For nearly four years, Evgeny Kuznetsov spurned the Capitals’ efforts to sign him, opting instead to play for his hometown Chelyabinsk of the KHL. At the time, fans wondered just how much Kuznetsov wanted to leave Russia and begin his NHL career.
Now, with his second full season in the NHL just around the corner and a new baby and new contract in his possession, Kuznetsov appears to be a 23-year-old man willing to plant roots in the nation’s capital.
“I want to stay here, probably my whole career,” Kuznetsov said earlier this week after skating with nearly a dozen teammates. “Why not? My wife likes it here. My parents like it. I like it. It’s a good city and a good hockey team. It’s perfect.”
Less than two weeks after his wife, Nastia, gave birth to their first child, a baby girl named Ecenia, on Memorial Day, Kuznetsov signed a two-year, $6 million contract extension with the Capitals .
“We had a nice conversation, I want to say like friendly, with respect for the Caps and the Caps respect for me,” Kuznetsov said. “We got a deal quickly. That was important to me. I wanted it to be done by July 5, I don’t want to go to arbitration.”
By agreeing to a bridge deal, Kuznetsov will still be a restricted free agent at the conclusion of his new contract, leaving open the possibility of a long-term agreement between him and the Capitals.
“Every hockey player wants long term, right?” he said. “But I think my deal is perfect for both sides right now because I’m young and if I play good we sign a long deal. It’s all about time. I have to show not only one season how I play. I have to play two more years like that and we’ll see.”
After a slow start to last season, Kuznetsov gained a better grasp of his responsibilities under Barry Trotz’s system and he flourished in the final month of the regular season, recording five goals and five assists in the Caps’ final 15 regular season games.
He followed with a strong playoff, adding five goals and two assists in 14 games.
Shortly after the Caps were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, Kuznetsov remained in D.C. and became a father. Since the birth of his daughter, he has been back to Russia just once for a one-week visit. And since he traveled alone, his parents have not yet seen their grand daughter, other than on FaceTime.
“It’s a new life,” he said. “Right now you understand what kind of road your parents had 23 years ago and you start to respect more your parents. Seriously. Sometimes it’s tough, but now you understand.”
Kuznetsov said his parents are due to arrive in Washington in October, when they can hold their grandchild and see their son play in a few NHL games. He said he was asked many questions by his friends and family during his brief stay in Russia this summer, the most often being, “How is America?”
And what does he tell them?
“Everything’s perfect,” he said with a smile. “Don’t watch the news. Everybody respect me and I respect the people. I feel comfortable. I know how you talk with people and people talk to you the same way. If you’re a nice guy everybody talk to you good. Life rules. You have to respect people.”
As a new father, Kuznetsov said he sees life from a different lens. Following his daily workouts at Kettler he returns home to prepare lunch and dinner for his family, while getting as much playtime with Ecenia as possible.
“It’s been lots of fun,” he said. “I spend all of my free time with my daughter. She’s starting to smile. When you start to talk, she smiles. Being a father is cool, it opens up a new life for you.”
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