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Vancouver Canucks Forward Needs to Step Up in Return

Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet wants his players to be held accountable. He wants them to learn from what they’ve been doing wrong. That leads to demotions and healthy scratches. In this case, Canucks winger Andrei Kuzmenko was a healthy scratch for not just one, but two straight games on the last road trip. Kuzmenko needs to step up as he was slotted back in the lineup for Tuesday’s game against the visiting Anaheim Ducks.

It looks like Kuzmenko will be back with Ilya Mikheyev and Elias Pettersson.

Kuzmenko Needed a “reset”

This isn’t the first time Kuzmenko was scratched. Former Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau made the Russian winger a healthy scratch on November 13, 2022, in a game against the Boston Bruins.

It was eyebrow-raising for Tocchet to scratch Kuzmenko for the game against the Seattle Kraken but two eyebrows were raised when he was scratched the next night against the San Jose Sharks.

Tocchet spoke to the media after Monday’s practice to talk more about his decision to scratch Kuzmenko.

“There’s a couple of guys,” said Tocchet per Jeff Paterson of Canucks Army. “I’m not picking on him, [Kuzmenko] but he’s got to get his game sharpened up. It’s not about last year, it’s about this year for us. He’s a guy that needed a reset. We worked with him on a few things. I thought he had a good practice today and that’s what I’m looking for tomorrow.”

Kuzmenko Has to Step Up

Last season, Kuzmenko exceeded expectations. The former SKA St. Petersburg star scored 39 goals and 35 assists for 74 points in 81 games. If he was a few years younger, he would’ve won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

Halfway through 2022-23, Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin rewarded Kuzmenko with a two-year contract extension worth 5.5 million dollars a season.

This season, Kuzmenko has only managed three goals and 11 assists for 14 points in 20 games. It was inevitable his shooting percentage would regress from the astronomical 27.3% last season. This season it is at 10.7%. That is quite the drop-off.

According to MoneyPuck, Kuzmenko’s percentage of shots on net (in all situations) was at 67.9% and this season it has dropped off to 57.1%.(Again before the game against the Ducks

But like Tocchet said, it is not about last season, it is about this season. Kuzmenko has been missing the net more often and his shot isn’t as dangerous. Last season, he was constantly in front of or around the net and he pounced on scoring chances. This season, there hasn’t been much of that.

How Kuzmenko fared against the Ducks

Tocchet said Kuzmenko was “Just OK” in the game against the Ducks per Thomas Drance of The Athletic.

He had a 93.6% expected goals for percentage in the game at 5 on 5  which was the most among all Canucks players according to NaturalStatTrick. Kuzmenko was on the ice for seven 5 on 5 scoring chances for and none against.

He was involved in Pettersson’s game winning goal by being a nuisance in John Gibson’s crease.

It was a decent game for Kuzmenko but it is obvious Tocchet wants to see more from him, especially when it comes to creating offence and putting up points.

But it is not only the offensive side Tocchet wants Kuzmenko to work on, it is also the defensive side. That goes back to last season. Kuzmenko has looked careless away from the puck in the defensive zone.

The Canucks need Kuzmenko to justify his 5.5 million dollar cap hit. It was great what he did in the past but it is about the present and future.

Up next the Canucks welcome the Vegas Golden Knights to Rogers Arena on Thursday. Vegas currently leads the NHL with 32 points. The Canucks have 31 points, the same amount as the the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. If the Canucks beat the Golden Knights on Thursday, they could be first in the Western Conference.

Main Photo: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports


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