If Evgeny Kuznetsov can make it through Monday morning’s practice without any serious setbacks, his long-awaited Capitals debut will take place Monday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins [7 p.m., CSN], ending nearly four years of anticipation.
With that in mind, here is a timeline of Kuznetsov’s tenure as one of the Capitals’ brightest prospects:
June 2010: With the 26th pick of the draft the Capitals select the left-handed shooting 18-year-old center/right wing out of Chelyabinsk, Russia.
The Capitals’ scouting staff considered Kuznetsov one of the top three or four talents in the draft and when he was still on the board at No. 26 …
“We said we’ve got to take this guy,” Capitals general manager George McPhee recalled. “He’s that good. We thought we may not see him for a couple years – we didn’t expect it to be four – but it’s hard to find really good players and when you’re sitting there and you have a guy that could go in the top five, you take him.”
At the time, McPhee thought Kuznetsov was good enough to play in the NHL, if not at the age of 18, then certainly a year later.
“And I told him that,” McPhee said. “He mentioned at that time he felt he needed two years in the KHL.”
Summer 2012: Despite efforts by the Caps to sign Kuznetsov to a three-year, entry-level contract worth an estimated $900,000 per season, the 20-year-old forward signs a two-year extension with Chelyabinsk Traktor worth an estimated $5 million per year.
“That,” McPhee recalled, “was hard on us.”
August 2013: As part of a five-day “good will” visit, Capitals Adam Oates flies 3 1/2 hours from Alex Ovechkin’s hometown of Moscow to Kuznetsov’s hometown of Chelyabinsk to meet the young Russian star and his wife, Nastia.
Later, McPhee makes a similar trek to speak with Kuznetsov face-to-face and is assured by the 21-year-old prospect that he will be joining the Caps at the conclusion of Traktor’s season.
“It was authentic,” McPhee recalled. “He said, ‘We’re coming this time,’ and he turned down big money to do it.
“The question was why? Why are you coming now? And he said, ‘Well, the NHL’s the best league in the world and I want to be able to tell my kids some day that I tried it.”
March 4, 2014: Kuznetsov’s team, Traktor, finishes its regular season out of the playoffs and is placed into the Nadezhda Cup [Cup of Hope] playoffs, in which non-playoff teams compete for the right to pick first overall in the upcoming KHL draft.
Although Kuznetsov indicated to the Capitals that he would not play in the Cup of Hope, McPhee was concerned that Traktor would not release him from his KHL contract until it officially expired on May 1.
March 5, 2014: Kuznetsov applies for a U.S. passport.
March 6, 2014: McPhee wakes up to a text from Capitals assistant general manager Don Fishman informing him that Traktor had signed a release from Kuznetsov’s KHL contact.
“That,” McPhee said, “was the first big move.”
March 7, 2014: Kuznetsov’s U.S. passport is delivered to him in Chelyabinsk.
March 8, 2014: Kuznetsov’s flight from Chelyabinsk to Moscow is delayed one hour, but he is still able to make his connection flights to Munich and Washington, arriving at Verizon Center in time to sign his first NHL contract, a two-year deal believed to worth $900,000 this season and $900,000 next season. The contract is signed at approximately 5:45 p.m.
“As I told some of the guys on our staff, it’s kind of like seeing the Loch Ness Monster when he walked in,” McPhee said. “We’ve heard of you, but we haven’t seen you. And there he was.
“I found it hard to believe he was standing there after all this. It’s a pretty neat feeling this kid is in the fold. He’s a pretty darn good player.”
March 9, 2014: With about 50 fans cheering from the bleachers, Kuznetsov dons No. 92 and participates in a 45-minute skate with Adam Oates and conditioning coach Mark Nemish at Capitals Kettler Iceplex, then meets with reporters.
"It's my dream [to] play in NHL," Kuznetsov said. "I'm ready, 100 percent. I want to play."