A little more than a year ago the Capitals learned they would need to wait another two years for their top prospect, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, to leave Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League and finally join the NHL.
That hasn’t changed, but the Caps are holding out hope they’ll see Kuznetsov in a Capitals uniform near the end of next season.
“He’s finished the first year of a two-year deal,” Capitals general manager George McPhee told reporters last week. “Maybe we’ll see him after his [2013-14] season’s over. … I’m not sure how that’s going to go. There will be some discussions next year. But that’s our understanding, yes, that he intends to play here.”
Kuznetsov, who turned 21 on Sunday, recorded 19 goals and 25 assists for 44 points in 51 games for Traktor during the regular season and another five goals and six assists in 25 playoff games. He recorded 224 shots on goal and was a minus-1 during the regular season and had 82 shots on goal a minus-5 in the playoffs.
Taken by the Capitals in the first round of the 2010 NHL draft [26th overall] Kuznetsov shoots left and can play both left wing and center. He likely would be slotted as a second-line forward in the NHL, with the potential of moving onto a top line.
That could factor into the team’s decision over whether to re-sign center Mike Ribeiro to a lengthy contract extension. Ribeiro, 33, is seeking a new contract of at least four years.
McPhee said Kuznetsov’s 2014 arrival will “not necessarily” impact his negotiations with Ribeiro or his plans to replace Ribeiro if he is not re-signed by the Caps this summer.
“The objective is to put the best team we can on the ice this summer,” McPhee said. “Whether [Kuzenetsov] is coming later or not isn’t going to affect that. It’s never a problem having too many good players.”
Earlier this season, McPhee said he likes having the option of having forwards who can play both wing and center.
“[Kuznetsov] was a terrific center as a junior and if a guy can show you that he plays center, you try him at center,” McPhee said. “It looks like he’ll be a pretty dynamic, playmaking center. … It’s OK to have centers who you can move to the wing if necessary. It’s nice to have that situation. We’ve got it with Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson.
“You can always move people to the wing. You can’t move them from wing to center if they don’t know how to play center.”