This has been a big year for Friend of the Blog Yan Kuznetsov. He and fellow countryman Vladislav Firstov were the first two NCAA players to be selected to compete for Team Russia at the World Junior Championships which finished up earlier this year. He also played his entire sophomore season on the top pairing for the UConn Huskies this past season, and last week became the first NCAA defenceman in his draft class to sign an entry-level deal.
The Flames clearly like him a lot. Although the team had his rights guaranteed until June 1st of his college graduation year, they felt that he was ready for the next level: professional hockey. It is incredibly rare for teams to sign a defencemen after just two years of college hockey, with most waiting until year three or four before offering a contract. With Kuznetsov signing after his second year, he joins a group of just 10 players since the 2010 draft to turn pro after their sophomore season. Here is the full list.
|Player||Club Drafted||College Team||Draft Position|
|Yan Kuznetsov||Calgary Flames||UConn||50|
|Cam York||Philadelphia Flyers||University of Michigan||14|
|Quinn Hughes||Vancouver Canucks||University of Michigan||7|
|K’Andre Miller||New York Rangers||University of Wisconsin||22|
|Mattias Samuelsson||Buffalo Sabres||University of Western Michigan||32|
|Mario Ferraro||San Jose Sharks||UMass Amherst||49|
|Charlie McAvoy||Boston Bruins||Boston University||14|
|Ryan Lindgren||Boston Bruins||University of Minnesota||49|
|Scott Mayfield||New York Islanders||University of Denver||34|
|Adam Clendening||Chicago Blackhawks||Boston University||36|
Kuznetsov is in really good company. Not only is he the highest draft pick on the list, he joins a list of impact NHLers including Hughes and McAvoy.
Kuznetsov is one of the youngest on the list
Even more impressive, Kuznetsov signed his deal as a 19 year old. All but four of the players on this list were 20 or older when they signed. Kuznetsov joins just the aforementioned McAvoy, Hughes, and Adam Clendening as the only 19-year-old signees. Here are their numbers over their two seasons in the NCAA.
That’s a strong dropoff. Kuznetsov had just 17 points in 50 NCAA games with UConn, as compared to 25 or more for each of his fellow 19-year-old signees in each of their respective seasons. However, what Kuznetsov lacks in offensive ability, he more than makes up for on the back end.
Kuznetsov is defence first
He plays a strong, steady, and reliable defensive game. He has shown he can be relied on to drop back when his defense partner jumps up in the rush, and be a top shutdown defender at the highest level of college hockey. However, don’t let this fool you, he still has a wicked shot that can beat a goalie clean from the blueline.
What’s next for Kuznetsov?
He still has to finish one week of mandatory quarantine after coming across the border, but Kuznetsov will join the Stockton Heat to finish off the season. He will be among the younger players on the team at just 19 years of age, and will be fighting for minutes on a Jekyll and Hyde Heat team.
Kuznetsov is no stranger to being the young one. He came to North America at just 16 years old and was an impact player in the USHL. Then he made the jump to the NCAA and was the youngest player in the league. That didn’t stop him from making a name for himself and earning a ton of ice time on the UConn Icebus. Do not expect his move to the AHL to be any different. He has the size, grit, and determination to be an impact AHL player, and hopefully in a due time will be a stalwart on the Flames’ blueline as well.