Vancouver Canucks sign free agents Ilya Mikheyev and Curtis Lazar

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VANCOUVER — Even as he played across the NHL, Curtis Lazar harboured a love for the Canucks.

Growing up in Salmon Arm, B.C., Vancouver was the team he cheered for.

"That’s not something you can just turn off," Lazar said.

"And ultimately, that’s a big reason of my decision to sign here, is to hopefully be part of that core.”

The 27-year-old forward made his childhood dreams come true Wednesday, signing a three-year contract with the Canucks on the opening day of free agency. The deal carries an average annual value of US$1 million.

In addition to Lazar, Vancouver rounded out its roster by inking former Toronto Maple Leafs winger Ilya Mikheyev and depth forward Dakota Joshua.

The additions give the Canucks more depth, said general manager Patrik Allvin.

"We need four lines to contribute," he said. "And I think with adding Curtis and Dakota here it makes us harder to play against. And hopefully, they will grind other teams down and give our coaches more flexibility how they want to how they want to do the matchups.”

Lazar tallied 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) and 16 penalty minutes in 70 games for the Bruins last year.

Originally selected 17th overall by Ottawa in the 2013 NHL entry draft, the six-foot, 203-pound forward has largely played in a bottom-six role for the Bruins, Senators, Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres over eight seasons in the league.

Coming into Vancouver, Lazar believes he still has room to elevate his game.

“I see myself as just entering my prime. I understand the league," he said. "I know the ins and outs. I know what it takes to score, what it takes to win. And I’m just kind of still coming into my own on the offensive side.”

Mikheyev joins the Canucks on a four-year deal with an average-annual value of $4.75 million.

The 27-year-old Russian right-winger had 32 points (21 goals, 11 assists) in 53 games for the Leafs last season, then added two goals and two assists in seven playoff appearances.

The six-foot-two, 192-pound Mikheyev has played three seasons in Toronto.

“We're really excited to add him here to our, hopefully, to our mid-six, top-six group here," Allvin said. "A guy that’s really good on the (penalty kill) and good on the power play, hopefully, too here.”

Vancouver further bolstered its forward ranks by signing forward Joshua on a two-year contract.

The 26-year-old from Dearborn, Mich., had eight points (three goals, five assists) and 16 penalty minutes in 30 games for the St. Louis Blues last season.

One player who didn't move Wednesday is J.T. Miller.

The feisty 29-year-old forward led the Canucks in scoring with 99 points (32 goals, 67 assists) last season but is set to become an unrestricted agent following the 2022-23 campaign.

"There's been teams, you know, kicking tires, checking in. It hasn't gotten much further than that," Allvin said of rumours that Miller is on the trade block.

"We're really excited to have J.T. here for another year. I believe he's excited and ready to come back.

"And hey, who knows? Anything can happen here over the next couple of weeks, months. But we're happy to have him back.”

Vancouver is still looking to improve its defence, Allvin said, but the front office didn't see much on the market Wednesday that fit with the club's needs and cap constraints.

The Canucks aren't eager to part with picks or prospects, the GM added.

“I didn't feel that we needed to rush into something here and then take other options away from us leading up to training camp," he said.

The Canucks did sign one defenceman on Wednesday, bringing in Wyatt Kalynuk on a one-year, two-way deal.

The 24-year-old hails from Brandon, Man., and has amassed nine points (four goals, five assists) in 26 games for the Chicago Blackhawks over the past two seasons.

Former Blackhawks goalie Collin Delia also inked a one-year deal with Vancouver.

Delia, 28, struggled in Chicago's net last season, going 1-4-1 with a 3.85 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. The six-foot-two, 208-pound netminder fared better with the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs with a 11-9-2 record, a 3.04 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.

The Canucks kicked off free agency by officially signing 26-year-old Russian forward Andrei Kuzmenko to a one-year, entry-level contract.

Kuzmenko reportedly visited a handful of teams interested in his services before deciding to join the Canucks last month.

He comes to Vancouver after putting up 52 points (20 goals, 33 assists) and 10 penalty minutes in 45 games with St. Petersburg SKA in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) last season.

The five-foot-11, 194-pound forward has played 37 games for Russia on the international stage, tallying 16 points (10 goals, six assists).

The opening of free agency Wednesday was difficult to predict because of the flat salary cap, Allvin said.

"And now, 32 teams in the league, too, you obviously need cap space in order to improve your team," he said. "So we're excited. We're happy that we're able to add those players here to our team.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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