Russian lessons could be in the future for Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson.
The Swedish star is skating alongside new additions Andrei Kuzmenko and Illya Mikheyev at training camp in Whistler, British Columbia this week, creating a line that Pettersson says could have a lot to offer.
“I think the three of us bring different aspects to the game,” he said. “Mikheyev, he’s super quick, he opens up for us. And me and Kuzmenko are maybe a bit similar in the way we play.
Vancouver snapped up Mikheyev in the free agent market in July, signing the former Toronto Maple Leaf to a four-year contract worth US$19 million.
The 27-year-old right-winger had 32 points in 53 games for the Leafs last season, then added two goals and two assists in seven playoff appearances.
Kuzmenko, 26, joins the Canucks from the KHL on an entry-level, one-year contract. The five-foot-11, 194-pound forward produced 52 points and 10 penalty minutes in 45 games for SKA St. Petersburg last season.
The duo know each other well, having played “a few teams” together in the Russian national team four or five years ago, Mikheyev said.
“Good thing we can speak the same language and I can help her understand when guys say something to her,” he said.
Both new additions are “quite skilled” and stood out on the first day of training camp Thursday, Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau said.
“You could see the skill in them, you could see the release in the kick,” he said. “I don’t want to draw too many comparisons, but Kuzmenko’s exit looks a lot like Alex Ovechkin’s, looking at them both from the left side.
“I think they played with energy. And you could tell they weren’t just there, they wanted to make a good impression. I think they did.
It won’t be long before fans are captivated not only by Kuzmenko’s play, but also by his personality, Boudreau added.
“I said the first day I saw him, ‘If this guy is as good as advertised, he’s going to take the city by storm,’ he said.
Vancouver also made a strong impression on Kuzmenko. He’s been in town for several weeks, skating with his new teammates, exploring the city, and attending concerts and a Vancouver Whitecaps soccer game.
“Vancouver is a beautiful city for me. I like the place, the mountains, the ocean, the forest. I like it,” he said. “
Kuzmenko is eager to see how his game translates to the smaller NHL ice, saying he likes to play in tight spaces.
When asked if he could have even more success on the small box, the charismatic striker smiled.
“We’ll see,” he said.
Donning a Canucks jersey was somewhat surreal for one of the team’s other off-season acquisitions.
Growing up in Salmon Arm, BC, Vancouver was the team that Curtis Lazar encouraged. Signing with the hometown club as a free agent in July was a natural fit, the 27-year-old striker said.
“It’s amazing. It hasn’t really penetrated yet,” he said. “And you’ve also seen the whole development team, the former players. I mean, I grew up watching these guys, and now they’re coaching me or whatever. So that’s pretty cool.
Lazar joins the Canucks on a one-year, $1 million contract after recording 16 points and 16 penalty minutes for the Boston Bruins last season.
Originally selected 17th overall by Ottawa in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the six-foot, 203-pound forward played for the Bruins, Senators, Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabers for eight seasons in the league. .
In training camp, he skates a line with newcomer Dakota Joshua and depth center Jason Dickenson.
“(Lazar) has experience, he’s aggressive, he plays on winners,” Boudreau said. “He’s an NHL hockey player and you give him a chance to score, he’s going to score. He will kill the penalties, he will bring a lot to this team.
Being able to make an impact on the ice for your favorite team is a special opportunity, Lazar said.
And he sees big things for a Canucks team that finished last season five points from a playoff spot with a 40-30-12 record.
“Nine years in the league is the most skill and speed I’ve seen on a team,” Lazar said. “It’s about putting us together, playing hard collectively, and we’ll be fine.”
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press