Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
What can Andrei Kuzmenko bring to the Calgary Flames?
25 days ago
On Jan. 31 – a seemingly normal evening on the cusp of the NHL’s All-Star break – the Calgary Flames decided to get a jump on the trade market sending Elias Lindholm to the Vancouver Canucks.
In return the Flames get the Canucks’ 2024 first-round pick, a conditional fourth-rounder in 2024 (that becomes a third-rounder if the Canucks make the Western Conference Final), defensive prospects Hunter Brzustewicz (third round, 75th overall, 2023) of the Kitchener Rangers as well as Joni Jurmo (third round, 82nd overall, 2020) of Kookoo Kouvola in the top Finnish league, and roster player Andrei Kuzmenko.
The four future pieces of the deal will need time to determine what they will eventually mean for the Flames organization, but Kuzmenko figures to be a prime candidate to slot right into the teams top 9. Calgary has more than enough room to give a guy with his scoring prowess looks on the power play too.
A little bit of history on Kuzmenko:
- He was never drafted.
- Plays on the wing, shoots right-handed.
- He is currently 27 years old, Birthday is on February 4.
- He grew up playing in the Russian CSKA Moskva (KHL/VHL/MHL) team system.
- He switched to play for SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) for four seasons (2018-22) before coming to the NHL.
- His stat line from his first season? 81 GP – 39 G – 35 A – 74P
An extremely promising player in terms of boxscore results, Kuzmenko has found himself struggling in his second season. A major factor in all of it was the Canucks coaching change to Rick Tocchet who just couldn’t get the level of play he felt he needed out of Kuzmenko this season. As such he’s the been subject of numerous healthy scratches and a reduction in ice time. He’ll get a fresh start in Calgary to try and salvage what appears to be a top-notch scoring potential.
Let’s dive more into what he brings to the table.
(As usual thanks to HockeyViz.com // Micah McCurdy @IneffectiveMath // for his excellent work and fantastic visuals)
After a 39 goal season its fair to immediately presume that Kuzmenko is a shooter, and you would be right. He understands the need to shoot from primary locations – otherwise known as the front of the net – to get a high volume output. Even in the year-to-year look at where he’s getting his shots from it’s clear to see a pattern of getting attempts off from in tight around the blue paint.
So he hasn’t lost his shooting touch, yet the goals this year have fell off. Now call me crazy but 39 goals is very hard to get in the NHL, so instead of presuming that was his normal output level we change the perception to 39 goals being the upper limit of what he can achieve. When factoring in limited opportunities and a decrease in the amount of ice time spent next to Elias Pettersson it makes more sense. There’s also the fact that the goal totals were ridiculously inflated by an insane shooting percentage, seriously look how many goals above expected he scored.
For those that don’t understand quite what that means focus on the two bars on the bottom. The purple bar basically says that based on all the factors of Kuzmenko’s play in the offensive zone he helped create enough chances he should have had 21 goals. The red bar is the actual amount of goals he scored, 16 higher at 37. The odds of this happening again – to this extent anyways – is marginal at best. Good shooters will outperform their expected goals on a regular basis, but not by that much.
This is more in line with what a normal shooting map of this style would look like. Still Kuzmenko does show that he’s still on a pace to help generate around 18-21 expected goals for the year. That’s a measure of consistency that doesn’t rely on shooting percentage heaters you can trust. The consistency in that across the years, even with the coaching change, is a very positive sign.
In my opinion neither heatmap will be where he lies – he definitively has a pattern to how he attacks (see below), but needs help from a quality centreman to help him penetrate the centre lane. If he can produce 20 expected goals of offence and turn that into a productive 20-25 goals this won’t be just another throw-in. That’s all just 5v5 expectations as well, any extra added to the Flames horrific power play is a bonus.
Kuzmenko isn’t the fastest player nor is he one trusted with prime defensive assignments. He gets deployed in the offensive zone 66.93% of the time according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Good thing he wasn’t brought in to run the penalty kill.
Final thoughts on Kuzmenko’s offence after seeing his pattern of shooting attack – he’s something the Flames were in desperate search of after the end of the 2022-23 season. They got one shooter in Sharangovich, now they get a more lethal and willing offensive contributor in the right shot Kuzmenko. If he can develop chemistry with someone in Calgary he could find that upper echelon of offence again, but you won’t ever catch me holding my breathe waiting for Kuzmenko to score over 35 goals again.
His speed on the backcheck stands out as the first major possible issue. Calgary currently isn’t playing at anywhere near the same pace as the Canucks so that could end up being a more positive thing. Being able to keep up and process the play goes a long way in how one can exercise their own creativity. The defensive map does suggest he is very adept at his job once in the defensive zone, not a lot of point shots getting through while he’s out.
All in all it’s a strong 5v5 impact no matter how you look at it. Even this year at -3.5% that’s well above the league average for limiting shots. Kuzmenko shouldn’t be a massive liability for Calgary in his own end.
Specifically looking at the two bars on the right side of this RAPM chart from Evolving-Hockey.com you can see some defensive metrics from their model. I have him in contrast with the Flames other $5.5 Million dollar man in Andrew Mangiapane and – if you can’t read it, or just don’t feel like it – Kuzmenko grades out better in both limitation of quality and shot attempts. Mangiapane still shows up as a better generator of chances but Kuzmenko, still aided by the inflated shooting percentage, weighs out higher in terms of finishing.
I really use the Mangiapane comparison to show what should truly be expected of Kuzmenko. A floor of 20 goals over a season, a ceiling of 30, with anywhere from 50-65 points a year being achievable based on power play production. He’ll be an instant positive addition to the Flames top 9 forwards, just not quite to the level some might want when they see a goal column at 39.
The issues with Tocchet and the lack of scoring really seem to dampen the perspective on a player who never has wavered in what he is as a player. He should be able to rebound decently in Calgary provided they find him a centre he can work with.
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