Tag: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Nicklas Backstrom

Caps’ Backstrom won’t rush return from hip surgery


Nicklas Backstrom is “not in a rush” to return from hip surgery and his status for the Washington Capitals’ season opener is very much in question.

“I’m going to be back to 100 percent before I start playing,” Backstrom told the Washington Post. “I’m not going to play on 90 percent. We’ll see how it goes. We don’t know yet.”

The Washington Capitals forward has been skating since the start of August and is feeling much better, but he realizes that he’s still very much in the recovery process and it’s hard to put a timetable on it.

When he’s healthy, Backstrom is Washington’s top center and one of the best playmakers in the world. He led the NHL with 60 assists in 2014-15 and has finished in the top-three in helpers on five separate occasions. The 27-year-old is projected to once again skate alongside Alex Ovechkin on the top line.

If he’s not healthy for the start of the season, then it will be interesting to see how Washington alters its lines in the short-term. Evgeny Kuznetsov is penciled in as the second line center, so we might see the sophomore play with Ovechkin in Washington’s first game.

PHT Morning Skate: Putin, Ovechkin, Malkin vs. students

Vladimir Putin

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

To start the school year, Russian president Vladimir Putin skated on a team that included Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Pavel Bure and faced off against students. You can see footage of that below:

(H/T Puck Daddy and the Associated Press)

Jake Dowell, who is a veteran of 157 NHL games, has been invited to AHL Rockford’s training camp on a tryout basis. (IceHogs.com)

Braden Holtby’s retro-styled mask has been unveiled. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

In the same vein, Michal Neuvirth’s “Rocky” mask has been revealed. (NHL.com)

Red Wings GM Ken Holland reflects on some of the changes in strategy and challenges the Red Wings have endured over the cap era as they look to make the playoffs for a 25th consecutive campaign. (RedWings.nhl.com)

Evgeny Kuznetsov hopes to spend his entire career with the Washington Capitals. (Washington Post)

Capitals’ biggest question: Is this finally the year?

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils

Of the 12 NHL teams that have never won the Stanley Cup, there may not be a more optimistic one heading into 2015-16 than the Washington Capitals. 

Here’s why:

— Alex Ovechkin just won his third straight Rocket Richard Trophy. At 29, he remains the NHL’s most dangerous goal-scorer. On top of that, the Caps appear to have found the right coach for the Russian superstar in Barry Trotz.

— The Caps also appear to have found a second-line center in young Evgeny Kuznetsov. If the 23-year-old continues to progress — and there’s no good reason he shouldn’t — Washington could have quite the 1-2 combo at center in Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov.

— Defenseman John Carlson is emerging as one of the top blue-liners in the NHL. And at 25, he may get even better.

— Goalie Braden Holtby continues to post strong numbers. His .923 save percentage last season was tied with Pekka Rinne and one point better than Tuukka Rask.

Now throw in the additions of veterans T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams to go with youngsters Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson, and what emerges is a roster where a glaring weakness is pretty tough to find.

OK, sure, there are concerns. Like maybe the Caps will miss Mike Green more than they think. Ditto for Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and/or Eric Fehr. If Washington’s young players don’t step up next season, it’s hard to picture this team hoisting the Cup.

But that’s true of any team, really.

“I’d say the next three or four years is the window,” GM Brian MacLellan said in May.

Given how quickly the landscape of a young man’s league can change, it may turn out to be a shorter window than that.

The Caps have a real opportunity in 2015-16. Can they finally get it done?

Related: Green calls this year’s Caps ‘the best team we’ve had overall’

Blues’ biggest question: Are they good enough down the middle?

New York Rangers v St. Louis Blues

Jonathan Toews. Anze Kopitar. Jeff Carter. Patrice Bergeron. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg.

Teams that win the Stanley Cup almost always have an elite center. As you can see, some of them even have two.

Do the St. Louis Blues?

The answer to that will depend on your definition of elite. If it’s a generous one, then maybe Paul Stastny gets the nod. Otherwise, it’s hard to answer yes.

Next season, the Blues’ top two lines could look something like this:

Alex Steen – Paul Stastny — David Backes
Jaden Schwartz — Jori Lehtera — Vladimir Tarasenko

If one of Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie or Robby Fabbri can step into a top-six role, coach Ken Hitchcock has said that Backes could be moved to the third line.

Regardless of how the lines shake out, it’s no surprise that the Blues were left wanting more from Stastny, their big free-agency signing from last summer.

“Paul Stastny needs to be a bigger part of our group,” GM Doug Armstrong said. “We need him to be a bigger and better part of our team.”

Stastny had 46 points in 74 games last season. He then managed just one goal, with no assists, in the Blues’ six-game playoff loss to the Wild.

Not enough from a player who was supposed to be a difference-maker in the tough Western Conference.

“I think in every sport if you’re strong up the middle you’re usually a strong team,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per Yahoo Sports. “The center icemen seem to be the catalyst, usually offensively. They’re the guys who have the puck the most and make maybe the most decisions on the ice based on the number of touches they have in a game.”

Which is why there’s so much excitement in Washington about young Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But we digress.

The Blues are obviously a strong team. Their regular-season record is proof of that. But they haven’t been able to win that elusive Cup, so it’s only natural to pore over their roster in search of why.

Their lack of a truly elite center — and this goes for good teams like the Wild, Predators, Canadiens, Rangers, and Jets — may be as good an answer as any.

Related: Doug Armstrong is under pressure

MacLellan doesn’t think summer additions have to take from Johansson

Marcus Johansson
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Marcus Johansson was handed a one-year, $3.75 million contract in arbitration, but there’s been speculation that Washington’s offseason additions might eat into his playing time in 2015-16. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan doesn’t see that as inevitable.

“We just have a deeper top six and you’re going to have to play well and it’ll be hard to keep your job there,” MacLellan told the Washington Post. “He’s going to have to play well from the start.”

At the same time, MacLellan believes that Johansson can maintain a spot on one of Washington’s top two lines and serve on the first power-play unit. The general manager even hinted at Johansson’s role actually expanding as the 24-year-old might help kill penalties.

Washington added Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie over the summer and both of them are expected to serve as top-six forwards along with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. So when everyone is healthy, that will leave just one slot for Johansson or Andre Burakovsky.

Johansson had 20 goals and 47 points in 82 contests last season while averaging 16:28 minutes per contest.