He’s only in his second full season in Washington, but Evgeny Kuznetsov is off to a great start. A first round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft (26th overall), Kuzy made his NHL debut on March 10, 2014 in a home game against the Penguins.
Prior to the NHL, he excelled internationally. He represented Russia at three World-Championships, two World Junior Championships and two World U18 Championships. In the World Juniors, he captured a gold medal in 2011 and a silver medal in 2012 while winning gold in the World Championships in 2014. He also played four seasons in the KHL for the Chelyabinsk Traktor. In the 2013-14 season (prior to his Capitals debut), Kuzy registered 21 points in 31 games, with eight goals and 13 assists.
Being called up late in the season during the Capitals playoff push that ultimately fell short in late 2014, Kuznetsov earned his first NHL points on March 14 vs. Vancouver. He had three points on three assists. In a big home game against the Los Angeles Kings on the 25th of that month, he got his first NHL goal, which was a shorthanded goal that tied the game up late in the third period.
Last season was his first full season in Washington. Kuznetsov led all Capitals rookies in goals (11), assists (26), points (37), and games played (80).
In the playoffs, he came up clutch, leading all rookies in playoff goals with five. His biggest goal came in the biggest game of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Capitals were battling the Islanders in a neck-and-neck series. The Isles always had the Caps number in the playoffs. The most notable game between these two teams in the spring was the “Easter Epic” of 1987. It was another painful memory for Caps fans in attendance at the old Capital Center as a four-overtime game ended with a goal by Pat LaFontaine that gave the Islanders the series win.
Kuznetsov wasn’t even born during that series and neither were any of the other young guns, so none of them were worried about the past. In a tie game in Game 7 at Verizon Center, with 7:18 remaining, Kuzy scored the game-winning goal. The goal and the win helped the Caps exorcise their playoff demons and helped give Kuznetsov some national exposure. Kuznetsov got the puck, carried it around to the front of the net, held the puck on his stick, and ripped it in to send the fans into pure bedlam.
This season, Kuznetsov has 11 goals and 22 assists for 33 points. He also had a couple of big overtime goals that gave the Caps some big road wins. The first was on Halloween night at Florida and his second was a few weeks later in Detroit. He is in a great situation in Washington, being on one of the top teams in the league and learning from Alex Ovechkin, another Russian hockey player who is very well established. Ovechkin as well as Evgeni Malkin are very popular in Russia and Kuznetsov hopes to be in that company. He is off to a great start.
Another good read, if you haven’t read it already, is his essay in Player’s Tribune about the comparison of hockey in Russia compared to the United States. Like the article says, he hopes someday a kid in Russia will be watching video highlights of him for some inspiration.
By Michael Marzzacco