A finger twirl. An exuberant fist pump. These are becoming commonly associated with Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, a young player who many, organization and fans alike, wondered if they would ever see in D.C.
Low and behold, he has arrived. Literally, he arrived near the end of the Washington Capitals’ disappointing 2013-14 season. He posted three goals and six assists in 17 games with the Caps during that stretch as he adjusted to a new level of the game.
He struggled at times last season, yearning to gain the trust of then first year head coach Barry Trotz. Much like his fellow rookie Andre Burakovsky, they found themselves in the press box on occasion, or somewhere in the bottom six.
Figuratively, Kuznetsov found his way in last year’s postseason, with five goals and two assists through two series’ worth of games. That development exploded entering the current campaign, where the 23-year-old leads his team with 70 points in 69 games.
Not only did Kuznetsov’s overall production skyrocket, he has filled a perennial need for the Washington Capitals in the process. After years of trying to plug the second line center hole, they now have more than they could have bargained for.
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One thing is certain. George McPhee stuck his neck out when he made Kuznetsov the 26th pick at the 2010 NHL draft. Drafting Russian’s is like playing a game of roulette (I’ll spare you the pun) sometimes. Kuznetsov delayed his arrival over and over. At times, it really was fair to wonder whether or not we would ever get to see the celebrations (that put Canadian media up in arms on several occasions) in person.
When he did finally arrive, McPhee likened it to seeing the Loch Ness Monster.
In a way, he was right. Perhaps it was unfair for people to pin their hopes on somebody who had never even appeared in a game for their team. Some people acted as if Kuznetsov was the solution to some of this team’s persistent woes.
As it turns out, he sort of has been. Evgeny Kuznetsov was one of the most highly touted players in his draft year. He dropped because of the uncertainty surrounding whether or not he would come to North America.
There is a certain amount of skepticism as to whether some players from the KHL, no matter how talented, can translate those skills to a completely different style of hockey. Kuznetsov has done that.
There is an argument to be made that he is the best overall player on the Washington Capitals. While the team is fortunate to have several players that could fit that bill, it is Kuznetsov whose consistent play and dazzling moves have put the league on notice. He was rewarded himself with his very first All-Star selection.
Now I refer back to earlier in this article, and preach Barry Trotz for his own patience with Kuznetsov. A player of his pedigree and his hype was expected to be an immediate contributor with his NHL squad.
He was, in a way. But last year he struggled out of the gate at times. Trotz could have lost his patience, and made Kuznetsov an afterthought when he wasn’t producing as expected.
However, Trotz stuck with him. By the time the playoffs came, Kuznetsov was the second-line center that everybody was hoping he would be, and that has more than carried over into this campaign.
The Washington Capitals should be rewarded for their overall patience with Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was always a “potential” star from the minute he was drafted. Now, he is most certainly a star, and the Caps are reaping the benefits, and hopefully will, for years to come.