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The big question

by Dave Tomlinson / Vancouver Canucks
There were many more questions than answers when it was announced two weeks ago that Nikita Tryamkin had signed on with the Vancouver Canucks after his KHL season came to an end.

Was he 6’6”, 6’7” or 6’8”? Did he weigh 230lbs, 240lbs, or gasp, 250lbs? Could he adapt to the North American dimensions of a hockey rink? Could he skate well for a big man?

Day by day, since his arrival Thursday March 10th, we are starting to learn, and see more from this unique and intriguing 3rd round pick from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. We now know he is officially 6’7” and 228lbs, making him one of the biggest Canucks in stature to play for the organization. We also know he is the first Canuck to wear number 88, the same number he wore with his hometown team, Yekaterinburg of the KHL. He bought his way out of the final weeks of his contract for the opportunity not most are afforded, and that is to play a full season in the KHL and then immediately continue playing hockey by jumping into NHL competition. The move so far looks like the right one for the young 21-year-old Russian, and as well for the injury-plagued Canucks.

More ABOUT TOMLINSON

Dave Tomlinson, radio Colour Commentator for the Vancouver Canucks, and analyst of all things hockey.

Follow Tomlinson on Twitter at @DTSN1040

Passed over in his first two years of draft eligibility, Tryamkin (pronounced “Tram-kin”, yup, we learned that too), is the proverbial late bloomer. His point totals and penalty minutes doubled this season over the previous two overseas, but it was always his size and skating that drew attention. This year he made great strides (no pun intended) in his mobility and decision-making, and also added the flexibility of being able to play his off-side as a left shot defenceman playing on the right. And after two full practices and a couple of morning skates with his new club, he finally made his NHL debut last Wednesday against the Avalanche, and picked up his first NHL point as well with an assist on a Henrik Sedin goal after his first shot on net.

So what more is there to be impressed with since his first 12 second NHL shift? For one, his skating comes as advertised as he is very balanced and fluid in stride. Most players over 6’5” have an uncontrolled look to their forward motion, but Tryamkin is much more pulled together and skates with more easiness. His pivots from forward to backward and vice-versa do not involve any stumbles, and he has gained confidence from game to game to react to plays rather than wait.

The biggest thing for me though in watching him play is that his reach, which is by far the longest of any player the Canucks have, is going to become his calling card. Whether he gets beaten wide, or has chased too much on a corner cycle, he is already adept at using his lengthy reach to disrupt plays, and the more he can adjust to the speed of things at the NHL level, the more his reach will not only interrupt plays coming his way, but will create turnovers that allow Canuck forwards to head in the other direction with the puck.

Finally, the one area where I think he will learn the most, and will be tested the most during this “three games in four nights” road-trip, is physical play. So far we’ve seen him knock down players with relative ease, whether it be Andreas Martinsen of the Avs being flinged to the boards behind the Canucks net in Tryamkin’s debut, or Edmonton’s Patrick Maroon coming in second and bouncing to the ice in a collision with Big 88, or how about noted St. Louis hitter David Backes getting crumpled along the side-boards after absorbing a shove to the wall.

Tryamkin has yet to be knocked off his skates during his first three games of his NHL career. And with all the questions that are slowly getting answered along the way, the one question that is still outstanding, is, who exactly can do that to him? Will it be Dustin Byfuglien during the Jets game, a player that can almost match him in size, or does Shea Weber stand a chance when the Canucks are in Nashville, or is it Ryan Reaves challenging the monstrous Russian on the forecheck? Of all the things to watch for during the final weeks of the Canucks season, this one aspect has grabbed my attention, and only time will tell if there is an answer.

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