Believe it or not, summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 hockey season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today's topic: What can we reasonably expect from Evgeny Kuznetsov this season?
Andrew: Evgeny Kuznetsov wasn’t moved as some Capitals fans wanted/expected this offseason. That could’ve been due to the fact that he’s currently valued at pennies on the dollar, or that he’s a talented player the Capitals still can extract value from.
Kuznetsov, in a year marred by two trips to the COVID-19 list, still scored 0.71 points per game last season. Those players don’t grow on trees just anywhere and are certainly not cheap to try to replace.
I think with a more defensively responsible and play-driving player like Anthony Mantha on his wing, he can settle into a nice role where he’s used in optimal offensive situations like coach Peter Laviolette did last year. Kuznetsov took a whopping 74.46% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone, and I would expect him to be at the top of that once again.
I also think his success is partially dependent upon Nicklas Backstrom's success. If Backstrom can keep up as a top-line level center, then the pressure isn't solely on Kuznetsov to be the best center on the roster. If teams don't worry about Backstrom, then Kuznetsov will face tougher defensive pairs.
With a good supporting cast on his wings, I think Kuznetsov can be about a 55-60 point player with decent (albeit a tad skewed) underlying metrics. That’s certainly good enough for the Capitals as they look to bring him back to his elite level of play from a few years ago. Anything else would be an extra bonus.
JJ: This becomes a question that gets asked heading into every season as if we don't know the type of player Evgeny Kuznetsov is. In truth, we know exactly the kind of player he is.
You may think Kuznetsov is inconsistent, but he's not from season to season. Here is a look at his rate of production per 60 minutes in each of the past five seasons.
2016-17: 0.8 goals, 1.7 assists, 2.5 points
2017-18: 1.1 goals, 2.3 assists, 3.4 points
2018-19: 0.9 goals, 2.1 assists, 3.0 points
2019-20: 1.0 goals, 1.8 assists, 2.8 points
2021: 0.8 goals, 1.8 assists, 2.6 points
We have been waiting for 2018 Kuznetsov, the Kuznetsov who scored 32 points in 24 postseason games, to reemerge and dominate the league. But I look at his numbers and his play the last few years and I don't think he has underachieved, I think that 2017-18 was the anomaly.
As great as 2018 was, if that was the level to which Kuznetsov was able to play on a consistent basis, we would see that reflected more than once every five years. It's the other four years that we should focus on because that's the real Kuznetsov.
So, for me, this question is simple. Kuznetsov is going to play like the best player in the world in limited moments, but for the most part, he will perform like a 1st/2nd line center. In terms of production, we should expect him to score in the range of 0.8 to 1.0 goals, 1.7 to 2.1 assists (probably closer to a 1.7 to 1.8 range) and 2.5 to 3.0 points all per 60 minutes. The 2019-20 season appears to be a good comparison in which he scored 19 goals, 33 assists and 52 points. That's about what I would expect in 2021-22.