Capitals’ Bright New Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored two goals and had an assist in the Washington Capitals’ comprehensive 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders Thursday night in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Quarterfinal Round. The 22-year-old Russian is one for the future—another example of a young Capital who has the game to mature into a top NHL player via the franchise (see Brooks Laich and Nicklas Backstrom). Affectionately known as “Kuzy” to teammates and fans, he’s become a crowd favorite—on and off the ice.

The 26th overall pick in the 2010 Draft, Kuznetsov played his first 14 NHL games last season before chalking up 80 regular season games as a rookie this term with 11 goals, 26 assists and a plus/minus rating of plus 10. He was fairly quiet during the first four games of the series with the Islanders but exploded onto the scene in Game 5 at the Verizon Center with his first ever playoff points. The Capitals lead the series 3-2.

Evgeny Kuznetsov
Evgeny Kuznetsov playing for the Russian junior team. (Wikimedia Commons)

Both of Kuznetsov’s goals against the Islanders were impressive, but his second was a work of art, a beautiful deke around Jaroslav Halak who later produced a magnificent save to deny the young Russian his hat trick.

Kuznetsov Hears Praise from Trotz

Kuznetsov’s star is rising and getting brighter in the nation’s capital. Getting 80 games from Capitals coach Barry Trotz is illustrative of how much belief the coach, and the organization, has in Kuznetsov. Trotz had this to say about his young player after the win against the Islanders Thursday:

“He’s had a long growth this year from being an early season scratch to growing into a next level. I think that comes from the coaching staff, I think it comes from the room, it comes from players, it comes from guys like Brooks Orpik and Alexander Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom. Kuzy, he’s just growing. He gotten used to the league.”

It was certainly a great time and place for Kuznetsov to fully introduce himself to the hockey world – in a nationally televised playoff game with a ton on the line. He took it all in his stride though.

“Right now, I stand here and you guys all watching me like I’m a celebrity,” Kuznetsov said to reporters after his three-point playoff game performance. “But I’m not. The whole team celebrity, not one guy.”

When asked which of his two goals was his favorite, the Russia replied with: “My favorite goal was when [Karl] Alzner scored. It’s the game-winner goal and it’s a big goal for us.” It’s that humble approach to the game that has impressed his teammates, coach and the hockey world.

One for the Future

“You can see when he is on his game, he can control the puck very well,” said Alex Ovechkin to reporters after Thursday’s game. “It is very hard to manage his speed and manage his opportunities to make these moves. He’s a great passer, but today he was a scorer.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov
‘Kuzy’ helping out at a local rink (Photo: Emily Abrantes)

Is Kuznetsov one of the best players in the 20- to 25-year-old age bracket? Yes. Anybody watching him play would not assume he’s a rookie who has barely cut his teeth in the NHL. He plays with an air of confidence, maturity and commonsense that’s rarely seen in a player of his age—and he rarely makes mistakes (see Mike Green). He is also eager to give back to the community, often showing his support for local rinks and teams in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area.

“Kuzy” has a chance to show the world some more of his talents in Game 6 on NBC Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern. If the Capitals win and take the series, Saturday’s game will be the last game ever played in the Nassau Coliseum—home to the Islanders for more than four decades.