As part of our summer countdown series, CSNwashington.com Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley breaks down his Top 25 impact players for the Washington Capitals' upcoming 2014-15 season.
No. 7: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Center, Left Wing, Right Wing
2014-15 Salary: $900,000 [$900,000 million cap hit]
2013-14 stats: 17 games, 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points, minus-2, 6 penalty minutes, 13:28 ice time
Projected 2014-15 stats: 75 games, 21 goals, 26 assists, 47 points, even, 40 penalty minutes, 18:10 average ice time
Analysis: One way or another, Evgeny Kuznetsov will make an impact on the Capitals this season. Taken with the 26th overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft, a first round that produced Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, Ryan Johansen and Cam Fowler, Kuznetsov has the maturity and the skill set to join Alex Ovechkin as the only two Capitals to win a Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year. Used primarily on the fourth line last season Kuznetsov quickly earned increased ice time and showed a commitment to two-way hockey, something Barry Trotz will try to accentuate in his first season with him. Kuznetsov has plenty of incentive to make a splash in his first full NHL season. His contract includes $2.85 million in performance bonuses – more than any other player on the Caps roster and tied for most in the NHL. Kuznetsov showed his commitment to the Capitals by arriving in town a full seven weeks prior to training camp with the intent of gaining the strength and stamina necessary to endure an 82-game season. [He’s never played more than 66 games in a single season]. In his brief audition last season Kuznetsov showed incredible vision and creativity as a left wing and will get a look at center under Trotz in training camp as the Caps look for a long-term solution to what has been a trouble spot at second-line center. What makes Kuznetsov valuable is his versatility, which will allow him to move throughout the Caps’ top six forwards while also contributing on their first or second power-play unit. If Kuznetsov can handle the grind of the NHL and create some chemistry with his linemates he could be a real difference maker for the Capitals and put a lot of pressure on opponents who for the past six seasons have focused their energies on slowing Alex Ovechkin and Nickals Backstrom.