Canucks’ Tryamkin will have to break trends for NHL success

Willie Desjardins spoke to the media about the Canucks adding Nikita Tryamkin to the lineup, and why he’s excited for what the Russian can bring to the club.

It was only seven days ago that new Vancouver Canucks defenceman Nikita Tryamkin was playing a top-pairing role for Avtomobolist Yekateringburg in the KHL’s Gagarin Cup playoffs.

Those seven days have been busy. There have been hurdles to clear, contracts to get out from under, visa issues to sort through, and AHL out clauses to negotiate.

The red tape has all been torn now. Tryamkin’s agents secured his early release from Avtomobolist, he’s signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Canucks, his working visa is in order and he arrived in Vancouver in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

The 22-year-old Russian is due to show up for a skill session at Rogers Arena later Thursday and will practice with the team on Friday. He’ll be available to play NHL games afterwards, although isn’t expected to debut until next week.

At six-foot-eight and 240 pounds, Tryamkin cuts an imposing figure. If the Canucks’ third-round draft pick in 2014 is going to make an impact at the NHL level, though, he’s going to have to buck a number of trends.

Like how Russian-born defencemen have become something of an endangered species in the NHL. Next week, Tryamkin will become just the 12th Russian-born defender to play in an NHL game this season, where at the turn of the century, there were nearly 30.

Person of interest: Canucks new signee Nikita Tryamkin

The dearth of Russian defensive talent in the NHL makes it difficult to find historical comparables for players with Tryamkin’s statistical and physical profile. Though of course, so does the extremity of that physical profile.

Tryamkin will also be swimming upstream in a league that’s rapidly trending towards a preference for shorter, quicker defenceman.

In a faster NHL where the new prototype for a ‘shutdown guy’ is a Chris Tanev or Marc-Edouard Vlasic type, the behemoth defensive defenceman has been squeezed out. Massive and highly touted young defenders like Dylan McIlrath, Jamie Oleksiak, Jared Cowen and Jared Tinordi have seemed to struggle to adjust to the NHL’s pace.

“The problem in the game right now (for bigger defenceman) is that it’s all about defenceman who can turn, get the puck and transition it up ice,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning told Sportsnet on Wednesday. “But because (Tryamkin) is a good skater for his size he can do that: he can make that good first pass.”

“For a six-foot-eight, 240-pound guy he’s coordinated and he’s a good skater,” said Benning. “He moves like a six-foot-one player.”

The big, mobile blue-liner could’ve become an unrestricted free agent at the end of May, so getting him signed to an entry-level deal is a win for an organization that has been heavily criticized in recent weeks. On the other hand, it should be noted that Tryamkin’s situation gave him a good deal of leverage, which is partly why he was able to secure an AHL out-clause on his deal.

That’s the cost of doing business with European professional players.

“If we were going to sign him to a deal, that’s the only type of deal that he would sign,” said Benning.

While Tryamkin will have the option of going back to Russia if he doesn’t make the Canucks’ NHL roster next season, it seems the club is holding out some hope that he might voluntarily choose the AHL route.

“If he can step in and he’s ready to play: great,” said Benning. “If he sees that he wants to be an NHL player and that he needs to learn some things, first of all, he’s going to have to transition to the smaller ice surface and the corners aren’t as big, so defenceman don’t have as much time with the puck on the smaller rink. There’s going to be a transition for him to the North American-style game.

“From there, if he can make the adjustment quick that will be great, but we’re hoping that if he can’t, that he understands that he’s got to keep working on his game, and if that means spending some time developing that he’s willing to do that to be an NHL player.”

That’s a bridge the Canucks and Tryamkin will cross when they come to it.

For now it seems the club is just happy to have got a more-complicated-than-usual entry-level contract done. And they’re eager to see how Tryamkin fares against NHL competition.

“I see him as a defensive defenceman,” said Benning. “He’s a good skater, he keeps tight gaps for a guy his size, he’s got that long reach and he can make plays with the puck.

“He’s a bigger man who can have an easier time with the transition, maybe, because of his ability to skate.”