Washington Capitals Center Evgeny Kuznetsov has enjoyed a resurgent performance in the 2021-22 regular season, most recently exemplified by his second career All-Star Game appearance. Recently, the former first-round pick joined Capitals’ writer Mike Vogel’s “Break the Ice” podcast.
Kuznetsov made the second All-Star Game appearance of his NHL career (the first coming in 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee), and picked up an assist in the Metropolitan Division’s 6-4 win over the Pacific Division.
“Nashville isn’t the great city for me. I’m not the country person, country music. For me there was not a lot to do over there, but the first All-Star was a little nervous, but the second one I felt much more comfortable. I really enjoyed three days there and a great group of people, and I met some new players and people. I had to rest and my family was in Florida so it was very important for me to regroup a little bit and stay fresh”.
For many young players who hail from countries outside of North America, adapting to the way of life, culture, and language in a new country can be a daunting challenge at times. When Kuznetsov arrived, the Capitals had his fellow countrymen in Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov on the roster.
“Actually English was easy for me. I never learn it in school, I quit my school when I was third grade my mom said you don’t have to go there, just play hockey, so unfortunately I didn’t learn language, when I came here and the summer I stay here and practice with (Capitals Strength and Condition Coach] Mark Nemish, and I learned the language, going to restaurant, watching tv, listening to people. In terms of the Russian players, Ovi and Orly, that was a big help. Not on the ice, but off the ice, that’s what’s most important…I wish every Russian player can have experience guy next to him on every team”.
Ovechkin’s climb up the NHL record books and his Goal totals has been among the most heavily-monitored number over the last few seasons as he looks to surpass Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-record 894 goals.
“I’m trying to think about this sometimes, but most the time, you don’t realize who you play with. For us, he’s just a teammate and friend, we see him every day…all that stuff. And when people ask, for me it’s a hard question because I accept him as a teammate, as a friend. We talk about a lot of stuff, and for me I see him as friend first, and then as Ovi, right. But I have a feeling that when I’m going to be retired, I’ll have an understanding who I play with, but for right now it’s hard to realize that we’re playing with the best scorer all the time”.
Although Kuznetsov (2010) was drafted two years ahead of his fellow Capitals All-Star Tom Wilson (2012), both played their first regular season games in the 2013-14 season, with Kuznetsov coming to the NHL from Russia in March 2014.
“I remember that game [his first game], it was me, Beags [former Capitals forward Jay Beagle], and him. It was a couple games and I was like ‘why you guys dumping the puck and this, and this’, my language wasn’t good at that time and they didn’t know what type of player I am, but you know I’m just kind of trying to play hockey, but at that time I didn’t understand that for fourth-liners, you make one turnover, your year could be over, that’s how it is in the NHL, right. It just one of those nights when I felt I had that chemistry between me and Tom. He know what to expect from me, I know what to expect from him. I’m so happy for him, even through people on social media not happy for him to be an All-Star and all that stuff. But you know the people jealous. And when people are jealous and people booing you, it means they love you, right. Hate is as much as love, a similar thing. I’m so proud of him that basically our career in NHL is going at the same time, and we will be able to win the Cup together and all that stuff. I hope I can play many more with him and enjoy every time and every time together”.
Although he was drafted in 2010, Kuznetsov continued to play in Russia until making the long-anticipated move to North America in 2014. Since then, he has recorded 466 Points in 566 Games Played in a Capitals uniform.
“I would never probably come to NHL if that year I had three surgery. Things will probably be the same like year before, I’ll probably stay another year, another year, but that year was a tough year. I play like only six or seven games, I was always hurt. I spent more time at the clinic in Germany than I spent in the house. I’m glad [former Capitals General Manager] George McPhee called me, he calls my agent and he really said, ‘We need you’, and that was a no-brainer for me, because I can burn a year on my entry-level, and the entry-level was only for two years. I’m glad I decide to come here because life has changed. I’ve learned so many new stuff, so many new place. It’s just everything opposite here. Back home you do one thing here, you have to do opposite”.
Kuznetsov’s path to the NHL after being drafted took longer than the team initially anticipated, however thoughts of the NHL began long before then.
“When I was 17, I made the KHL team and my salary was 700 dollars a month, by that time it was a lot of money. We have some bonuses so I got a couple of bonuses and I got like 3,000 dollars in my pocket. We bought the microwaves, dishwasher, all that stuff and then I bought the laptop. But then we found out you need the internet for the laptop. There is a players, they told me ‘go on YouTube’ and I said ‘what’s the YouTube?’. They show me, and that’s when I realize you can type the name and they show you videos, all that stuff. So that’s basically the first time I find out about NHL, how people look, all the gear”.
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