KHL Teams Pluck Nikita Tryamkin, Philip Larsen From Vancouver

KHL Teams Pluck Nikita Tryamkin, Philip Larsen From Vancouver
Photo: © Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
The lowly Vancouver Canucks became the NHL's first victims of Russia's top hockey league in free agency this season as Nikita Tryamkin and Philip Larsen signed deals with a pair of KHL teams last week.

Vancouver (30-43-9) had the third-worst goal differential (minus-61) and finished in second-to-last place in 2016-17.

The Canucks have teetered as to whether it should stay the course or opt for a rebuild following their Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Boston Bruins in 2011.

Vancouver has instilled more youth onto its roster in recent years and has developed some promising talent in Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Troy Stecher, and the departed Tryamkin.

Listed at a towering 6-foot-7 and crushing 265 pounds, Tryamkin has shown a knack for using every inch and pound.

The 22-year-old was drafted in the third round in 2014 and skated with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the KHL for the next two seasons. He signed a one-year deal to rejoin Avtomobilist and will have a strong chance to play for Russia in the upcoming Olympics.

The stay-at-home defenseman joined the Canucks for 13 games at the end of 2015-16, recording a goal and an assist. Tryamkin has a lot of mobility for a man of his stature and uses his size and reach well against opponents. 

Tryamkin played in 66 games this season, scoring two goals and nine points with a minus-7 rating. He missed a little bit of time with injury but also found himself a healthy scratch on multiple occasions.

The Russian voiced his displeasure with his lack of playing time -- he averaged just 16:44 per game -- and cracked 20 minutes a total of eight times this season.

"Getting decent playing time. But not for 12 minutes in the game to come out. This I do not want," Tryamkin said in a recent interview with Russian media. "I have experienced these feelings. When you do, I would not get pleasure from the game and (instead) just sit, look, and realize that there's nothing you can do."

Larsen, who signed a two-year contract with Salavat Yulaev, has been a fringe player and saw time in 26 games with Vancouver this season. It was the 27-year-old Swede's first NHL action since the 30 games he played with Edmonton during the 2013-14 season. 

The NHL is likely to see more fringe players sign overseas. Some players will be eyeing Olympic participation after the NHL announced it wouldn't release players to Pyeongchang next year.

A few other players who may opt for the KHL include Andrei Markov, Nail Yakupov, and Alexey Marchenko.

Markov, 38, has spent his entire career with Montreal as a stellar puck-moving defenseman. However, he has become an injury risk and has lost mobility with age. A free agent this summer, Markov could head home to Russia to join a more talent-driven league with less stress on his body.

Yakupov has a long way to go to live up to being drafted first overall in 2012. While he's only 23, the speedy winger hasn't shown a consistent offensive game or an inclination to play both sides of the puck. St. Louis acquired Yakupov prior to the season, and he scored just three goals and nine points in 40 games with the Blues.

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland placed Marchenko on waivers in January, and he was unsurprisingly claimed. Teams love right-shot defensemen, and while he hasn't displayed much of an offensive game, the 24-year-old had shown a steadiness on Detroit's blue line for the past several seasons. After being claimed, Marchenko played in only 11 games with his new club and was often scratched. 

On the other end of the rink, the annual rumor of Ilya Kovalchuk wanting to return to the NHL is back. Kovalchuk, 34, recorded 417 goals and 816 points in 816 NHL games split between the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils.

The immensely talented winger just won his second Gagarin Cup with the KHL's SKA St. Petersburg. 

The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is just starting, but an interesting offseason awaits with the ensuing expansion draft, threat of KHL contracts, and a mild free-agent class.

Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.
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