The Evgeny Kuzentsov saga seems to have come to an end as the Chelyabinsk, Russia native has finally made his way across the Atlantic Ocean and onto North American soil. After terminating his contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk, (the same club the bred former Caps sniper Alex Semin) and inking his Entry-Level Contract with Capitals GM George McPhee this past Saturday, Kuznetsoz is officially a Washington Capital. And he’s been living up to expectations thus far, posting 4 assists through his first 5 games in America’s capitol. Though he hasn’t scored a goal yet, Kuznetsov has provided a much needed spark to the 17th place Capitals who’ve gone 5-2-0 with him in the lineup, and have won three straight. But can Kuznetsov keep it up, and will he help boost Washington into Stanley Cup Contention?
Evgeny Kuznetsov was drafted 26th overall by Washington in the 2010 Entry Draft, the same year that players like Tyler Seguin, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle were drafted, all of whom have been in the NHL for multiple seasons now. Traditionally, a player signs his Entry-Level deal soon after being drafted, but Kuznetsov opted to return to Russia and play professionally in the KHL. He remained there for the next three seasons, playing for his hometown Traktor Chelyabinsk. The year he was drafted, Kuznetsov dazzled Capitals fans in a summer tournament he played in with other Caps prospects, and then he disappointed them by announcing that they wouldn’t be seeing him in the NHL any time soon when he returned to Chelyabinsk.
Kuznetsov played his first 2 NHL games against the Pittsburg Penguins, one of the Capital’s fiercest rivals. The Caps lost both games, and Kuznetsov went without a point until his third game of the season, when he put up 3 assists en route to a Capitals victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Kuznetsov put up another assist the next game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and was a key part in Washington’s victory over Anaheim on Tuesday.
Considering what Kuznetsov has done in the NHL thus far, and what he’s done in the KHL over the past three seasons, I think it’s safe to say the Kuznetsov will blossom into a great player one day. However, I don’t think Kuznetsov will turn into the second coming of Alexander Ovechkin, as many Caps fans hope he will. Ovechkin is Washington’s Russian, and he proved that throughout his playing career with Alexander Semin, with whom he always seemed to be clashing heads. Kuznetsov will play a similar role to Semins; second fiddle to the Great 8. And if Evgeny Kuznetsov is anything like Alex Semin was, he won’t enjoy that. So don’t expect Kuznetsov to stick around in Washington very often, and he could always return to the KHL. McPhee put it best by saying:”It’s kind of like seeing the Loch Ness Monster when he walked in; we’ve heard of you but we haven’t seen you, and there he was, and I found it hard to believe he was standing there after all this, so it’s a pretty neat feeling this kid’s in the fold. He’s a pretty darn good player.”