Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Andrei Kuchin might be just what John McFarland needs. That is the hope in Sudbury.

Sudbury Wolves president and general manager Blaine Smith relates that the 19-year-old Russian centre, whom he took as a bit of a surprise pick in the Canadian Hockey League import draft, is expected to fill a key slot on the depth chart. Kuchin, who averaged an even point per game last season (20 goals, 56 points in 56 games) for the Chicago Steel of the USHL, should officially join the OHL club by the end of July.

"We were down in Chicago to watch him a couple games and he stood out as a great fit for our organization," Smith says. "Especially if we have him playing with [Florida Panthers second-round choice John McFarland, who could certainly use someone like him to set up and [help him] have a better year.

"He was the top scorer on the Chicago team and that's a pretty good league," Smith, in his first year as GM, says of the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Kuchin. "We're hoping he can do the same thing here."

Kuchin's agent, Scott Deady, has noted "getting the transfer card for Sudbury shouldn’t be a problem" for Kuchin, whose KHL rights are held by Chekhov Vityaz. Deady had initially planned on having Kuchin spend a second season in Chicago on the belief "a commitment to the Steel would help quiet any remaining rumors going into the NHL Draft about him having an attitude problem."

However, the Wolves bit with the 47th overall pick two weeks ago, giving Kuchin a chance to play in the CHL before his final kick at getting drafted.

"We're pretty confident Kuchin will be coming," Smith says. "When we talked to the agent prior to checking the player out, he was already talking to the KHL team that he wanted to play one more year in North America. They didn't think it would be an issue. We'd like to think it is 100 per cent sure he'll come over, but understandably you have to go through the process."

"That's where the agents are a big help," Smith adds. "They can, with their connections, get through to the teams and get the release signed right away."

McFarland's post-draft year will be a main storyline out of Sudbury. The former No. 1 pick in the OHL priority selection, for whatever reasons while playing on a struggling team, put up almost the same numbers in his second season (20 goals, 50 points) as he did as a rookie (21 and 52, in six fewer games no less).

That played a part in McFarland falling out of the first round. He was also not invited to the Canadian world junior summer evaluation camp after being asked to the final camp for the 2010 squad.

Adding Kuchin fits in with the Wolves trying to spark a little hope after an eighth-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season. They had just 20 regulation-time wins in 68 games and scored only 189 goals, hastening a change at the top with Smith becoming GM and 36-year-old Trent Cull coming on as head coach.

The Wolves are one of four Eastern teams with a new coach and/or GM, creating the sense the conference is in a state of flux anywhere outside Mississauga or Ottawa.

"With Trent coming in, we're feeling hopeful," Smith says. "We had a pretty young blueline last year. We have seven returning defencemen and we're pretty set with Alain Valiquette as our overage goaltender."

The Barrie Colts (coach Dale Hawerchuk), Niagara IceDogs (coach-GM Marty Williamson) and Peterborough Petes (coach Mike Pelino and GM Dave Reid) also had off-season shakeups.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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