Yan Kuznetsov has had the most unique development path of any Calgary Flames prospect in recent memory. He grew up in Russia, moved to the USHL for a year before joining the UConn Huskies. He spent two seasons in the NCAA before signing his entry-level contract with the Flames at the end of last season, and played six games with the Stockton Heat at the tail end of the year.
Here is where things get interesting. Kuznetsov was drafted by the Saint John Sea Dogs in the CHL’s Import Draft this past year, making him eligible to join the team for the season or he could spend the year in Stockton. There has been a lot of speculation of what could happen to Kuznetsov, but little concrete information, especially around the thought process behind what to do with him.
However, this past weekend, Ray Edwards joined John Moore, the play-by-play voice of the Sea Dogs during the intermission to discuss what the Flames thought of Kuznetsov and the chances of him joining the Sea Dogs. Full clip here:
The issue with Kuznetsov right now, according to Edwards, is two-fold. Primary for Edwards and the Flames is what is best for his development, but equally as important, can Kuznetsov be a difference-maker for the Stockton Heat night-in and night-out. “Can he help that team [the Stockton Heat] be successful, and can that be the catalyst for his development?”
Both together is key for the Flames if they want him to one day crack the roster in Calgary. Edwards also notes that they really like Kuznetsov. He is a very competitive and smart defenceman, who plays hard defensively. While he is just 19 years old, he has played a good chunk of games at the AHL level already, and has started to develop his game well at the next level. “Great stick, great hockey IQ… we are evaluating him daily,” noted Edwards, who further praised Kuznetsov for his agility and ability to move the puck despite being an enormous player.
Could Kuznetsov join the Sea Dogs?
The Flames are in touch with the Sea Dogs General Manager and team on a regular basis noted Edwards, and clearly think Saint John could be a landing spot for Kuznetsov this season. “We know this would be a great situation for him… We know [it] would be unbelievable for him,” said Edwards.
It clearly would be great for Kuznetsov to play Junior in Saint John. Not only would it provide an opportunity for him to play alongside fellow Flames prospect Ryan Francis, but it could be the beginnings of a phenomenal partnership between him and Flames prospect Jeremie Poirier. Also a 2020 draft pick, Poirier has strong offensive upside and could be a very reliable partner for the more defensively minded Kuznetsov not only at the Junior level but beyond right to the NHL level if the Flames play their cards right.
This would also provide him with heavy minutes at the junior level, something he is not seeing much so far in Stockton. This season, he has found himself in the lineup almost every game, but only featuring in a third-pairing role, alongside a revolving door of partners—most recently Ilya Solovyov.
While he is more defensively minded, so far this season Kuznetsov has just five shots and sits +1 on the year. With the Heat having not lost in regulation all season, this is a sign that he simply is not getting enough minutes to help him improve his game. Having him play in the QMJHL may benefit his development.
On top of that, Kuznetsov would have a chance to play in the Memorial Cup this season, as the Sea Dogs will play host for the CHL’s highest prize. Kuznetsov did not play in the NCAA’s frozen four in either of his two years with UConn, as the tournament was cancelled in his rookie season and the team was on the wrong side of the bubble last season. Having high-level tournament experience against the best players in junior hockey would be nothing but good for the Flames’ second-round selection.
No matter what happens, it is likely the Flames make this decision sometime between now and just after Christmas. The QMJHL’s trade deadline is January 25th, and the Sea Dogs will likely want Kuznetsov in the fold by that point so they can start working together to prepare for the Memorial Cup in the spring. They have an extra import spot in their lineup right now, and could slot Kuznetsov in at any point. Hopefully this situation is resolved sooner rather than later.