2022 Calgary Flames Prospect Rankings: #10 Yan Kuznetsov

Over the next few weeks, The Win Column has ranked the Calgary Flames’ best prospects in advance of the 2022 NHL Draft. Next up in our prospect rankings is the 10th ranked prospect: Yan Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov was drafted by the Flames in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft. He was ranked fairly consistently in the top 100 that year. He had one of the most interesting draft years; Kuznetsov played in the NCAA for the UConn Huskies and was the youngest player in the entire league.

A Russian-born player, Kuznetsov hails from Murmansk and grew up playing for teams in his hometown. He made the jump to North America at a very young age all on his own, suiting up for the Sioux Falls Stampede as a 16-year-old. He quickly became one of the most prominent Russian defensive defencemen and has represented his country every year since he was 16. Most notably, he was named to the 2021 World Junior team. Kuznetsov was left off the team this year as the Russians did not select any players currently playing in North America. It was a very odd decision that resulted in a clearly weaker team.

Kuznetsov has always wanted to pursue hockey professionally and made it clear that he had no intentions of finishing his college degree. The Flames signed him to an entry-level contract in March 2021, at which point he joined the Stockton Heat in the AHL.

This past season, he started in the AHL with Stockton and did fairly well as a rookie shutdown defenceman, but was selected by the Saint John Sea Dogs in the CHL Import Draft with the 22nd overall selection. That opened the door for the Flames to send Kuznetsov to the QMJHL for the remainder of the season, where he is currently still playing. The Sea Dogs are hosting the Memorial Cup this year and Kuznetsov is playing an important role alongside fellow Flames prospect Jeremie Poirier on that team.

Standing at 6’4″ and 209 lbs, Kuznetsov is an enormous defender who has played the exact same style in every league he’s ever played on. He just turned 20 years old on March 9.

Kuznetsov’s strengths and weaknesses

Kuznetsov is a shutdown defenceman, through and through. He plays a ton of minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill and is relied upon in key defensive situations. He does chip in offensively from time to time, but his strengths are on the defensive end and he excels in that role.

Since he joined the Sea Dogs, he has primarily been paired with Poirier who plays the opposite style and tends much more heavily towards the offensive end. It’s been a very effective pairing for the Sea Dogs and is one they’re currently deploying in the 2022 Memorial Cup.

One of the most translatable skills in Kuznetsov’s toolkit is his skating. He’s an incredibly smooth skater who has no issues carrying the puck up the ice, but doesn’t do that very often. On the offensive blueline, he walks the line extremely well and opens up lanes to pass or shoot. He’s always been praised for his skating ability and it’s helped him continue to play his style at each level.

Kuznetsov’s ceiling is Chris Tanev: someone who is clearly gifted on defence, but can skate well, make good passes, and chip with offence from the blueline every now and then.

Of course, as a shutdown defenceman, the one dimensionality of Kuznetsov’s game does prevent him from being a flashy prospect that gets people talking. He’ll likely never become a player who will put up points, especially at the NHL level, but he can absolutely make the show as a middle or third pair defensive defenceman similar to the role Tanev plays.

Kuznetsov’s on-ice results

Kuznetsov has the fortune of playing in multiple leagues at multiple levels the past couple years. It has allowed us to become fairly confident in what he is as a player and where he is in his development path. He played 12 games with Stockton this season and 25 with the Sea Dogs.

2020–21UConn HuskiesNCAA1615645
2020-21Stockton HeatAHL600040
2021–22Stockton HeatAHL1200013-4
2021–22Saint John Sea DogsQMJHL25211131421

Kuznetsov thrived in the QMJHL, immediately stepping into an important role for the Sea Dogs and playing some of the most impressive hockey of his career. His success is definitely due in part to being an overaged 20-year-old, having professional experience in the AHL, and playing with a very good complementary partner in Poirier. Regardless, he had a great season and looks to be turning into the player the Flames hoped they had selected in the 2020 Draft.

In the Memorial Cup, Kuznetsov has come to play. He opened the scoring for the tournament en route to the Sea Dogs’ first win against the Hamilton Bulldogs and it looks like the Sea Dogs will play in the semis next week.

Kuznetsov’s next steps

He wasn’t able to stay in the lineup in Stockton this year, but having the option to go to the Q was very helpful. It allowed Kuznetsov to keep playing, rack up huge minutes in an important role, and keep honing his game in a league that is designed for scorers. It’s not easy being a defensive defenceman in the Q and Kuznetsov did a fantastic job in that role.

Next season, he will only be eligible for the professional ranks. It’s extremely unlikely that Kuznetsov pushes for an NHL roster spot next season, but he should push very hard to be a full time AHLer and continue to hone his game at the pro level.

For Kuznetsov, the biggest thing is to adjust and adapt to the speed and structure of professional hockey. It’s not going to be as open as the Q, and it will be a good challenge for him to play a shutdown role for the AHL Flames.

Kuznetsov is up two spots from 12th on our rankings last year, and is well deserving of the bump. Hopefully he’s even higher on our board next year.

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