Yan Kuznetsov makes NHL debut with Calgary Flames

The big blue liner is the sixth Husky to play in the show.

Photo: Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

On Tuesday night, former UConn defenseman Yan Kuznetsov made his NHL debut in the Calgary Flames’ 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. He’s the sixth Husky to appear in an NHL game along with Todd Krygier (1989-98), Cole Schneider (2015-17), Max Letunov (2019-20), Adam Huska (2021-22), and Tage Thompson (2017-present).

Kuznetsov was initially called up to the Flames last Friday but didn’t find his way into the lineup. After being sent back down to the AHL briefly, he returned on Tuesday and played 11:58 while putting two shots on goal — both of which came on his first shift — and finishing with a -1. Before the game, Kuznetsov took a lap by himself on the ice.

“It’s been a long way and it’s always been a goal. It’s pretty amazing, overwhelming at first,” Kuznetsov told reporters pregame. “I’ll just try to enjoy this day as much as I can.”

The first game wasn’t perfect, though. Just over four minutes in, Kuznetsov had a puck ricochet off his knee and into the net to put the Senators up 1-0.

Kuznetsov played at UConn from 2019-21 as a 17- and 18-year-old. The Murmansk, Russia native collected three goals and 14 assists in 50 games with the Huskies. Mike Cavanaugh, Kuznetsov’s former head coach in Storrs, isn’t surprised that he made it to the league.

“He certainly had the size and the strength. He was an excellent skater. Very powerful. Could shoot it a ton. Had good skill,” he said. “I think he just had to mature. I wish we could have kept him here a little bit longer.”

As the coach referenced, Kuznetsov surprised the team by signing with the Flames after his sophomore season at UConn. He split the next season between the AHL and QMJHL before becoming an AHL regular last season.

Still, he’s remembered fondly around campus.

“The two years we had him, he was an exemplary kid,” Cavanaugh said. “Excellent at school — like, he was a 3.5 (GPA) student. A really strong student and coachable kid. So I’m extremely happy for him that he got his opportunity last night.”

Kuznetsov is just one of two Huskies currently in the NHL along with the Buffalo Sabres’ Thompson. The Flames don’t play the Sabres until Mar. 24, but in the chance that Kuznetsov is still up and Thompson is healthy, that would be the first time two UConn players play in the same game at the NHL level.