Monday Mailbag: Defencemen to watch in the 2023 draft, CHL free agents, and re-signing or keeping Andrei Kuzmenko

Photo credit:Matthew Henderson
By Faber
1 year ago
We’re back for another Monday Mailbag here at CanucksArmy.
Things have been bad for the Vancouver Canucks since we last gathered to review and answer some of the best questions of the week.
Even though the team’s season looks bleak, there is a chance for them to turn this season into a win if the team is able to prioritize the future and begin to take steps towards being an organization that looks for a chance at a Stanley Cup instead of a team that hopes for some playoff games.
With pending unrestricted free agents like Bo Horvat, Andrei Kuzmenko, and Luke Schenn being sought after by teams that are actually in the conversation to be a cup contender, the Canucks could bolster their prospect pool with a very productive upcoming seven weeks. Yes, the trade deadline is March 3rd and we could see some moves sooner rather than later with how this team is going in conjunction with how the trend for big trades seems to move further and further away from the actual deadline.
There’s a world where the Canucks could add multiple first and second-round picks or see some combination of draft picks and 18-22-year-olds be added to their bottom-five prospect pool.
We don’t want to call it a layup, because this is the Canucks we are talking about… but the team has a very viable route to go down if they take a serious look at this team and chart their upcoming moves with a view to the future instead of just what’s around the corner.
Gone should be the time of living day-to-day because that has not worked for this team.
But, for now, we wait.
No matter the case, we will be back here every Monday to have a conversation about the questions that you send in. That being said, let’s not waste any more words and instead, dive right into this week’s mailbag!
If the Canucks were to slip and fall to the 10-12 range, it is the right spot for them to target a defenceman. Though this draft features a ton of top forward talent at the top end, the 10-15 range should feature a few defencemen.
The first name, who happens to be my favourite in this draft is right-shot defenceman, Axel Sandin-Pellikka. He also happens to be Swedish — I’m guessing the Canucks also like him.
ASP was scoring at a ridiculous rate in the Swedish J20 league before getting the call-up to the SHL. He has been sticking in the Swedish top division for about six weeks now and may be done playing in the J20 league if he continues to have success in the SHL. He moves the puck well, can shoot, and isn’t small. You could see ASP’s skill on display at the most recent World Junior Championship, where he earned a spot on Sweden’s defence corps as a 17-year-old. He and Canucks prospect Elias Pettersson (D-Petey) could end up being the top pairing for Sweden at next year’s WJC.
Aside from ASP, a couple of names to note are Canadians Cam Allen, Caden Price, Luca Cagnoni, Lukas Dragicevic, and Russians Mikhail Gulyayev and Dmitri Simashev.
Of those defencemen, Price is the only right-shot defenceman of the group. He stands at 6’1″ and has been a horse for the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL this year as a 17-year-old. He will be one of the players we key in on as scouting season is just on the horizon.
Simashev is an exciting prospect, who we expect to rise quite a bit as scouts begin to really dive into his game.
He’s a big body, and skates extremely well for someone with his 6’4″, 200+ lbs size.
We will surely have reports on all the potential first-round defencemen as the draft approaches.
My feeling about both of these players is that the organization is very happy with what they are seeing from them at the AHL level.
Nils Höglander is playing on a line with fellow Swedes and offseason pals, Linus Karlsson and Nils Aman. These three have played together for years and are showing their chemistry as the best possession/offensive line on the Abbotsford Canucks.
Our belief is that leaving Höglander in the AHL for the remainder of the season may be a realistic possibility. The NHL team may look to bring him up for some NHL games later in the season or if an injury opens the door for some top-nine time, but on the contrary, Vasily Podkolzin is likely the young player who gets the call if the team needs a long-term piece to come in and play in the NHL top-nine.
Podkolzin isn’t going to be in the AHL as long as Höglander. He is playing fine in the AHL but doesn’t seem to need the seasoning as much as Höglander does.
It’s clear that Podkolzin has the type of game that can work in the NHL but this season, his production was lacking too much to keep him out of the AHL. Podkolzin is working on shooting the puck more in the AHL and is seeing some time as a penalty killer with Abbotsford head coach Jeremy Colliton.
We can see Podoklzin being the next winger to be called up whether it be due to bad play from someone in the NHL, and injury or roster requirements due to a trade.
Our guess is that Podkolzin is back in the NHL sometime in late-February or early-March and Höglander will spend the remainder of the season in the AHL unless there is a run of injuries to top-nine players in the NHL.
Yes, the Canucks will make a play for right-shot defenceman Jake Livingstone.
Livingstone is a BC kid and will likely have 32 teams approaching his agent.
He would be a big boost for the Canucks and they likely will have a plan to get him right into the NHL for minutes. That’s something that not all 32 teams can legitimately offer to the top NCAA free agent in this class.
Adding Livingstone would be huge but we’re also keeping our eyes on NCAA free agent Ryan McAllister, who is leading the NCAA in scoring and could be a rare one-and-done NCAA hockey player as it appears that NHL teams have interest in signing the 21-year-old winger.
Yeah, I think there’s a good shot that Connor Lockhart joins the AHL team after his OHL season concludes. But it’s certainly not a lock that the Canucks offer him a contract.
He’s currently tied for 11th in OHL scoring. He’s got pace and the Canucks have seen him at two training camps.
Lockhart may be on the shorter side at 5’9″ but he plays very hard and is a tremendous playmaker. I can see him having success in the AHL but it may take some time to adjust to the professional league. It’s been Lockhart’s goal since he was drafted to sign a contract with the Canucks and he’s held his end of the bargain with 16 goals and 33 assists through 39 OHL games with the Peterborough Petes this season.
He becomes a free agent on June 1st of this summer if the Canucks do not offer him an entry-level contract. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2021 draft after having his 2020-21 OHL season cancelled due to COVID.
There certainly are.
We will be covering this more as the CHL seasons wind down.
Here are a couple of names from each league.
David Jesus and Chas Sharpe are two big right-shot defencemen out of the OHL to take a look at.
Jacob Frasca and Jacob Maillet are right-shot forwards out of the OHL to watch.
As for the WHL, Kai Uchacz of the Red Deer Rebels is a forward to keep an eye on.
Trevor Wong is undersized but he moves extremely well and it’s still surprising to us that no team spent a draft pick on him.
Multiple teams should be after left-shot defenceman Carson Golder, who has 14 goals in 39 WHL games this season.
The QMJHL isn’t a league we watch a lot of, or talk to people from, so I don’t have any names there.
It’s not a popular take because he is rapidly becoming a fan favourite, but the Canucks need to trade Andrei Kuzmenko and monetize his incredible deadline value.
Kuzmenko’s combination of production and nearly non-existent cap hit make him the perfect rental for a contending team to add. On top of that, I’d love to watch Kuzmenko in big playoff moments and have the chance to fight for a cup.
Recent reports suggest that the Canucks are interested in re-signing Kuzmenko and it makes sense because he’s been good this season and has chemistry with Elias Pettersson. The worry is that Kuzmenko’s camp is going to look for six or more million dollars per year on an extension and if he doesn’t continue to work well, that could be another anchor contract on this Canucks team.
Monetizing his value right now would be the best for this team’s future but if I had to guess, I’d say that the Canucks end up re-signing him. There’s a good relationship between the Canucks and Kuzmenko’s agent Dan Milstein, and I don’t believe they will have a tough time finding a contract that works for both sides.
A reasonable return for Kuzmenko is a first-round pick and a B/C level prospect. I wrote in-depth about trading Kuzmenko here if you’d like to read more about it!
That wraps up another Monday Mailbag here at CanucksArmy!
Thanks as always to all of the great folks who sent in a question this week. Even as this team continues to give us a reason to check out, fans are here and staying engaged. It shows the power of this fanbase that so many of you return to this website, converse on socials, or support the coverage of this organization.
I consider myself very lucky to work in this market with such an engaged fanbase. See you all next Monday.

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