Off the radar: Andrei Kuchin

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

Just three years ago, anyone who didn’t put Andrei Kuchin on their 2009 draft top prospect list would have been thought of as a not well-informed.

Almost any hockey observer knew about a new great player coming from Russia, with great hands, excellent skating and an unchallenged ability to excite the crowd with his speed. Kuchin at the time of the 2005 Tretiak Cup, where he was the best player on ice, was playing for CSKA Moscow, the famous Red Army team. He also was one of the players to watch in the Bauer tournament in 2006, where he led the Bauer Selects with 14 points in eight games. Only Colorado’s Matt Duchene scored more, with 17 points.

Three years later, the perspective has changed a lot. Kuchin isn’t tearing up the NHL stats section for rookies, and he’s no longer considered a can’t-miss NHL star. He wasn’t even drafted and if now he’s pleasing fans in Chicago, it’s not for the Blackhawks, but for the Steel of the USHL.

“I’m here to fulfill my aim – to play in the NHL,” said Kuchin.

And actually he’s trying hard and successfully. He received the offensive player of the week honor on Oct. 5 after posting five assists and six points in two consecutive Steel wins against the USNTDP.

“I’m happy to be here in Chicago. All is going well; the league is high level.”

Moving to America hasn’t been too much of a shock for him. The native of Elektrougli, Russia (30 miles east of Moscow) spent most of his life in Moscow and thus moving to a big city like Chicago isn’t hard.

“It’s not the first time I come to Chicago and America, and thus I’m already familiar with the local style of life," he said. "Local people are really friendly and helpful. Here I live with a family, with a defenseman from my team. He lives with his grandfather and grandmother. The trainings here are shorter than the ones I used to have in Russia, but richer. I still have tough time with English, but I try hard.”

The fact that he’s adapting well can be confirmed by his statistics. The young center is the second leading scorer on his team with an impressive eight assists and one goal in only five games. But these achievements are still a lot less than what people could expect from him while triumphing in the 2006 Bauer Tournament.

After a brilliant junior career within the Red Army junior system, in which he scored 42 goals in 22 games in 2004-05 and 43 in 28 matches the year after, Kuchin moved mysteriously to Vityaz Chekhov during the 2007 offseason. That’s when all the rumors about his bad attitude and frequent problems with coach started. Friction with former Russia-91 national team head coach Vladimir Plyuschev (who now trains the U20 National team) even if never officially confirmed might be an existent problem as Kuchin – despite his talent – spent little time defending Russian colors on the international stage. He spent little time also in the KHL as he played with Vityaz only four games, +8 in the RSL of old during the 2008-09 campaign.

Kuchin played most of the last two years playing for Vityaz junior farm team, helping them to capture the gold medal in the Russian third tier league. But with the pros, he didn’t manage to impress too much as he was scoreless and the rest is history. And he knows that now he has more chances to get into the U20 roster.

“I would be happy to play for my country, of course, but unfortunately it’s not up to me,” he said.

It’s up to Plyuschev’s decisions, who might overlook him once again, probably because of the aforementioned conflict.

Differently from other players, like Moncton Wildcats’ Kirill Kabanov for example, he didn’t leave his team after a quarrel between the parties.

“Vityaz let me go, I’m playing in Chicago on a loan deal,” he explained.

In this aspect his situation reminds of many Russian players who choose the CHL route, just like Alexander Burmistrov and last year Stanislav Galiev, who played in the USHL too. In fact, many Russian players in the last two years have chosen to go to the CHL.

“I can talk only for me. My dream is to play in the NHL. This is why I’m here. In Russia it’s not easy to get a true chance, there is the foreigners fashion now.” 

He might have had an unexpected career flow so far, but for sure Chicago Steel fans are enjoying his presence in the lineup. With his aim the NHL, going this route, he might be successful.