Vancouver Canucks defenceman Nikita Tryamkin started the 2016-17 season in the press box but quickly developed into an important piece once he got on the ice.
For many fans, Vancouver Canucks defenceman Nikita Tryamkin was nothing more than annoying at the beginning of the season. Management said he wasn’t in NHL shape and he was far from cracking the lineup, but there was nothing they could do about it. Tryamkin has a European assignment clause that allows him to return to Russia if he isn’t a part of the NHL roster — and he was going to do just that when he was asked to join the AHL Utica Comets.
But things have changed.
After missing the first 10 games of the year, Tryamkin joined the lineup and quickly established himself as an important piece on the Canucks blue line.
Now 40 games in, Tryamkin is tied for first among Canucks D-men (with 200+ minutes played) in Corsi-for percentage at 50.4 percent. While some players stand out in just one Corsi category, Tryamkin ranks third on the team in Corsi for per hour and second in Corsi against.
Listed as 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, Tryamkin was mostly expected to be a physical presence, but he is doing a lot more than that.
So, what is it that makes Tryamkin one of Vancouver’s top defencemen right now? Let’s take a look at some game footage from the 3-0 win against the Arizona Coyotes.
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Two-way defencemen are becoming more and more valuable in the modern NHL. You need to be able to move the puck — or you’re out. Yet, a defenceman is still there to play defence, and Tryamkin is doing a terrific job.
In the clip above, the Coyotes have a chance to generate a three-on-one situation, as Tryamkin is still relatively deep in the offensive zone when Arizona gains possession. However, Tryamkin understands the situation quickly, hustling back to turn Arizona’s attack into a four-on-two.
ARI #19 then tries to play a cross-ice pass to ARI #13 that gets past Ben Hutton but is intercepted by Tryamkin. Tryamkin displays strong defensive awareness and positioning that, along with his long reach, allow him to react to this kind of play and force a turnover. With a simple move like that and a little help from Jack Skille, Tryamkin creates a three-on-one attack for Vancouver.
Henrik Sedin loses the face off to ARI #48, allowing the Coyotes to set up an attack. While Vancouver’s forwards are still trying to get into position following the face off, the Coyotes play a pass down the boards and into the corner. ARI #86 tries to play a pass into the slot, where #48 got open for a shot, but can’t get it past Tryamkin.
It is plays like these that look extremely easy but require a lot of skill and high hockey IQ. The puck carrier in the corner has two options: play a pass or try to skate around Tryamkin and behind the net. Before #86 even gets possession, he decides to pass, as you can see in his body positioning and head movement (or lack thereof). Tryamkin quickly reads the play, gets down to his knee, and intercepts the pass, allowing the Canucks to get the puck out of the zone.
Ben Hutton rushes the puck up ice but turns it over at the red line. Tryamkin, the right-side defenceman, rushes over to pressure ARI #48. There, he has two options: get in front of the puck carrier and play passively or attack him aggressively. Tryamkin opts for the latter, but even then, he does not overcommit.
Tryamkin moves slightly in front of ARI #48, but with his stick wide to his right. With that, he can react to the puck carrier’s next move — either skating down the side walls or pulling a quick turn into the middle. ARI #48 decides to turn into the middle, but has no chance to get past Tryamkin, who again profits from his long reach.
What happens next is a typical situation that leads people to saying “Tryamkin has all the tools, but he is still quite raw.” Tryamkin displays strong mobility and quick hands as he turns around and tries to pull behind the net. Technically a good decision and perhaps his only option other than chipping it up the boards, it just didn’t work out.
Speaking of great mobility and puck skills, Tryamkin really has those puck-moving tools NHL coaches want to see from their players.
As Arizona’s forwards are preparing to change, Tryamkin faces just one forechecker. He displays great mobility and awareness as he skates backwards, spins around and carries the puck behind the net, knowing he has the only forechecker beaten.
From there, he has several options. He could pass the puck to either wing, with Alex Burrows open on the strong side and Brendan Gaunce open on the left wing. Or, he could just skate past all opponents and make a controlled entry himself — which is what he did.
The play ended in a must-save situation for the opposing goaltender, an unscreened shot from the blue line. A pass to Bo Horvat on the left wing might have been the better option. However, the play was a great demonstration of Tryamkin’s skill and hockey sense. If he continues to develop the way he has, there is no doubt he could become more of a two-way player instead of a pure stay-at-home defenceman.
Speaking of two-way ability, Tryamkin has also become a valuable player offensively. Not because of his one goal and three assists in 30 games, but because he can get the puck into the offensive zone and keep it there.
The Coyotes gain possession in the neutral zone and try to play a dump-and-chase. However, before ARI #67 can execute the play, Tryamkin reads the situation correctly and pressures his opponent quickly, relying on a forward, Horvat in this case, to drop back.
From there, Tryamkin carries the puck into the offensive zone, protecting it well against Lawson Crouse. At 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, Crouse is a big player himself, but even he fails to stop Tryamkin.
This scene again shows Tryamkin’s hockey sense and skill. Many players would simply try to play the puck deep when they are attacked by an opponent, but Tryamkin sees Burrows skating in and manages to play a behind-the-back pass to create a scoring chance.
Unlike classical stay-at-home defenders, Tryamkin’s defence starts far away from his own net. By playing aggressively in the neutral zone, Tryamkin frequently denies opposing rushes and keeps the puck away from the D-zone. That playing style requires high hockey IQ, which Tryamkin luckily possesses.
In this clip, the Canucks turn the puck over in the offensive zone and the Coyotes try to start a breakout. Tryamkin reads the play and decides to pinch in, knocking the puck loose and keeping it in the offensive zone, creating another scoring chance.
At first, the play seems rather risky. Had Tryamkin missed the puck, the Coyotes would skate at Vancouver’s net in a three-on-one. But would they really? Probably not, as Tryamkin played it smart.
As soon as Tryamkin gets into puck range, his feet turn around. Thanks to his outstanding reach, he can get his stick to the puck even while turning around. Had he missed the puck, he would have been turned around already, allowing him to backcheck right away. A somewhat risky play that gets far less risky when you have a smart player like Tryamkin executing it.
Nikita Tryamkin came to Vancouver in 2016 as a very raw, young player with little to no English knowledge. At the beginning of 2016-17, it looked even worse. That young player still didn’t speak English and couldn’t even play hockey, as he wasn’t in NHL shape.
But, recent games have shown: Tryamkin has come along.
The giant Russian needed some time to adjust in an entirely new environment, and he probably couldn’t be doing much better.
The giant kid who could one day become a third-pairing regular for the Vancouver Canucks has developed much better than many expected. He is now an important core player the Canucks don’t want to miss.