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Evgeny Kuznetsov eager to shoulder more responsibility after signing eight year extension

Evgeny Kuznetsov eager to shoulder more responsibility after signing eight year extension

Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov says he welcomes the pressure that comes along with the eight-year, $62.4 million contract extension that he signed this summer.

The deal carries a cap hit of $7.8 million, which is the second highest on the Caps behind captain Alex Ovechkin. It also ranks as the 11th highest cap hit among all NHL centers.

“I feel more responsibility on me right now,” Kuznetsov said, “and that’s what I need.”

Kuznetsov possesses all of the skills and instincts a team could want in a top-six pivot. The challenge for him, though, has been producing at a clip commensurate with his immense ability for an entire 82-game regular season and the playoffs. For example, last season the 25-year-old started slowly, was named the NHL’s player of the month during a torrid January, cooled off a bit down the stretch, then was the team’s third most productive player in the postseason, racking up five goals and five assists in 13 games.

RELATED: WHY MADISON BOWEY IS SO IMPORTANT TO THE CAPS THIS SEASON

In order to take the next step, he can’t afford sluggish starts and late season lulls.        

“I want the people to ask more from me,” he said. “And at the same time, they give me more opportunity to show more.”

Kuznetsov returned to Washington on Monday along with fellow Russians Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov. The trio has been on the ice for the team’s informal skates the past two days as they ramp up for the start of training camp in mid-September.

“Two years ago, I practiced all summer here,” Kuznetsov said, asked why he chose to arrive earlier than many of his teammates. “Then last year we have to be back home for World Cup.”

“This year,” he said with a smile, “I kinda stayed a little bit more [at] home. My wife wants this, so it’s kind of an easy decision.”

It’s been a summer of highs (signing the mega extension) and lows (watching a handful of key veterans depart) for Kuznetsov. On Wednesday, he skated alongside former teammate Marcus Johansson, who was dealt to New Jersey in July to accommodate the $139 million in extensions the Caps handed out to himself, T.J. Oshie and Orlov.

“It’s always tough when some friends and your teammates leave to other team,” Kuznetsov said. “But that’s the way of hockey, part of the business. The good thing [is] we all keep being friends, you know? We all understand that’s part of the business.”

On the flip side, Kuznetsov said he’s looking forward to a more competitive environment in camp as new players and prospects jockey for jobs. With the departure of forwards Justin Williams, Johansson and Daniel Winnik as well as defensemen Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk, there could be as many as five spots up for grabs.

“I feel good for the young guys,” Kuznetsov said. “They know right now they have a couple of spots to fill. That’s always good challenge in training camp—when your young guys know they have a chance to play in the NHL, they are going to work hard.”

Kuznetsov, on the other hand, has arguably more security than any other Capital these days, allowing him to focus solely on being the best player he can be.

“Whenever summer is coming and you’re without deal, you have to think about some other things—it’s always tough,” he said. Now “I feel comfortable here. I love the city. I knew before I signed that I want to stay here.”

MORE CAPITALS: A slimmer looking Ovechkin returned to practice Tuesday

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Battling for Jay Beagle's former spot, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd are making it a hard decision

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Battling for Jay Beagle's former spot, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd are making it a hard decision

With almost no competition at training camp this season, Tuesday’s preseason game was important because it featured players competing for just about the only spot in the lineup up for grabs. Both Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd have their sights set on replacing Jay Beagle at fourth line center and both players were in the lineup against the Boston Bruins.

Dowd is a penalty killer and strong in the face-off circle, while Boyd has a much higher offensive upside. Both players played to their strengths in Tuesday’s preseason loss.

Dowd had only one shot on goal, but was very good on the face-off, winning 12 of the 17 draws he took. On the Caps, only Jayson Megna had a higher win percentage, but that’s because he took and won only one face-off.

“That’s an integral role to any team’s success,” head coach Todd Reirden said after the game. “Certainly we were able to benefit from having faceoff success especially in that dot with a right-hand centerman taking those draws.”

Beagle was easily Washington’s top face-off man while he was with the Caps and Dowd knows it is an important role he will be looked upon to fill if he hopes to make the team.

"There's no hiding behind the fact that they lost a right-handed centermen who took a lot of face-offs,” Dowd said. “And thus I'm here as a right-handed centerman. So, I think I'd be naive not to realize that … So, I will continue to work on that and continue to make it a big part of my game."

Boyd tried to show what he would bring offensively with three shots on goal and four total attempts. He pulled off a couple of nice curl-and-drag moves as well showing off his stickhandling capabilities.

“I liked [Boyd’s] game and his ability to add offensively and do some things that way,” Reirden said.

While having an offensive upside is important, a fourth line player is looked upon to fill other roles on the team as well. So, while it is not a role he is typically accustomed to playing, it came as no surprise to see Reirden experiment with Boyd on the penalty kill Tuesday.

“My first time playing PK in a while too,” Boyd said. “I thought it went well. There's little things that, first game in a while so just getting used to playing at that speed again and all the contact and stuff, but overall I thought it was pretty good.”

Boyd was not typically used on the penalty kill in Hershey and it is not a role he is well accustomed to in the NHL.

But it was a role that Beagle played for the Caps and is also a role that Dowd is very familiar with. He was also on the penalty kill Tuesday and looked very much at home.

“Penalty kill, I felt really good,” he said. “I think those shifts allowed me to get into the game.”

“He did a good job on the penalty kill,” Reirden said. “He continues to be as expected in what we’ve researched and seen from him and he was all of that tonight.”

Reirden was complimentary of both Dowd and Boyd after the game, both of whom played well. But their contrasting styles of play were on full display. The competition for fourth line center may well come down to what role Reirden is looking for on a given night rather than either player simply outplaying the other to “win” the spot.

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4 players who impressed in the Capitals home preseason opener against Boston

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4 players who impressed in the Capitals home preseason opener against Boston

Capital One Arena saw its first action of the season on Tuesday, albeit in a preseason game, as the Capitals fell 5-2 to the Boston Bruins. T.J. Oshie looked like he wanted to hit everything that moved every time he was on the ice. Matt Niskanen also scored a power play tally, but both he and Oshie’s spots on the team are already secure. There were plenty of other players with a lot on the line looking to make an impression in the home preseason opener.

Here are four players who impressed.

Riley Barber

The Caps scored less than five minutes into the game thanks to a nifty deflection by Barber on a quick shot by Alex Alexeyev. Barber was Washington’s top offensive threat on the night and was all over the net with nine (!!!) shots on goal and another four attempts. His goal was a dirty one, but Barber also showed some soft hands and good stick work as well throughout the night.

“I thought he had a real strong showing tonight and a number of opportunities and chances and was able to make a real nice play on the first goal,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “I liked his game in particular and I think he was someone that was able to show us a little bit more of an offensive flair than maybe he has done in the past.”

At 24, Barber is at a critical point in his career as he is battling to make the NHL and not become a career AHLer. Right now he still looks like a long shot to make the roster and will likely need a few more efforts like Tuesday’s game to really give himself a shot to stick around in Washington.

Nic Dowd

Dowd is in a battle for the fourth line center job to replace Jay Beagle. Tuesday was a good dress rehearsal for him in terms of winning the job. Dowd was the team’s best player in the face-off dot, took 17 draws and won 12 of them, by far Washington’s top face-off man on the night (not counting Jayson Megna who won the one draw he took).

"It’s a big part of everyone's game in the National Hockey League,” Dowd said. “You lose possession of the puck, you're chasing it for 30 seconds. So, I will continue to work on that and continue to make it a big part of my game."

“That’s an integral role to any team’s success,” Todd Reirden said. “Certainly we were able to benefit from having faceoff success especially in that dot with a right-hand centerman taking those draws. I put him in situations to take a lot of those draws tonight. He did a good job of that, he did a good job on the penalty kill. He continues to be as expected in what we’ve researched and seen from him and he was all of that tonight. I liked his game tonight.”

Dowd also drew two penalties on the night.

The biggest competition for Dowd at fourth line center looks to be Travis Boyd who also played Tuesday. With both players in action, Dowd had the greater impact on the game. The offensive upside looks much higher for Boyd, but Dowd looks like he provide more of those little things that Beagle provided such as face-off wins and penalty killing.

Connor Hobbs

Hobbs took exception to a hit delivered to him by Tanner Pond and the two dropped the gloves. Liam O’Brien dropped the gloves as well and took on Mark McNeil, but Hobbs gets the shout out here because it was a pretty darn good bout with Hobbs delivering several pretty nice rights to Pond.

Braden Holtby

Just in case you were wondering, yes, Holtby is going to make the team. While you could put him in the same category as Oshie, Holtby makes the list for having the top play on the night.

In the first period, former Cap Daniel Winnik looked like he had an empty net to shoot on, but Holtby stretched out the toe to make the fantastic save and somehow deny Winnik.