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Potential Trade Target: Should Predators Inquire About Andrei Kuzmenko?

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Kuzmenko
Photo of Andrei Kuzmenko, left, and Juuso Parssinen by John Russell/Nashville Predators

Over the last few weeks at Nashville Hockey Now, we’ve been examining the biggest issues facing the Nashville Predators including three crucial questions the team must answer following the midway point of the season, trade speculation involving the defense and goaltending, and the Predators’ approach to the March 8 trade deadline.

But perhaps the Predators’ primary focus should be on finding more scoring.

Since the beginning of December, Nashville is 22nd in goals scored per game (2.84), and the team has been held to three goals or fewer in 18 of 25 games.

If the front office is looking to add another scorer, there are a few players in Milwaukee worthy of a look, but if general manager Barry Trotz is looking for a more permanent solution, perhaps he should consider Vancouver Canucks forward Andrei Kuzmenko.

The 27-year-old Russian was a late bloomer, coming to North America in 2022 after six-plus seasons in the KHL with CSKA Moskva and SKA St. Petersburg. In his debut season Kuzmenko scored 39 goals and 74 points in 81 games, tying for the team lead in goals and ranking fourth in scoring.

Twenty-seven may seem a bit old for where the current Predators roster is at, but Trotz has approached this season as a retool as opposed to a complete deconstruction. An argument can be made that a player’s prime is shifting to later in their careers between the ages of 28 and 32 due to the advances in strength and conditioning, nutrition, athletic recovery and more. So, Kuzmenko’s age shouldn’t be an issue.

Under contract this season and next with a cap hit of $5.5 million with a modified 12-team no-trade clause, Kuzmenko shares an agent (Dan Milstein of Gold Star Hockey) with several Predators prospects including Egor Afanasyev, Yaroslav Askarov and Fedor Svechkov.

From a business perspective — plus a little bit of speculation — I doubt the Predators would be on Kuzmenko’s no-trade list due to the state income tax break that comes with living in Tennessee alone. Additionally, the Predators were one of the teams Kuzmenko negotiated with during the summer of 2022 before he eventually signing with the Canucks.

It makes sense for foreign players moving to the U.S. to look for larger cities than Nashville to showcase them on a bigger stage, but that sometimes is more player-specific than a rule of thumb.

Nashville is in desperate need of true goal scorer, and Kuzmenko fills that need perfectly. Last season was far from an outlier. Kuzmenko was a 20-goal scorer and a point-per-game player in his final KHL season, and he had four straight seasons of double-digit goals with 30 or more points before jumping to the NHL.

This year, Kuzmenko has fallen out of favor in Vancouver. He’s been a healthy scratch five times and scored just eight goals and 19 points in 40 games. A change of scenery might do him some good.

The Canucks play a fast-paced, north-south style of offense similar to what head coach Andrew Brunette runs with the Predators, but the temperament that Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet wants to implement is the primary difference between the two systems.

Under Tocchet, the Canucks system is a byproduct of what the players have to give. Under Brunette, the Predators system demands skilled players.

“I don’t know what we do more than what the coaching staff has been doing,” Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford said regarding Kuzmenko. “He’s lost his confidence. He’s a good player, and he can score. There’s no doubt in my mind, whether it’s in Vancouver or another NHL city, he will score.”

If trading for Kuzmenko is realistically on the table at all, then Trotz should certainly pursue it.

With the Canucks taking an all-in approach to this season, and their defensive core suffering a tough loss with the Carson Soucy’s injury, Nashville has the assets (Dante Fabbro, Alex Carrier, Tyson Barrie) to make a trade happen that could benefit both parties. 

Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10

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