Hot streak or sneak preview? Andrei Kuzmenko on offensive tear for Flames

Andrei Kuzmenko has piled up six points during a three-game span, with four goals and a pair of assists over that stellar stretch

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In the middle of the all-star break, as the Calgary Flames finalized a trade for Andrei Kuzmenko, assistant coach Marc Savard opened his laptop and logged on to the video scouting software.

Kuzmenko, as an NHL newbie, had scored 39 goals last season on behalf of the Vancouver Canucks. Savard, who oversees the Flames’ forward cast and power-play units, watched clips of every single one of ’em.

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“You dive right in to see where he scores all his goals,” Savard explained. “And it seemed like they were all right around the net.

“When you go back and look at his 39 goals, they’re all right there. That was a nice thing to see because we needed a guy like that.”

When Kuzmenko is at his best, every team could use a guy like this.

While the Russian right-winger insisted Wednesday that he’s had a “very terrible” season, and particularly a bad start, he’s offered a tantalizing glimpse over the past week of all that he can bring to his new team.

Skating alongside veteran pivot Nazem Kadri and rookie pest Martin Pospisil on what could be considered Calgary’s top line, the 28-year-old Kuzmenko has strung together three straight multi-point performances, with four goals and a pair of pretty primary assists during that scorching span.

Kuzmenko was one of the few bright spots for the Flames in Tuesday’s 5-3 home loss to the Anaheim Ducks. His first of two tallies was highlight-reel material — he weaved into the slot, evaded a stick-check and outwaited opposing netminder Lukas Dostal before draining a low shot. On his second, he was … you guessed it … parked at the edge of the blue paint when Pospisil’s attempt caromed off his left skate. As Flames head coach Ryan Huska summed up: “He knows where to score goals. So he goes there.”

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“Which goal I like?” Kuzmenko said during an animated media scrum Wednesday at the Saddledome. “Second, because I stay. I don’t move. Pospy shoots at my skates and, ‘Oh yeah, it’s a goal. Good goal.’ I like these goals because I don’t have to move.”

Beaming as he delivered that wisecrack, his grin then disappeared. He suddenly turned serious.

“Honestly, don’t joke … I believe in my power. I believe in myself.”

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Kuzmenko’s offensive abilities have never been in question.

In his 21 appearances so far in the Flaming C logo, and especially since he recovered from an illness, you can see why he was a marquee scorer in the KHL and why he was an immediate impact-sort upon arrival in Vancouver. If you have the opportunity to watch him mess around at the end of practice or pre-game warm-up, his puck skills are silly, in a good way.

You can also sometimes see why Kuzmenko wound up in Rick Tocchet’s doghouse. The Canucks’ skipper didn’t trust his defensive work, wasn’t always satisfied with the amount of dig-in.

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“When he has the puck in the offensive zone, you can see the cutbacks and you can see how he can make plays and go to the net and he’s very strong on his skates, so that’s what makes him a good player for us,” Huska said. “Over the last three games, the points aside, he’s been around the puck a lot. And he seems to have a little bit of chemistry with Marty and Naz, so we’d like to see that continue.

“You always want every one of your players to have some improvements away from the puck and he’s no different, so that’s an area he’ll keep working on. But we do like what we’re seeing with regards to how he is playing with the puck in the offensive zone.”

Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks
Calgary Flames forward Andrei Kuzmenko and Anaheim Ducks goalie Lukas Dostal look to control the puck at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

When the Flames and Canucks were discussing a swap for Elias Lindholm, the West Coasters needed to clear some cap space to make it happen.

That’s why, when the deal was announced, many were describing Kuzmenko as a salary dump.

Savard, as he studied replays of those 39 lamp-lightings from last winter, was seeing more than that.

Heading into Thursday’s showdown with the Jets in Winnipeg (6 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan), Kuzmenko has so far scored 17 in his second NHL season. He’s buried more than half of those since waiving his no-trade clause to approve the move to Calgary. In fact, with nine notches, he is tied for the Flames’ team lead since the all-star break.

Signed through the end of the 2024-25 campaign, fans remain fascinated by the new guy in No. 96, by where he might fit on the depth chart and whether this three-game tear is simply a hot streak or a sneak preview of what is to come.

“I’m feeling a little better from start in Calgary,” Kuzmenko said. “I’m feeling every day is better. I want to help this team.”

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