Capitals fans won’t have to wait very long to see what T.J. Oshie can do on a line with Alex Ovechkin.
The two will flank 23-year-old center Evgeny Kuznetsov when the Caps open their seven-game preseason schedule against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at Verizon Center (7 p.m., CSN).
“You know he’s a dynamic player,” Oshie said of Ovechkin, who has led the NHL in goals in five of his 10 NHL seasons, including the past three. “But when you play with him and see his shot, I just shake my head every time he puts one in the back of the net. He can score from spots where most guys can’t. It’s pretty amazing.”
Oshie, 28, will be looking to build on a 19-goal, 55-point season in St. Louis, where he has played his entire seven-year career. If he plays the entire season on a line with Ovechkin, there’s a good chance those offensive totals will increase.
“I actually tried to use his stick the other day and I can’t use it,” said Oshie, who like Ovechkin is a right-handed shooter. “I shouldn’t have even touched it.”
Ovechkin, 30, is coming off a 53-goal season and said he’s anxious to play with Oshie and Kuznetsov, who is coming off an 11-goal, 26-assist season. Kuznetsov is projected as the Caps’ second-line center but will be filling in on the top line until Nicklas Backstrom returns from offseason hip surgery.
“I think the coaches right now are trying to figure out if Backy is not going to play, what are the lines going to be out there,” Ovechkin said. “For Kuzy, it’s a good opportunity to show up and be one of the leaders of the team and one of the best players in the league.”
Kuznetsov excelled in the playoffs last season with five goals and two assists in 14 games. He said he’s been dreaming of playing alongside Ovechkin since the day the Capitals drafted him 26th overall in 2010, an NHL draft that produced Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Taresenko, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.
“Everybody wants to play with players like Ovi and Oshie,” Kuznetsov said. “You have to want this when you come here. Ovi is a good guy on the ice and as a person and Oshie, I see him play in Olympic Games and St. Louis and he’s a great, great, player.”
Oshie said he’s been impressed with Kuznetsov’s poise with the puck and his defensive awareness, adding, “The kid’s got a very bright future ahead of him.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz agreed, comparing Kuznetsov’s on-ice awareness and vision to Backstrom’s.
“His confidence level at the end of (last) season was very high,” Trotz said. “He’s got a strut that maybe he didn’t have last year. Some guys might say, ‘Ovi’s the guy.’ But he’s not afraid to be the guy. Maybe he’ll push the older guys to raise their level of play.”
Trotz said he’s not certain he will stick with the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Oshie line throughout tonight’s game, saying he could move Derek Roy between Ovechkin and Oshie, depending on how the game goes. But for now he wants Oshie to feel comfortable on the ice.
“I’d like to see if there’s any chemistry,” Trotz said. “I just want Oshie to feel comfortable. I don’t know if he’ll stay on that line. We’re throwing units together that might be on the power play together.”
Goalie update: Trotz said Braden Holtby will get the start tonight and will be replaced by backup Dan Ellis, who is expected to begin the season in Hershey. That means Ellis, a strong puck handler, will participate in the post-game, sudden death 3-on-3 overtime. “We wouldn’t put Braden in there cold,” Trotz said.
MORE CAPITALS: Oshie, Ovi expected to make preseason debuts