Throughout the coming weeks, CSNWashington.com 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
Age: 23 [turns 24 May 19]
Ht/Wt: 6-2, 204
Penalty minutes: 24
Average Ice Time: 13:19
Playoff games: 14
Penalty minutes: 8
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.