“I’m Happy That I’m Here”: Evgeny Kuznetsov Talks Offseason Trade Rumblings, Rebounding From a Tough 2020-21 Campaign, and The Return of Fans

Screen cap: @Capitals

After an offseason that featured numerous rumblings about his future with the Washington Capitals, Center Evgeny Kuznetsov spoke with the media at MedStar Capitals Iceplex during the Capitals’ Media Day on Thursday.  He spoke about rebounding from a difficult 2020-21 season, the return to normal for the NHL, and the importance of being in a good state of mind heading into the 2021-22 campaign.

After a summer that swirled with trade rumors, and the Capitals’ alleged frustration with his antics (which included contracting COVID-19 twice and breaking team protocol) and inconsistency on the ice last season, Kuznetsov iterated that keeping a core together and communicating with one another is key to maintaining success.

“It does not help you when you change a lot of guys. You know I’ve never been in that situation before, and I feel like a lot of times if you change your core guys you may have some problems, but as long as we communicate to each other, it’s always exciting, and always tough to find a way, but soon as you find a way to how we communicate, and you find your game, it’s always joy to play”.

Additionally, Kuznetsov stated his perception of the trade rumors as a motivation to better himself after a difficult season.

“That was great actually. It’s one of the years you want to forget, but at the same time you always want to remember. It’s like when you lose the game in the playoffs or Game 7 and you sit in the locker room and you feel that pain, right, and the next year you go, you don’t want to feel that pain again, right, so you can use that as a motivation, you can use that as a target, as a goal, ‘don’t feel that again’. For me that wasn’t nice”.

Kuznetsov also remarked on his offseason training. “It was great, finally healthy. I was able to train, push myself 100% from the medical stuff, all that. You can judge my game now, and I’m excited about it”.

Both Head Coach Peter Laviolette and General Manager Brian MacLellan commented on both Kuznetsov’s physical and mental approach coming into training camp, with each expressing a promising assessment of the 2010 first-round pick’s overall status.

MacLellan noted the center’s physical improvements while stating his belief that Kuznetsov is in a good spot heading into the 2021-22 season:

“I’ve had a few conversations with him. He seems to be in a good spot. I like where he’s at, mentally, physically. He’s come here in really good shape. He’s added some good weight, strength wise. He’s looks to be excited to play this season. I think we are all looking for a good response from him and a good year. the expectation is that he’ll have a good year this year.”

Laviolette echoed similar sentiments, and also added that the 29-year old will get an opportunity to create a major role and continue to be a highly-valuable player for the Capitals.

“Evgeny and I have had about as honest of conversations as you can have since I’ve been here. He’s in a really good spot right now. He looks extremely fit and healthy and ready to play. I think his mind is, based on the conversations that I’ve had with him, his mind is in a really good spot. You know, we’ll be counting on him. He’s really gonna get an opportunity to take hold and show what he can do. He’s proven to be a high-end player, a really impactful player.”

Kuznetsov was asked if he was any bit surprised that he was still a member of the Capitals at the start of training camp. Without batting an eye, Kuznetsov insisted that he was not and that while hockey is a business, he is in a better place to start this season.

“No, absolutely not. It’s part of the business, right. Just remember, it’s a business. It’s not whatever guy wants to do, or people, or fans want to do, it’s a business, and we have to adjust to that. And I’m happy that I’m here, and that I’m mentally here. That’s what’s most important to me,” said Kuznetsov.

“It’s not just that I’m here to get paid, or here to play hockey and go back home and enjoy my life, for me it was very important to mentally be here. And like I said, I felt what I felt last year, and that’s a good memory in my head, and I like it that way. When everything good in your life, you’re not moving, you’re not growing, you’re not getting better, so it’s fun to see everything, and I hope in 10 years I’m going to enjoy my life, my vacation, I’m going to enjoy this time and remember this.”

Kuznetsov, who contracted the coronavirus twice last season, touched on whether he felt at all like himself last season (one in which recorded nine goals and 29 points in 41 Games Played).

“You know I don’t want to look for excuses, but it’s nice to wake up every day and be able to breath nice and be able to push yourself in the practice 100 percent…Physically, I’m in a very good shape right now.”

With top Center Nicklas Backstrom expected to miss the start of training camp, the team will be looking to other players to play bigger roles in the interim. Kuznetsov was asked how much he can do in the absence of Backstrom.

“I guess we’ll see. Like I said, the goal is for me to get my smile back in the game. If I don’t smile in the game it means something bad, we don’t play good. For me it was always important to see guys happy, to see smiles during the game. Even if you lose the game you come back in the locker room, you see it, you’re like ‘Man we did everything we could, we try, it just didn’t go our way’, we come back the next day we happy with work, but when you’re all this negative, you’re not happy, it doesn’t make you better, it’s not easy for you to compete.”

Kuznetsov also expressed his belief that things returning to as normal as possible, with fans at practice and games, and the presence of media in-person will be of benefit to the players’ on-ice morale.

“It’s huge. It’s just nice to see you guys, or other people at the stores, and mentally it gives you kind of hope for come back, because we’ve been living the sad life for a long time, and people having the tough part, tough life,” said Kuznetsov.

“When you see about that and you hear about that, it’s impact your own life too. As a human, you always want to see happy people, happy life. It’s nice to be back in normal and I hope we’re going to good direction, and that first warmup when fans will be there, that’s a special feelings too, because when you go there and there is no people and there is no one to warm up for, it turns from excited hockey, to just a job.”

In addition to the players, Kuznetsov says he believes that having a full season to work with will benefit the coaching staff as well. “It’s nice to have a full year and I think it’s very important for coaches too. They have a full training camp now, you don’t have to rush, you don’t have to have those video sessions where you put [speaking of distancing players and precautionary steps] five guys here, other five guys there, six guys in the house. Now we can work as a one-man unit, and it’s always huge because you’re not build your game for one or two days, you build your game for sometimes months”.

Finally, Kuznetsov reiterated that the fans were the biggest thing he missed during the NHL’s safety measures during the pandemic-affected season, “The fans probably. Like I said, it’s very tough to play when it’s empty stadium. We need people and we that team that feed off the crowd. And sometimes it does get quiet during the game, maybe one play but that’s it”.

By Michael Fleetwood

About Michael Fleetwood

Michael Fleetwood was born into a family of diehard Capitals fans and has been watching games as long as he can remember. He was born the year the Capitals went to their first Stanley Cup Final, and is a diehard Caps fan, the owner of the very FIRST Joe Beninati jersey and since then, has met Joe himself. His favorite player became former Capital Nate Schmidt after he met Schmidt in a Hershey hotel while in Hershey PA to see the Bears play, shortly after Schmidt was injured during a conditioning stint. Michael is also a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Orioles, and enjoys photography, watching WildEarth TV's SafariLive live safaris, and watching animals in his spare time. (Photo by Adam Vingan in 2014 at the Capitals Development Camp).
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