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Canucks forward Andrei Kuzmenko admits game has regressed, vows progress

VANCOUVER — Andrei Kuzmenko admits his game is struggling.

The Russian winger had 74 points last season, earning himself a two year US$11 million contract and a place on Vancouver's top line as a reward.

This season has been different.

Kuzmenko has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 21 games this season, has been a healthy scratch twice and took a teammate's shot to the face requiring stitches.

"It doesn't matter if I scored … it doesn't matter if my score doesn't help the team," he said after scoring Vancouver's lone goal in a 4-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.

"I need to be better, this I understand. That's why I haven't played (as much) this season."

Kuzmenko scored Thursday after J.T. Miller seized on a loose puck, drove to the net and slid it across to the winger who fired a wrist shot past Logan Thompson.

The top line of Kuzmenko, Ilia Mikheyev and Elias Pettersson has been outscored and outplayed by its second line counterparts through the first quarter of the NHL season.

Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet expects more from Kuzmenko. More effort and more production.

Tocchet has labelled Kuzmenko's play during this season as just "OK," and says the forward needs "to start to play a little harder."

He scratched the winger for back-to-back games against the Seattle Kraken and San Jose Sharks in late November.

"He's got to get his game a little bit more sharpened up. It's not about last year, it's about this year for us. And he's a guy that needed a reset," Tocchet said on Nov. 27.

He specified what he wants to see more from Kuzmenko which includes battling for pucks at the board and being faster to move back when the puck is in the neutral zone.

Tocchet has laid out clear expectations for Kuzmenko, demanding stronger puck battles along the boards and quicker defensive reactions in the neutral zone.

"Those are the little things that I value around here. It's not about just scoring goals. Goal scorers are going to go through slumps," said Tocchet.

"The little things matter. That's part of our staples and he has to understand that's the Bible for us around here."

All of which led to Thursday's goal and performance during the loss, which earned Kuzmenko praise.

"If you watch his shifts in the third, he was going A to B. He wasn't zigzagging, backwards skating defending, he was going forward," said Tocchet.

The head coach added that he hopes the winger recognizes the take-aways from his improved performance.

"Hopefully he learns from this third period," said Tocchet. "He can get some momentum playing this way, I think so."

Kuzmenko said he knows that his head coach wants to see him improve.

"This year with four goals is bad, statistically, I understand it's a problem," he said.

"I want to help the team and I understand coach wants this."

But he shrugged off questions about his mentality having gone nearly the full month of November (11 games) between his third and fourth goal of the season.

"What interesting questions about mentality," he said while smiling when asked if he had felt frustrated about his goal drought.

"It's an interesting moment for mentality, for personality, for me."

But he reiterated that he knows the key to solving his issues lies in hard work.

"It's simple with the hard work mentality, work in the gym, it's simple," Kuzmenko said.

He added that he was looking to continue his improved play and build on Thursday's goal against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.

"It's a new day with the game against Calgary," Kuzmenko said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2023.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press