Trotz on Kuznetsov’s growth: ‘It’s not even the same person’

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Evgeny Kuznetsov racked up his sixth assist of the young season last night in Vancouver, feeding Alex Ovechkin for the game-winner late in the third period.

Afterwards, Capitals coach Barry Trotz couldn’t say enough about the 23-year-old’s growth since last season, when Kuznetsov was still adjusting to life in the NHL.

“It’s not even the same person,” Trotz said. “We always knew he had the skill, but his pro game – his North American game – has really come along. He’s not afraid of the big moments. He’s not afraid of the top players in the league. He wants to be one of the best guys in the game, and I think he can be.”

Kuznetsov has been centering Washington’s top line between Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. His emergence — in addition to what the Caps already had in Nicklas Backstrom — has given them one of the best 1-2 punches at center in the NHL.

“It gives match-up problems for teams,” said Trotz. “It’s allowed us to bring [Backstrom] back a little slower, not having to go head-to-head (against the opponent’s top players) every night.”

Winners of four straight, the Caps take on the Oilers tonight in Edmonton. After that, they get four days off before hosting Pittsburgh Wednesday (on NBCSN).

Related: Caps have long-term ‘vision’ for Kuznetsov, who they ‘absolutely’ see as a center