Evgeny Kuznetsov said it was his “dream” to play in the NHL, but he casually shrugged off the notion that he might feel any pressure when the question was raised in his press conference Sunday morning after signing an entry-level with the Washington Capitals.
“I’m excited,” Kuznetsov said.
He was similarly dismissive about the notion that going from the KHL to North America’s smaller ice would require a major adjustment on his part.
“After first minute, no problem.” He added, “A good hockey player, it doesn’t matter where you play; big ice, small ice.”
In fact, what seemed to intimidate him the most was just the fact that he was giving an interview in English.
“When I come yesterday, first my interview in English, I’m not ready, today my second interview. I’m a little scared,” he admitted, laughing sheepishly. For what it’s worth, he seems to already have a decent command of the language, although he did occasionally stop to talk to a translator.
While he certainly seems loose, there’s no question that expectations will be high for him. That’s the case for any first round pick, but after Washington took him with the 26th overall selection in 2010, the hype about him has only been mounting as he’s excelled in the KHL.
Now he’ll be asked to join a team in the stretch run of a battle for a playoff spot. Mere days after traveling halfway across the world and with no professional hockey experience in this continent, he will likely be asked to play against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.
“We don’t want to put him in a situation he can’t handle right now,” Capitals coach Adam Oates, per CSN Washington. “But in saying that, if we can spot him in the lineup it could be a nice spark for us.”
He does have that potential, depending on how quickly he makes the transition.
It should help that he’ll have Alex Ovechkin around to guide him. The 21-year-old forward will live with the superstar while he gets settled in. Obviously, Ovechkin has gone through a similar experience, but the two have also stayed in frequent contact while Kuznetsov was playing in the KHL.
You can watch the full video of his press conference at the Monumental Network.