The Vancouver Canucks currently find themselves just a single point out of a playoff berth, despite expectations that had the club performing much worse. In fact, it appears they may be headed towards a finish that finds them outside the post-season, but also looking from the outside of high draft positioning. Should anyone have reason for hope and optimism around the Canucks these days, considering “team tank”, nor the other side appear to be getting what they want? Yes, because their “success” has come on the back of some of their rising stars. Among the most notable in that group is hulking Russian defenseman Nikita Tryamkin.
The Rise of Nikita Tryamkin
Tryamkin, who came over the from the KHL, made his NHL debut late in 2015-16. Despite an apparent lack of confidence and some footwork that could use improvement, he showed that the potential was there for an effective NHL career. However, complications arose as the 2016-17 campaign was set to begin, as Tryamkin could not be sent down to the American Hockey League dye to contractual reasons. The coaching staff appeared adamant about his fitness level not being to a high enough standard. Tryamkin, a 3rd round pick in 2014, started the season in the press box, but got a chance when injuries started hitting the Canucks blue line fast and furious. Since then, he hasn’t looked back, and is now second only to Aaron Ekblad in games played on defense from his draft class.
The development of Tryamkin has been startling to watch. His skating, pegged as a serious concern coming into the year, has been polished up, and has helped the 22-year old become a puck moving threat. Despite his towering stature, his ability to move with confidence through the defensive zone and make crisp first passes makes for both effective and entertaining hockey. Additional nuances, such as his capacity in skating backward, as well as executing sharp turns, have been additional tools added to the defenders repertoire of late.
His outstanding skating abilities have only further highlighted strengths widely known regarding Tryamkin. His physical play, an aspect many were calling on him to further utilize, has resulted in many a highlight reel plays. Over the past several weeks, the 6’7″ Tryamkin has unleashed thundering checks on a multitude of players, including a trio of impact hits against the Nashville Predators. It appears he is finally putting his size to use, and becoming the most intimidating physical presence boasted by the Vancouver blue line in years. His team leading 100 hits is 17 higher than second place (Luca Sbisa). Meanwhile his 2.5 hits-per-game is the runaway leader, with Sbisa again second at 1.7 per game.
Another component of his game that has been widely revered is his defensive awareness, and specifically his ability to break up the cycle. Using his long reach, Tryamkin has become a force in disturbing opposition passing, as well as keeping shots to the outside. In addition, he ranks fourth on the club in blocked shots with 51, trailing Alex Edler (78), Sbisa (73) and Ben Hutton (66). While there is still room for improvement on the defensive side of the puck, there is also much to be admired.
Should he keep on his current track of development, it’s very possible that he could develop into a high-end shutdown defender. Additionally, Tryamkin has established himself as a reliable possession player, trailing only Troy Stecher in CorsiFor% (48.93%) and leading in FenwickFor% with 48.85% among everyday defenders for the Canucks. While it’s unfair to compare him, as many have, to Boston Bruins star Zdeno Chara, the defensive nuances and similarities are evident. While chances are he won’t become a Chara clone, the two do put forward similar playing styles.
Coming into the season, Tryamkin was pegged as a huge question mark on the roster. These days, he has become an integral part of an often-decimated defense. Is there still work to be done? Absolutely. Particularly in regards to consistency in positioning, and enhancing offensive contributions (he has just one goal and five points in 40 games on the season). That said, there’s still more to like than dislike about the rookie defender. And moving forward, it looks like he could become a core player for the Canucks’ blue line.