The heart wants what it wants but the brain knows what it needs.
That is basically Andrei Kuzmenko’s future with the Vancouver Canucks.
Kuzmenko was the belle of the ball this past summer when the KHLer wanted to make the jump over to the NHL. Teams lined up en masse to attempt to woo the 26-year-old winger, who was fresh off finishing the season second in KHL scoring.
In the summer, Kuzmenko’s agent Dan Milstein told us about how charismatic and fun Kuzmenko was going to be but even Milstein’s kindest words about Kuzmenko sold the Russian winger short.
It’s almost impossible to catch Kuzmenko without a smile on his face, and his play on the ice this season has been giving Canucks fans something to smile about all season long.
His through-the-legs pass to set up his own goal on Thursday night was just another highlight in what has been an impressive season.
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Kuzmenko is now up to 17 goals and 17 assists through 37 games.
His skill around the crease has been nothing short of stunning. His work in front of the net has been impressive at both five-on-five and on the power play at the NHL level, despite that not being something we saw a ton of from him in the KHL.
On top of his net-front dominance, Kuzmenko has found chemistry with the Canucks’ franchise player, Elias Pettersson. It’s pretty astonishing that Pettersson’s possession and expected goal metrics are well-below 50% when he’s not playing on a line with Kuzmenko.
The duo has benefited from a 14.86 on-ice shooting percentage, which has led to 20 high-danger goals and 26 total goals. Kuzmenko likes to hunt around the net and it seems like Pettersson goes to the net more often when Kuzmenko is on the ice with him.
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We are going to see the Canucks make a decision on Kuzmenko’s future and there are rumblings that there has been enough of a sample size for the two sides to begin conversations about an extension soon. We could see an extension before the trade deadline, and if we don’t see a new deal in the next five-seven weeks, Kuzmenko should be looked at as a trade chip.
In fact, it may be good to wait and see what the market brings in terms of a return for Kuzmenko as a rental.
If the Canucks go the route of monetizing Kuzmenko on the trade market, he will be a cheaper rental than you could find if you were hitting the housing market in Quesnel.
Kuzmenko’s power play prowess is certainly intriguing for teams and with his nearly non-existent impact on the salary cap, you’d have to think Kuzmenko has the potential to return somewhere in the realm of a first-round pick and more.
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We could very easily see a playoff-bound team giving up a first-round pick plus a second-round pick or a decently high-rated prospect.
This would be a massive boost to the Canucks’ prospect pool.

Deadline comparables

Andrew Copp is a rental example from last season and he returned a first and second-round pick as well as the big young forward Morgan Barron for the Winnipeg Jets.
Copp had 13 goals and 22 assists in 56 games when he was traded at the deadline.
Those picks that were involved in the Copp deal ultimately led to the Jets being able to draft top prospect Brad Lambert and highly-touted right-shot defenceman Elias Salomonsson. Adding players of that calibre to the Canucks’ prospect pool would show a massive impact on how we look at the Canucks’ prospect pool. Lambert is having success in the AHL as an 18-year-old, though he is expected to be sent back to junior, and Salomonsson is showing well offensively in the SHL as an 18-year-old and should be a very relied-upon right-shot defenceman for Sweden at next year’s World Junior Championship.
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Jeremy Lauzon went for a second-round pick last year at the deadline. He had one goal in 53 games before the trade and was averaging just under 18 minutes a night. The reason why he went for such a high return was likely due to his expiring $850,000 cap hit.
Calle Jarnkrok was on an expiring deal with a $2,000,000 cap hit when he was traded at last year’s deadline. He saw half of his salary retained and returned a second, third and seventh-round pick. At the time of his trade, Jarnkrok had 12 goals and 14 assists in 49 games and was averaging under 17 minutes a night with the Seattle Kraken.
Now, of course, every year sees a different market generated for value, but Kuzmenko has to be at the top of the list for cheap rentals that can boost a team’s offence.
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So, with the value that Kuzmenko has shown with the Canucks and more specifically Elias Pettersson, it’s going to be a tough call to decide if they want to keep him or move him for assets. If the organization is moving towards a true rebuild, moving on from Kuzmenko is the right move. As much as it hurts your heart, the brain is 100% on board for trading Kuzmenko to improve this team in the long term.
This is a rare opportunity where a winger can help you improve your (future) defence corps. It’s under even more unusual circumstances because the Canucks were able to sign Kuzmenko off the free agent market — not having to use a draft pick or make a trade for his services.
If the market turns the way of Kuzmenko returning a first-round pick, a second-round pick, and a young player, my vote is that’s a market you want to be involved with. As much as Kuzmenko has made Canucks fans smile this season, the smiles on fans’ faces when this team competes on a nightly basis will be even better. This organization needs to start making long-term moves and returning a massive haul for Kuzmenko is a step in the right direction.
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Selling high on a player is something that this organization has struggled with in the past but with Bo Horvat, Luke Schenn, and Kuzmenko all in the mix to be traded, this could be the time when the Canucks finally look down the road instead of what’s right in front of their face.