Despite being just 22 years old, it feels like people have been waiting for Evgeny Kuznetsov to make “the leap” for quite some time … only that leap was once just jumping from the KHL to the NHL.
He did that in abbreviated fashion last season, scoring three goals and nine points in 17 games while showing flashes of the first-round brilliance prospect-minded people have been touting for some time.
With Mikhail Grabovski headed to Long Island, new Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said that he’ll probably open up competition for second and third-line center spots between Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky. One would think Kuznetsov has a strong chance of at least grabbing that third-line job, yet that might come down to how well he meshes with Trotz and how much his game has progressed over the summer.
Former Capitals coach Adam Oates cautioned himself against the “wow factor” with Kuznetsov, which is an understandable fear when you consider the kind of game-breaking ability he showed, especially on this memorable assist against the Vancouver Canucks:
Even among NHL head coaches, Trotz is noted for favoring stability over sizzle. With that in mind, this sobering analysis from Japers Rink might prompt some to worry if the new Caps coach can overlook Kuznetsov’s defensive lapses:
Yes, it’s a small sample and he was new to NHL hockey, but Kuznetsov’s possession numbers were horrible. Only Tyson Strachan, Julien Brouillette, and Aaron Volpatti had worse Corsi percentages (add Patrick Wey to the Fenwick list). Even acknowledging that the season in which he joined the Caps was a complete cluster, and that he played with grinders as much as he played with skill guys, every player that skated 32 minutes or more with Kuznetsov had better numbers without Kuznetsov, usually by a lot (and it’s not because skating with Kuznetsov meant taking tougher defensive assignments).
In other words, there might be some “high-risk, high-reward” elements to the younger player’s game at this stage … which might only make him more interesting to watch during the 2014-15 season.