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End of season review: Evgeny Kuznetsov


End of season review: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Throughout the coming weeks, Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley will evaluate the 2014-15 performance of each player on the Caps roster. One breakdown will occur every day in alphabetical order. Today: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Position: Center

Shoots: Left

Age: 23 [turns 24 May 19]

Ht/Wt: 6-2, 204

Games: 80

Goals: 11

Assists: 26

Points: 37

Penalty minutes: 24

Plus-Minus: Plus-10

Average Ice Time: 13:19

Playoff games: 14

Goals: 5

Assists: 2

Points: 7

Penalty minutes: 8

Plus-Minus: Plus-4

Average Ice Time: 16:37

Contract Status: RFA [2014-15 salary: $900,000 ($2.85 million in incentives); cap hit: $900,000]

Strengths: Blessed with excellent vision, speed and durability, Kuznetsov proved to be worth the wait. Taken by the Caps with the 26th overall pick of the 2010 NHL draft, Kuznetsov was passed over by many NHL teams because they were unsure whether he would leave Russia. It took four years to get him to Washington but Kuznetsov flourished in his first full season with the Caps, emerging from his role as a fourth-line center into a bona fide second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom. Kuznetsov began the season with two goals in his first 23 games and was made a healthy scratch in two more. But when Barry Trotz put Kuznetsov back into the lineup on Dec. 6 he responded with a goal and two assists in his next three games and closed the season with 13 points [5 goals, 8 assists] in his final 17 games of the season. Kuznetsov hit another level in the playoffs, tying Alex Ovechkin for the team lead with five goals and finishing tied for fourth on the club with seven points. Kuznetsov proved in the playoffs that he could take a hit to make a play and gained enough trust in Trotz to play 20:55 in the Caps’ season-ending Game 7 loss to the Rangers.

Room for improvement: It took a while for him to fully grasp his defensive assignments, but once he did Kuznetsov was just as good without the puck as he was while carrying it. Because of his ability to shield the puck  and beat opponents one-on-one, Kuznetsov at times is guilty of trying to create something out of nothing, which can lead to offensive zone turnovers. His biggest challenge heading into his second full season will be building off his strong rookie season and playing consistently dominant hockey for 82 games.

Memorable Moment: Kuznetsov’s two-goal, one assist performance in Game 3 against the Islanders was impressive, but the game-winning goal he scored in Game 7 was an absolute thing of beauty. Kuznetsov spun away from Frans Nielsen at the right wing boards and cruised through the slot, drawing goalie Jaroslav Halak with him like a magnet before ripping a shot into the top half of the net with 7:18 remaining in the third period.

Quotable: “I say if you don’t have a problem in your life, with your family and your wife and your parents, you have a chance to focus on the game and practice with your whole 100 [percent] energy. That moment is very important to a hockey player.” – Kuznetsov on breakup day

2015-16 Expectations: With a full season at second-line center and loads of power-play opportunities, Kuznetsov is capable of doubling his goal total to 22 and should be aiming for 60 or more points. He’s good enough to reach both marks and if the Caps pay him second-line money this summer [north of $3 million] they’ll expect those numbers as well. 

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.


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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?


Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will the Caps look different under new head coach Todd Reirden?

Tarik: It’s an important topic, but let’s not overthink this one. Since winning the Stanley Cup on June 7, the organization has pretty much telegraphed EXACTLY what it hopes will occur in 2018-19. Consider:

  • Todd Reirden was promoted after spending four years as Barry Trotz’s assistant, including the last two years as an associate coach with an expanded role. Reirden already knows everyone, from the players to the trainers and other support staff. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. There’s a built-in comfort level and trust that should allow everyone to hit the ground running in September.
  • Four of Reirden’s assistants are holdovers, too. The one newcomer, Reid Cashman, is joining the group from Hershey and is a Reirden disciple. So, no adjustment period there, either.
  • Assuming restricted free agent Tom Wilson re-ups (and that would seem to be a very safe assumption), the Caps are bringing back 11 of the 12 forwards that were on the ice for Game 5 in Las Vegas. They’re also bringing back five of six defensemen. And the starting goaltender. Chemistry is a hard thing to explain and/or quantify. But you know when a team has it. And the Caps had it at the end of last year.

So if you look at what GM Brian MacLellan has been doing in recent weeks—and have been listening to what Reirden has been saying publicly—you can only come to one conclusion. The decision-makers feel they discovered the right mix of personnel and systems play at the end of the playoffs, from the defensive structure to special teams. In fact, they were first in goals per game, second-best on the power play and the fourth stingiest team in the postseason.

“Many of my [philosophies] were involved in how we were going to play, how our team was going to look, the identity that we had,” Reirden said on The Junkies recently, referring to last year’s game plan. “So, from a systems standpoint, I would say not much is going to change, at least initially, just because it seemed to work. …You’ll see much of the same.”

That doesn’t mean Reirden won’t make adjustments. He will because he’ll have to over the course of an 82-game regular season and, hopefully, another long postseason run. But it does underscore the fact that the foundation upon on which last year’s championship team was built is going to look awfully familiar. And that's clearly by design.

JJ:  The message from the Caps ever since Reirden was promoted to head coach has been one of consistency as they try to make a seamless transition to the new head coach. In that sense, we probably won't see many changes at all to start the season.

The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup and general manager Brian MacLellan worked to bring almost the exact same roster back for next season. Coming into the locker room saying there's a new sheriff in town and making drastic changes is not the way to go here

But that doesn't mean Reirden will do things the same way.

Reirden has coached at the college, AHL and NHL level. He has seen firsthand how Dan Bylsma won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Trotz did it in Washington. He also saw what didn't work.

Reirden got to this point by developing relationships with the players. He is much more of a players' coach than Trotz and that will be evident in training camp. I also expect there will be a much greater emphasis on development. Trotz famously said to the media that the NHL was not a development league, but a performance league. I expect Reirden to take a different approach.

After failing to win with veteran-laden teams, the Caps finally hoisted the Cup last season after getting significant contributions from young prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Like it or not, the Caps' core will not last forever. Every year those players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson get another year older. I do not believe a coach who is as good at reaching players and developing them as Reirden is will be quite as reluctant to reach down onto the farm and sprinkle youth throughout his lineup whenever the team needs a spark.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of Reirden's new assistant coaches this year will be Reid Cashman, promoted from being an assistant with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. This is all good news for players like Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, the team's three best defensive prospects who are hoping to have an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. The Caps roster is pretty loaded, but at the very least you can expect Reirden to have a hand in helping those players along at training camp.

Ultimately, the product on the ice is going to look almost exactly the same at the start of the season with the biggest changes coming off the ice. We won't see who Reirden is as an NHL coach, however, until we let the full 82-game season play out.