Photo Credit: Dinamo Minsk
Dmitri Kuzmin is a 2021 NHL Draft eligible left handed defenseman, who hails from Kholstovo, Belarus. For those unfamiliar with Kholstovo, it is a small town that sits between Mogilev, Belarus and Babruysk, Belarus.
Kuzmin plays for Dinamo-Molodechno (Belarusian Extraleague), which is an affiliate of HC Dinamo Minsk (KHL). This past season (2020-2021), Kuzmin recorded three goals and nine assists in 46 games for Dinamo-Molodechno. In addition, he played in six playoff games, in which he tallied three goals and an assist. Most recently, he played in seven playoff games for Minskie Zubry (Belarus Vysshaya Liga, the junior developmental league for the Belarusian Extraleague) and netted five points in seven matches.
In addition to his league play, he represented Belarus at the international stage at the 2021 IIHF U18 World Championships in Texas. He had tallied one goal and four assists in five games. Kuzmin’s teammate (on both Belarus U18 and Dinamo-Molodechno), Danila Klimovich (2021 NHL Draft eligible prospect) led the Belarusian squad in total points, but Kuzmin was the second highest.
Even though Kuzmin played in Belarus this past season, his intent was to play in the OHL for the Flint Firebirds. Kuzmin had been selected by Flint in the 2020 CHL Import Draft and signed his letter of intent to join the Firebirds. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the OHL didn’t have a season and Kuzmin stayed in Belarus.
Kuzmin is represented by Daniel Milstein and his team at Gold Star Sports Management Group. Gold Star represents quite a bit of Russian, Belarusian, Latvian and Ukrainian talent. Alongside Kuzmin, the agency represents quite a few 2021 NHL Draft eligible prospects including Semyon Vyazovoy, Vsevolod Skotnikov, Pavel Tyutnev, Nikita Chibrikov, Danil Chayka and Vsevolod Gaidamak.
D.O.B – April 23, 2003
Nationality – Belarus
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –176 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left
Kuzmin’s Style Of Play
Dinamo-Molodechno has featured Kuzmin at both left defense and right defense. Throughout a few of Dinamo-Molodechno’s games, head coach Konstantin Koltsov has opted to play Kuzmin on his wrong side with Nikolai Stasenko. Kuzmin fit well with Stasenko and performed well on his wrong side. Now, I’m not saying that he would perform well on his wrong side at the NHL or AHL level, but it is worth noting that he does have experience on his wrong side. So, I urge you not to envision the next Alec Martinez or T.J. Brodie. But, with that being said, I would definitely be interested to see if Kuzmin could successfully play on his wrong side in the NHL/AHL and provide his future club with a versatile defender.
In the defensive zone, Kuzmin is an excellent slot defender. He will bend his knees and widen at the perimeter. Then, he will utilize an active stick to keep the attack out of the slot and he will look for optimal moments to attempt a poke check. Not only does Kuzmin utilize an active stick to keep the attack in low danger, but he will also use an active stick to cut down open lanes. His active stick will also come in handy behind the red line as he looks to trap attackers in the corners and low danger. Kuzmin will use just one hand on his stick and wave it to the right or left side depending on the attacker’s movements.
From a positioning perspective, he displays quality positioning along the red line when the puck is behind the net. If puck movement shifts to the corner (on the side that he is defending). he will shift over to the corner and apply quality pressure. When the puck has moved to the other corner, he will sit along the red line at net-front and patrol.
Aside from defending the slot and the corners, Kuzmin will be a tad inconsistent when defending the half-wall. There are shifts where he tends to be a bit a more attentive and others where he is more laid back and observing play from afar. His gap control is strong down low, but he should look to apply the same gap control pressure along the boards.
When defending two-on-one situations, Kuzmin will look to prone. Unfortunately, this leaves his goaltender in a very vulnerable spot. When you prone in the middle of the two-on-one, the defender (in this case, Kuzmin) cuts the open passing lane for the moment, but as long as the puck carrier has solid stick-handling, they can avoid the defender and find their teammate with ease.
Kuzmin has shown that he can generate good speed when hunting after defensive recoveries. He will either lean on his crossovers to generate the necessary acceleration or utilize two power stride extensions and then quickly shorten his extensions when he gets to the puck.
When controlling the puck in the defensive zone, Kuzmin has illustrated that he can control the tempo well. He will drop back behind his own net rather consistently, to quiet the momentum and control the pace. When he is ready to complete a breakout pass attempt, he is an extremely effective passer when he isn’t facing a tough forecheck. His passing completion rates when facing the forecheck seem to be 50-50. But, with that being said, Kuzmin will find ways to dodge the forecheck and instill a successful breakout pass. For instance when there is a forward shift change, he will fall back a tad, lure the forechecker in and thus that frees up a decent amount of open ice for one of his forward teammates that comes off the bench. At that point, Kuzmin has freed up his teammate from the forecheck, so then Kuzmin will complete a tape-to-tape feed to the teammate to kick off the rush.
Kuzmin tends to prefer to create zone exit passes when looking to start up the rush. But, we noticed that Kuzmin preferred to complete controlled zone-to-zone transitions when playing in the IIHF U18 World Championships which is a change of pace for the Belarusian defender. When he completes controlled zone entries into the offensive zone, I’ve noticed that he will deploy non-dominant hand stick-handling to bypass pressure in the neutral zone. While that has been a change in his play overseas, when home in Belarus, he tends to look to complete stretch passes and he can dodge pressure on occasion by playing the puck closer to the boards to draw the attacker to the boards before moving the puck to his left side to complete a zone exit pass. At that point, he’s created enough space for himself as the attacker is closer to the boards and isn’t blocking a passing lane.
When Kuzmin is defending in the neutral zone, he likes to keep a close eye on the boards and if there is an attacker along the boards with the puck, he will draw in, lower his body and use an active stick to force the attacker to dump the puck. While he does put pressure on the attacker in those situations, it doesn’t seem to be consistent for Kuzmin. There are shifts where he will sit at his own blue-line and play the wait and see approach.
If the attacker is at open ice and clearly looking to put on the jets to get to net-front, Kuzmin will adapt his speed on the fly and stay toe-to-toe with the attacker to implement man-to-man defensive measures.
The two areas in his transitional play that I would like to see further developed is his stretch passing accuracy and asserting more pressure in the neutral zone. His stretch passing accuracy is rather inconsistent and as mentioned above he doesn’t apply the same defensive pressure every shift.
Tony Ferrari of Dobber Prospects said it best when talking about Kuzmin in Dobber’s profile. Ferrari stated, “The young defender is extremely mobile and works off his edges with incredible efficiency. He changes speeds well and attacks in all three zones.”
If there is one takeaway with Kuzmin from a skating perspective it is that he can generate quality acceleration with his crossovers and can adjust his speed on the fly with ease. In the defensive zone, he will widen his skate extensions on a dime to help enable defensive recoveries. His skate extensions are also supported by quality ankle flexion. Kuzmin’s knees will sit on top of his toes and thus he can generate a sound stride.
When in transition, we don’t see Kuzmin deploying a quick stride. Instead, when controlling the puck from zone-to-zone, he prefers to weave around and by going slower, he can shift lanes if the attack seems to switch placement.
Along the offensive blue-line, you will notice that he will implement crossovers to allow him to walk the line when running the power play. When looking to stop moving laterally once he’s identified the passing lane that he wants to use, Kuzmin tends to a deploy a T-stop.
There is a lot to diagnose with Kuzmin’s offensive play. Since, the “pros” significantly outweigh the “cons”. Let’s kick things off with the “cons”.
When Kuzmin enters into the offensive zone with possession of the puck, there are many shifts where he struggles to gain ground in the offensive zone and fails to out-work the attack. Unfortunately, he will cough up the puck and thus ending the offensive attack. Kuzmin struggles to stick-handle around the attack and find open ice to set up an offensive cycle. But, that only tends to become a problem for Kuzmin when he immediately tries to pinch from the moment that the carries the puck into the zone.
The only other “cons” is that Kuzmin will sometimes struggle with pass completion rates and shot selection. Using InStat Hockey’s data from this season, I noticed that 45.3% of Kuzmin’s shots from the point were blocked shots. Kuzmin just has a tendency to fire shots from the point at will even if there is an attacker directly in front of him. From a passing perspective, he will struggle with taking the time to assess where exactly his teammates are. So, you will sometimes see Kuzmin attempt passes and they will end up in his attacker’s lap.
While Kuzmin does struggle at times when passing in the offensive zone, he is still a very reliable puck distributor. He has the most success when walking the line on the power play. Kuzmin will open up passing lanes by identifying the forward that he wants to pass to and then shifting over towards to the centered most point of the blue-line. This lures the attackers to follow Kuzmin rather than establish presence and cut down passing lanes. Once Kuzmin has shifted over and lured the attacker with him, he will then execute passes to his forward through an open lane. In the clip below, you can see Kuzmin (#5) walking the line, bringing the attacker with him and it frees up a passing lane.
Kuzmin also has proven that he has other methods of puck manipulation at his disposal. For instance, take a look at the clip below. By staying glued to one spot along the blue-line, he lures attackers to him. He will also place the puck towards his left side alongside the boards which lures the attacker to play the boards, but then frees up ice toward Kuzmin’s right side. At that point, he has enough open ice to fire a diagonal saucer pass to his teammate, who is coming into the offensive zone at full steam.
When it comes to goal scoring and non power play production, Kuzmin enjoys pinching up and being part of the offensive scheme down low. In fact, none of Kuzmin’s four goals (league play and international play) from this year came from the point. With that being said, Kuzmin will pinch up to create dangerous pass attempts and he will play the puck behind the net quite frequently. He’s been extremely effective behind the net and THREE of his four goals have been Michigan/lacrosse-style goals.
You are looking at a third pairing defenseman, who can be an effective power play quarterback on a secondary unit.
Other Kuzmin Content To Check Out
Friend of the site, Will Scouch took a look at Dmitri Kuzmin in a recent Scouching video report. For those unfamiliar with Scouch’s work, he does data tracking for NHL Draft eligible prospects and incorporates his data tracking into his videos.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
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