Nikita Tryamkin deserves an opportunity to prove his worth to the Vancouver Canucks — plain and simple. His previous tenure with the team tantalized observers. His rare combination of size, strength and mobility left Canucks fans in awe of what the then-twenty-two-year-old was capable of becoming. Sportsnet, in 2016, introduced the idea of Tryamkin as “Zdeno Chara 2.0.” At 6’7’’, 250 lbs, he intimidated opponents like few could, and he obliterated numerous victims with his incredible strength.
Elite Prospects provided the following scouting report:
“A colossal defensive defenceman that skates well and understands both sides of the puck. Displays fluid four-way skating ability and backchecks hard. Very proactive stick and adheres to the physical side of the game. Finds lanes and tracks the puck well in his own end, and will pressure the opposition to make hastier decisions. Great vision and willingness to move the puck up-ice quickly. Possesses a very strong shot and natural puck skills. Very good positionally in the offensive end and knows how to hem the opponents in. Excellent board play and always looks to keep opponents to the outside.” - Elite Prospects
Many were shocked, but not surprised when he departed from the Canucks. He believed that he had been misused. He desired more ice time than he received, and so he declined a two-year extension with Vancouver and rejoined his KHL team, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. He explained at the time to Russian reporters, ”Getting decent playing time. But not for 12 minutes in the game to come out. This I do not want... During the season, I was not happy with some of the matches … Sometimes I just do not understand — why?”
Always known to be vocal, he received an “A” as Avtomobilist’s alternate captain for two seasons before being stripped of the honor this past season. Recently, his agent has been adamant that Tryamkin wants nothing more than to return to the Canucks.
The Vancouver Canucks struggled defensively in 2019-20. They bled scoring opportunities and were often rescued by the MVP-like play of Jacob Markstrom. Although the team’s offensive play has improved significantly since Tryamkin last represented the team, they continue to be inept once the opponent begins to carry the puck back up the ice. The organization would be wise, thus, to explore all of its options, including the return of the enigmatic former prospect.
He was not so polarizing as a player for the team. He offered exactly what he was expected to provide. His physicality overwhelmed some opposition players, and yet he could transition the puck through the neutral zone quite confidently and naturally. He has done the same for his KHL team.
Today, we have an opportunity to look at one of Nikita Tryamkin’s most recent performances: Game 4 of the 2020 KHL Quarterfinals against Sibir Novosibirsk on March 8, 2020.
In our footage, we can clearly see that Tryamkin has not lost his physical attributes nor his motor.
He plays an aggressive style, which can be both beneficial and detrimental. He utilizes his strength and his frame to contain the opponent in high-percentage scoring areas. Few of the Canucks’ current defencemen possess this ability. Physicality is a key element of his game, and Nikita Tryamin often seeks to pressure the opponent heavily along the boards as well as clear most traffic in front of the net with his strength. However, at one point in our sample, he lost his coverage of the opposing forward in the crease as he became too fixated on blocking the point man’s shot. The opponent converted the rebound into a goal.
He tends to stray towards the puck’s position on the ice in an effort to engage physically, sometimes even dashing towards the opposite side of the ice to lay a hit against the opponent. In addition, he habitually provides too much space for the opposition to creep into high-percentage areas, though he often scrambles back to recover with a sense of timeliness. He is fortunate to possess a long enough reach to compensate for what many might consider to be miscues. Although he often gambles with the timing of his stick checks, in the footage sample, he mostly succeeded at preventing scoring opportunities for the opponent.
There are instances when he will join the rush and contribute to the team’s forecheck, utilizing a combination of power and aggression to aid his team in the offensive zone. More often than not, though, he remains a defensive presence for his team. This sense of discretion and awareness ensures that he is prepared to confront the opposing attacker and is not caught flat-footed.
At times when he backs away from the offensive zone, he provides ample space for the opponent to approach through the neutral zone before closing his distance as the play reaches the top of the faceoff circles. He relies quite heavily on stick checks to disrupt the puck carrier’s attack and often forces them to remain on the outside. His defensive play can often be scrambly as a result of questionable gap control, and he gives his opponent space as if to bait them. He lacks sound positioning and positional discipline, but utilizes his reflexes, quickness and broad reach to make timely recoveries and to stop his opponent just before they can capitalize on a scoring opportunity.
From a stylistic point of view, he is unorthodox for a defensive defencemen. There are rover elements to his game, and he often gravitates towards wherever the puck happens to be. Sometimes, he will take himself out of position solely to finish his check. If a teammate can sufficiently cover for him, then this will provide a positive boost to his team’s physical element.
One of the more noteworthy faults of his game appears to be his lack of playmaking ability once he enters the offensive zone. His low point totals in the KHL — just two goals and eleven points in 58 games this season, for example — attest to his tendency to remain the team’s defensive consciousness rather than an offensive catalyst. He is unlikely to contribute to his team’s offensive pressure and prefers to lean further back towards the neutral zone in case his team loses possession. Sometimes, he will pinch into the offensive zone to keep a play alive, at which point it is imperative that one of the team’s forwards provides support on the back end.
Despite all of these concerns, he moves rather nimbly for a player of his size, shields the puck well, and can execute clean, simple passes out of his zone. His allure revolves around his physical dominance, relative mobility and ability to make simple plays with the puck. His board work is tremendous.
At the KHL level, he has been a relatively reliable presence for his team with the second-highest plus-minus on the 2019-20 Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg roster. However, one must consider that he is a mobile, physical defenceman whose offensive upside seems limited and whose positioning may be the subject of criticism. He is massive and powerful, but must be utilized with positional support from his teammates.
Nikita Tryamkin provides a different element than any of the Canucks’ current defenders, and he did not look out of place in his previous stint. That alone makes him a worthy blue line experiment. If the team decides once more to offer him an opportunity, then, at the very least, the questions that have swirled over the past four years about him can be answered. Tryamkin, for his part, has contributed to the anticipation of his return with social media presence and occasionally flagrant words. Now would be the proper time for the Canucks and their supporters to conclude, once and for all, if he is worthy of such high esteem.