When a Caps Prospect goes above and beyond the call of duty, a one paragraph summary in Prospect Watch does not suffice. Today, we detail the fantastic first half of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s sophomore KHL season. Take it away, Fedor.
During the 2010 NHL Entry Draft on June 26th, General Manager George McPhee had his sights set on one player. In his eagerness, he even tried to trade away a prospect for a move up ten spots in the first round to get his man. That would prove to be unnecessary.
Evgeny Kuznetsov fell to the Caps at pick number 26. “We think he’s a very, very dynamic player,” McPhee said of Kuz at the time. “He can skate, he thinks the game well, he moves the puck, he really attacks the net.” Braden Holtby agrees.
Fast-forward five months. You’ll find the 18 year-old tearing up the KHL in only his second season. Since being put on the “Young Guns Line” with Andrei Popov (a Philadelphia Flyers ’06 draftee) and Anton Glinkin, Kuznetsov has found some serious chemistry with his linemates. He has four goals and two assists in six games since the EuroHockeyTour break ended on November 17th. His team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, has won five straight games.
Kuznetsov and the team’s development has also been aided by legendary coach, Valeri Belousov. He has been the bench boss for all of the Big Siberian Three teams (Traktor, Avangard, and Metallurg Magnitogorsk) and has coached both Jaromir Jagr– during his lockout stint with Avangard– and Sergei Fedorov last season with Metallurg.
The official blog of Traktor lays it out:
The November break allowed Belousov to get the team closer to the version he wants to create. He went to great lengths to reassure his players– despite the pressing responsibility of making the playoffs– and has made them believe in themselves more. To create the line combinations he has found a balance between veterans and youngsters.
In the realm of statistics, Kuznetsov has scored 8 goals and tallied 4 assists in 25 games. 25 games remain in Traktor’s regular season. Kuz projects to finish the year with 16 goals and 8 assists. How would this compare to the seasons Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Semin had the year after they had been drafted?
|Evgeny Kuznetsov (projected)||Traktor Chelyabinsk 2010||50||16||8||24|
|Evgeni Malkin||Metallurg Mg 2005 *||52||12||20||32|
|Alex Ovechkin||Dynamo Moscow 2005 *||37||13||14||27|
|Alex Semin||Lada Tolyatti 2003||47||10||7||17|
* Year of the NHL Lockout where the level of competition in the RSL was considered higher
Pretty favorable comparison. Kuznetsov is on pace to score more goals than all three players at the same age. Does that mean Kuz will be a slam-dunk, 50 goal scorer when he inevitably joins the Capitals? Goodness, no. But it does mean that George McPhee’s comment that “[Kuznetsov's] probably talented enough to play in the NHL” sounds awfully sage.
To get a better idea of Evgeny’s skillset, burgeoning creativity, and talent, let’s take a look at some of his most recent goals (Kuz wears #92).
Evgeny scores on a curl-and-drag move against CSKA to tie the game at two. Traktor went on to win 3-2. Remind you of a anyone?
After the game, Kuznetsov was asked about how it felt to score such a beautiful goal during the locker room interview: “I’m just trying to be ready to score if I can,” Kuznetsov said, “and it doesn’t matter how. The main thing is to get a goal up on the scoreboard.”
At 1:35 in this video, Evgeny fakes a wraparound, curls back around the net, and scores in front. This goal came late in a game with Dynamo Riga, making the score 3-1. Traktor won 4-1:
In his interview after the game, Kuznetsov reflected on chance. “I think it’s luck when you get a good opportunity to score. Whether you use it or not depends on the skill to make everything right. The puck went the right way, I tried to get it low, and it hit the five hole.”
At 7:01 here Kuznetsov scores a tie-breaking PPGWG via wraparound. This extended Traktor’s winning streak to four games:
Finally, at 4:07, Evgeny Kuznetsov expertly deflects a shot from the paint to tie the game at 2. Traktor went on to win 3-2 in the shootout:
For Kuznetsov, it doesn’t matter how you score. His play reminds this writer of Claude Giroux.
Bonus. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Petr Vampola celebrate with their fans after a win. Nice showmanship, better than those tame Ovechkin-Backstrom’s jump-bumps. [Ed. Note: Please watch until the end. You'll be glad you did.]
Additional reporting by Ian Oland.