‘Why not sign two years?:’ Vancouver Canucks winger Kuzmenko happy with extension
No wonder Andrei Kuzmenko quickly captured the hearts of Vancouver Canucks fans.
In a season marred by defeat and frustration, the Russia forward with the dimpled grin, gravity-defying hair and enthusiastic goal celebrations has been a rare bright spot on and off the ice.
And after signing a two-year extension, that ray of hope remains.
“I’m happy in Vancouver. Why not sign two years? I think it’s a good deal for both sides,” Kuzmenko said on Friday.
The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.
The 26-year-old left winger said he left all negotiations to his agent Dan Millstein.
“My agent called me yesterday. ‘Andrei, let’s go.’ I say, “Okay, no problem. I trust you. Ain’t my work, it’s your work. I’m just a hockey player,’” Kuzmenko said, flashing his big smile.
The 5’6, 194-pound forward was a standout for the Canucks this season (19-26-3), his first in the NHL, and found chemistry along with star center Elias Pettersson. In 47 games, Kuzmenko has recorded 21 goals and 22 assists.
He was third on the team with defenseman Quinn Hughes when he scored in a Friday night matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“He’s very talented in attack, he has a lot of ability, he makes plays,” said Pettersson. “And obviously we fertilize each other.”
A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight pro seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, scoring 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular season games. He had career-best goals (20), assists (33) and points (53) last season and finished second in the league in scoring.
The training camp showed that the newcomer had a lot to offer the Canucks, said captain Bo Horvat.
“You could tell from the start that he had a lot of ability,” said Horvat. “Whether it translated to the NHL or not, it was up to him. And he obviously handled it correctly.
“He and Petey have really good chemistry and played really well together. And they definitely need to continue doing that for the rest of the season.”
Kuzmenko leads all freshman NHL players in nearly every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (.91), power play goals, and power play points.
He’s also produced 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most with the Canucks), highlighted by his first NHL hat-trick and his best four-point game of the season against Anaheim on Nov. 3.
Though he’s impressed on the scoring charts, Kuzmenko’s game still has room for improvement, said Vancouver’s new head coach Rick Tocchet.
“He’s a very skilled guy… he can score. We’re happy to have him,” Tocchet said, noting that the coaches will continue to work with the Russian forward on his habits and defensive play.
“There’s a lot of work with him to be a complete player but one thing is that he can score. And we look forward to that.”
At least one teammate believes Kuzmenko has room for improvement off the ice as well. When asked what he thought of the Russian’s long, wild hair, Horvat was blunt.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of comments that he can afford a haircut now. He has to do something about it because it’s getting out of hand.”
The criticism is nothing new for Kuzmenko.
“A lot of people say, ‘Please change your haircut.’ I know, I know,” he said. “Maybe after the season. Why not?”
– Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
NHL Vancouver Canucks