For quite some time now, ever since I saw Evgeny Kuznetsov play in the 2011 and 2012 world juniors, he’s been my favorite player. I’ve been waiting, and waiting for this guy to get to North America, and now that he’s here, he has really come to a player of his own, and a reason why Washington is once again, one of the elite teams in the NHL.
Kuznetsov amazed when I saw him play in both world juniors, Buffalo in 2011, and Calgary/Edmonton in 2012. Every single game, he dominated offensively leading Russia to a gold medal in 2011, and silver in 2012, where he later won player of the tournament. What made me write about the Russian superstar, was the spectacular article that he wrote about his journey to the NHL, and how Hockey is played in Russia. But when I watched him play against the Sabres this past March break, he was dynamite. Every shift, he made a play. The Caps ended winning, and Evgeny had a goal and the shootout winner.
Kuznetsov was drafted 26th overall in 2010’s draft, very late due to the fact of the “Russian Factor”. A lot of NHL teams were passing up Kuznetsov because of the question whether he would come to North America or not. The Capitals GM at the time George MacPhee saw this as a high-risk, high-reward pick and took the chance. It paid off for sure. After the two brilliant performances at the world juniors, Kuznetsov solidified himself as the best Prospect in whole world.
Although it did take him a while to get to North America. It wasn’t until March 2014 where he finally signed his entry-level contract with Washington, and after the short stint he ended up with 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists), in 17 games. His first full-season in North America was pretty good, where he got 37 points in 80 games. But in last season’s playoffs is where he finally got comfortable. In game 5 of the first round against the Islanders, Kuznetsov notched 2 goals and 1 assist, and more importantly in game 7 scored the game-winning goal to get the Caps to the next round. He ended the great playoff run with 7 points.
Kuznetsov this year has been a godsend for Washington this season. Centering the second line for the Red and blue, Kuznetsov helps relieve the pressure off of Ovi and Nik Backstrom with his ability in the offensive zone. Evgeny is nearly a point a game player with 48 points (15 goals, 33 assists) in 46 games. He is currently on pace for 27 goals and 53 assists (80 points) with no signs of stopping. I’m excited to see where Kuznetsov and the Capitals will go this year.