Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the daily column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day I will bring you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2020 NHL Draft. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Hockey Prospects is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Draft”! We have a complete listing of our draft articles here. Today we look at Yan Kuznetsov.
Russian defenceman Yan Kuznetsov has been playing in North America for the last two seasons. He spent this past season playing in the NCAA with the University of Connecticut Huskies. Kuznetsov was one of the youngest players in college hockey. He scored two goals and nine assists for 11 points in 34 games this season. Kuznetsov also played six games for the Russian Under-18 National Team, picking up one assist. He also played for Russia in the World Junior A Hockey Challenge, picking up one assist in five games and helping the team to a gold medal.
Last season, he played for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL. Kuznetsov scored four assists in 34 games. While he didn’t play in the playoffs due to injury, he was a big part of the club that went on to win the Clark Cup. Kuznetsov also played for Team Russia at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, picking up one assist in six games and again helping the club to win a gold medal. Overall in 10 games with the Russian Under-17 National team, he scored one goal and two assists for three points.
Yan Kuznetsov Scouting Report
Defence — shoots Left
Born March 9th, 2002 — Murmansk, Russia
Height 6’4″ — Weight 209 lbs [193 cm/95 kg]
Kuznetsov’s skating is a bit of a work in progress. His top-end speed and acceleration going forwards is about average, or maybe a touch below. However, he is a lot better in his backwards skating (comparatively), as he is above average. He also has good edgework, agility and pivots. This allows him to get around the ice well enough and play an effective defensive game. He is strong on his skates when playing against his peers. His balance is good and he has the ability to win battles for loose pucks and clear the front of the net. However, there is room to add muscle to his frame and this can get even better.
Kuznetsov has a powerful slap shot from the point. His wrist shot also has good power but he could stand to improve the release. He is also able to retrieve pucks in his own end of the ice, make a quick move to avoid a forechecker and make a smart pass up the ice to start the transition game. A stay-at-home defender, he does not join the rush often. Similarly, Kuznetsov is likely to look to keep the puck moving and make the safe the pass when the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone.
The bread and butter of Kuznetsov’s game is in the defensive end of the ice. He uses his strong lateral mobility and backwards skating to maintain excellent gap control. Kuznetsov forces defenders to the outside and away from good shooting areas. If attackers don’t keep their heads up, he can explode into a hit. He also uses his active stick to knock the puck away from opponents. Kuznetsov stays close and puts pressure on attackers. He is also strong on the boards, fighting for loose pucks, pinning his man, and winning his battles. As Kuznetsov continues to mature, he should get stronger and be even more effective in this area of his game. His ability to move the puck out of the zone and transition up the ice helps to minimize the amount of time that opponents spend in his end of the ice.
Kuznetsov does a good job of containing his man in the cycle. He keeps him on the perimeter and cuts down the passing lanes to the middle of the ice. Kuznetsov is also strong away from the puck. He clears the front of the net and uses his size to his advantage. This is another area where he should get even better with maturity. Kuznetsov is a smart player. He reads the play well and anticipates what opponents are going to do, helping him to get to the right spot. Kuznetsov is also willing to put his body on the line and block shots.
Projection and Comparison
Kuznetsov could develop into a top-four defenceman if things go well. He would be the anchor on his pair, a defensive complement to a defender who likes to rush the puck. He’s unlikely to make much of an impact on a power play or put up a lot of points but can be effective on the penalty kill. A big defender, Kuznetsov is a bit lanky and still has room to get stronger. Playing in the NCAA, with the shorter schedule, he will get the time to hit the weight room. Kuznetsov’s game is similar to Zbynek Michalek but this a stylistic comparison only and not one based on skill and ability.
The following is a compilation of some of the highlight packages and features of Yan Kuznetsov that are available on youtube.
#WJAC: Yan Kuznetsov in a nutshell. I can justify being too low on him in July but no way in December. He's been this smooth and calm for UConn against stud NHL draftees. Credit to those who looked past the "raw" tag and saw a highly-intelligent, poised kid who can mash you. pic.twitter.com/zPLLffWWw9
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) December 12, 2019
— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) October 12, 2019
Draft eligible left handed defenseman Yan Kuznetsov with a solid check in front of his net. Good job eliminating the traffic in front of his net. #2020NHLDraft | @FCHockey | @DobberProspects pic.twitter.com/8ukbLYXmG2
— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) November 9, 2019
Check back tomorrow for the next prospect on our draft board.
Yan Kuznetsov Main Photo:
The final NHL Central Scouting rankings came out today and GREAT to see a pair of current Huskies, Yan Kuznetsov (36th) and Jake Flynn (122nd) and future Husky, Nick Capone (126th) on the North American skater list. ???#IceBushttps://t.co/5tSFEpc2FY pic.twitter.com/2BcSlRIgBL
— UConn Men’s Hockey (@UConnMHOC) April 8, 2020