Yan Kuznetsov got a taste of the NHL to wrap up the last year of his entry-level contract

Photo credit:David Moll/Calgary Wranglers
Paige Siewert
1 month ago
Yan Kuznetsov took advantage of his opportunities in the last year of his entry-level contract. He adapted to different roles on the blue line throughout the challenges of the season and faced it with a positive attitude. When he got the opportunity to reflect on his year, he was proud of his progress and of his opportunity to play his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames. During exit meetings following the Calgary Wranglers’ elimination from the post-season, he also acknowledged his areas to improve on over the summer.

The past 

Yan Kuznetsov was born in Murmansk, Russia and played most of his junior hockey back home. He got his first opportunity to represent his country on the international stage in 2017-18 for the International Junior tournament in his U16, U17 and U18 years. He also played in World Under-17 Challenge in 2018-19 and the World Juniors in 2020-21.
His jump to play in North America started in 2018-19 when he played a season with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. From there, he played two seasons with the University of Connecticut and between his time in the NCAA, he was drafted by the Flames in the second round of the 2020 NHL entry draft. 
Kuznetsov finished up his sophomore season at the University of Connecticut then joined the Stockton Heat for their last six games of the year. In 2021-22, he played 29 games with the Saint John Sea Dogs and another 12 games with the Heat. It wasn’t until the Calgary Wranglers’ inaugural season that he started putting up points on the blue line for the Flames’ AHL affiliate.
In 2022-23, Kuznetsov played his first full season in the AHL playing 63 regular season games and five playoff games. In the regular season, he earned 19 points consisting of five goals and 14 assists. In the post-season, he put up two assists in his five appearances. 

The present 

In Yan Kuznetsov’s second full pro season, he made the dream jump to the NHL and was one of the multiple players who skated their rookie lap with the Flames.
His first appearance in the NHL was on Jan. 9 against the Ottawa Senators. He had just shy of 12 minutes of ice time, two shots and a -1 +/- rating. After the season came to an end, Kuznetsov reflected on the goal of returning to the NHL. He said during exit meetings, “Playing in the NHL is obviously my goal. But I know it takes some time. It is a process. Just gotta enjoy the process. Just embrace it.”
Most of his time in 2023-24 was spent with the Calgary Wranglers. The Russian blueliner played another 63 games last season and dropped in points slightly with five goals and eight assists. He also played in six playoff games and earned a shorthanded goal against Coachella Valley on May 3 off an empty-netter. 
In playoffs, the Wranglers skated in most of the games with seven defencemen and 11 forwards. Kuznetsov was usually the extra body on the blue line and reflected on the role by saying,
“As a seventh D, I was a seventh D most of the time. You don’t get as much ice time and you don’t go on the ice consistently. So there may be times you sit down for five minutes then you get two shifts in a row. You just gotta be mentally in the game.” 
When the Wranglers were skating a normal six defencemen and 12 forwards, Kuznetsov mostly skated on a pairing with Colton Poolman.

The future 

Yan Kuznetsov has completed his entry-level contract and is due for an extension this summer. He enters the off-season as a restricted free agent. Kuznetsov didn’t get Ilya Solovyov-level NHL playing time this year, however, he is taking steps in the right direction. 
He has picked up on a trend in his career professional career that he would like to address this summer.
“Saw a tendency through the last three years. I had a slump at the same time of the year and its obvious to me right now. I was thinking about it a lot. It’s more of a mental thing that I didn’t have enough preparation in the summer or I didn’t work hard enough throughout the season.”
He may have been referring to a different time of the year but November’s and February’s after the All-Star break tend to be quiet for him on the production side. As far as his summer plans for on-ice improvements, he said,
“I will be working one-on-one with a Russian Coach in New Jersey. I already booked in a lot of time. He’s great. I know he’s going to make the best program for me. I’m going to be even better coming into next season than this one.”
Considering Yan Kuznetsov was a high draft pick and he has shown NHL potential, I would imagine Craig Conroy extends him at least another year.
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