CSNWashington.com Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley will evaluate the 2013-14 performance of each player on the Caps roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in alphabetical order. Today: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Position: Center/Left Wing/Right Wing
Age: 21 [turns 22 May 19]
Ht/Wt: 6-0, 172
Penalty minutes: 6
Average Ice Time: 13:28
Contract Status: 1 year remaining on 2-year, $5.65 million contract [$900,000 cap hit in 2014-15 with $2.85 million in performance bonuses]
Strengths: Despite never playing a game in the NHL, Kuznetsov showed an offensive flair and a willingness to learn the game in all three zones during his one-month stay under coach Adam Oates. Kuznetsov began his NHL career on the Caps’ fourth line but showed quickly that he possesses top-six skills. It will be interesting to see if he develops into a playmaker or goal scorer at the NHL level. He’s also a weapon in shootouts, where he went 3-for-6 this season.
Weaknesses: Kuznetsov is still unfamiliar with the NHL game and there were times he looked lost on the ice, roaming into areas that left the Capitals vulnerable defensively. He said the pace and physical nature of the NHL game was far greater than what he experienced in the Kontinental Hockey League but he did not shy away from physical contact and seems perfectly capable of handling big minutes.
Memorable Moment: On March 14, in just his third NHL game, Kuznetsov became the first Capitals rookie since Nicklas Backstrom to record three assists in one game in a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Kuznetsov’s second assist was a beauty. On a 2-on-1 with Tom Wilson, he froze goalie Eddie Lack by faking a shot and dishing a pass to Wilson for a one-timer.
Quotable: “I had a lot of messages. All my friends. My momma and poppa, they cry I think. They were all excited.” – Kuznetsov on recording his first three NHL points, all assists, on March 14
2014-15 Expectations: There is still a learning process when it comes to adapting to the smaller rinks of North America, but Kuznetsov appears capable of putting up significant offensive numbers next season. Much of that production is dependent on how the new Capitals coach intends to use him. Does he go back to his natural off wing and play the right side, with Alex Ovechkin moving from right to left? Is he a top-line center? A second-line center? Depending on how Kuznetsov is used it’s not a stretch to think he could score 25 goals and pick up 40 assists in his first full NHL season.