmenko celebrates a goal during the Euro Hockey Tour Channel One Cup ice hockey match between Russia and Sweden at CSKA Arena in Moscow on December 17, 2020. Photo by ALEXANDER NEMENOV /AFP via Getty Images

“The hockey business is pretty small, so everyone has played with everyone or against each other,” Milstein said. “When we thought about coming to North America, we didn’t select the team just because of someone you used to play with on that particular team. It’s not a major focal point.”

What is a focal point, however, is that Vancouver is now not considered Plan B or C for free agents. The Canucks have been shunned before, but credit that remarkable five-month streak of 32-15-10 with Boudreau leading the coaches, and young stars Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson reaching higher levels of performance, for being magnets to help. to attract the best talent.

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Milstein knew that the Canucks had a vested interest. on his client and a whirlwind visit to Vancouver last weekend at fancy restaurants and a tour of the city cemented the deal.

“We’ve been talking to executives in Vancouver for a long time,” Milstein said. “It’s a great city, very passionate fans, a good place to play, a good team, good coaching and stable management. Vancouver fans should be excited for years to come. Based on what I’ve heard, I’m excited.

“I hope (Kuzmenko) is a striker in the top six, he can play on the power play. He is very strong, he works hard, he plays on both sides of the ice and we expect him to make an impact early on.”

Kuzmenko became a free agent when his four-year contract with SKA ended. He broke into the KHL with CSKA Moscow in 2014-15 when he was 18 after coming through their junior system.

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— with a file by Patrick Johnston

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