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Playoff struggles, learning experience could help make Kuznetsov an ‘elite player,’ says Trotz

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Three

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals handles the puck in front of Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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At the age of 23 and in just his second full NHL season, Evgeny Kuznetsov emerged as one of the league’s top point producers. He possesses the skill and potential for even greater things in the seasons ahead.

But after 20 goals and 77 points this season, Kuznetsov’s point production dropped significantly in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. In 12 post-season games, he scored only once and added an assist.

Two days after his Washington Capitals were eliminated in the second round by the Pittsburgh Penguins, head coach Barry Trotz summed up Kuznetsov’s playoff struggles as another learning experience for a young player that, as skilled as he is, is still coming into his own.

“He’s a good player. He stepped up last year. I expected him to -- I think he expected -- to have a little more production,” Trotz told reporters.

“He’s a young player that’s growing. The way he emerged through the regular season, you expect that. Probably, there’s a lot that he learned through that series that will probably, going forward, make him a really elite player and we won’t ever be talking about this ... him not having production in the playoffs.

“There’s certain things you have to go through -- learning curves. This series may be a learning curve.”

Way back in the early portion of the regular season, Trotz lauded the growth of Kuznetsov as a young player with an expanded role, saying his young forward, "...wants to be one of the best guys in the game.” At the time, he was centering the top line with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie.

“He had a really good season, you know, first time really through it where he was a prime guy. Did he run out of gas? We’re asking all those questions,” Trotz continued.

“Mentally, it’s a big change going from part-time player to having good success.”