Today, the World Junior Championships are set to begin in Buffalo, New York, and RMNB’s Igor Kleyner has translated a fantastic one-on-one interview between Sport Express’s Yuriy Golyshak and Capitals 2010 First Round Pick Evgeny Kuznetsov. Warning: it’s another long one.
In the article translated below, we learn even more crucial information about Kuz including his nagging shoulder injury, his thoughts on the slash Braden Holtby delivered to him during Caps Development Camp, and his experience being drafted by Washington. On top of that, we also learn about Kuznetsov’s half a year of driving without a license, his love for McDonald’s food, and his embarrassment on never seeing Alex Ovechkin play live. Check out all of that and more below the jump.
Yuriy Golyshak – The 18 year-old forward of the Russian Junior National Team is likely to become one of the main stars of the World Junior Championship, which begins December 26th in Buffalo, having already become a revelation in the KHL.
Valery Belousov has told me, “As far as his talent goes, Kuznetsov is a second Malkin.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov – I read that. It was a great honor. Both for me and my grandmother. She buys all the newspapers that have even a single line about me. She collects them. Until this season the papers weren’t really praising me. And if I really have the abilities like Malkin – I should be playing in the NHL in two years.
YG – Do you want to leave for the NHL right now?
EK – Of course. But physically I am not ready yet to play in America. Washington is not a team where an eighteen year old can easily get a roster spot. To flounder on the fourth line – that is not my hockey.
YG – Malkin had to run away from Magnitogorsk to achieve his dream.
EK – I am definitely not running from Traktor. Here, we have good people. I was told: “If you decide to leave – come over and talk. You don’t need to run. If a make that decision, I will go and talk.
YG – If I ask you who the best junior player in Russia is, whose name comes to mind?
EK – Probably everyone would think of themselves… let’s skip this question?
YG – Let’s do that. In Chelyabinsk there was a buzz about you skating by yourself at night.
EK – That was some time ago. I quit night time skating. We have 13 games per month. I am never even at home anymore. But those practice sessions help me now. I even skated with a parachute last year.
YG – Andrei Nazarov is a creative coach. [Ed note: Nazarov coached Kuznetsov in 2009-10 with Traktor. He now is the Head Coach of Vityaz.]
EK – It wasn’t Nazarov, I came up with that myself. There is an open air skating rink in downtown Chelyabinsk, so my buddy and I tried it there. He found the parachute somewhere. You have no idea how hard it is – especially the first steps. You just keep shuffling your feet without even moving. You get used to it later.
YG – Did you keep the parachute?
EK – Of course. Maybe we’ll try it again. But that was not the toughest test I’ve ever had.
YG – What was it then?
EK – In America during the Scouting Combine testing, they put you on a bike and made you pedal until complete exhaustion. I was so exhausted, that I couldn’t get out of bed for two hours afterwards. I just felt sick.
YG – Wow…
EK – I wouldn’t say I lost consciousness – I was still breathing fine. But I had unbearable pain in my legs. That’s how they test you for the NHL. Turned out I am capable of something…
YG – Ukrainian Soccer Federation President Hryhoriy Surkis once told me, “I can still do a hundred pushups”.
EK – I am not sure how many I can do. Pushups aren’t easy for me because of my shoulder injury. I do better with abdominal exercises; I can do two hundred situps. During the Combine testing, I had to do pushups, and I was definitely not the worst. Although in my mind I was concentrating on the main one: the bike. With a 70 kg barbell, I did seven reps. I could keep going, they said enough.
YG – Do you have a lot of memories from the draft?
EK – Yes. The treatment of the players is simply terrific. But during the interviews, [GM’s] started asking me questions that made my eyes pop: “You are Russian – so, do you like vodka? Girls? Late night parties?” I told them I don’t like vodka.
YG – And?
EK – They started persuading me that I do like all that stuff. I was close to losing my cool. I told them: “I am done talking about it.” But there was fun stuff as well. During [Caps Development Camp], we went to visit the White House. It was quite interesting. Not at all like the Kremlin.
YG – Have you been there as well?
EK – Yes. Actually, I was surprised there by a lot of things. Washington’s goalie Braden Holtby, who is on their first team now, slashed me when I scored. But that’s all right, all goalies are crazy, they have their own lives.
YG – Are all goalies really crazy?
EK – Some are normal, but a very few amount of them. Then, they took us for a photo session, I misunderstood something, made a funny face – and as a result, my picture was picked as the funniest. Now it’s on the wall at home.
YG – Next to what?
EK – Jaromir Jagr. I played in Omsk when he came over. Sadly, we never got to talk.
YG – You have some relatives in America, don’t you?
EK – My godfather. He is my father’s best friend since childhood. He was already in the US when I was born. He is like family. Now he is coming to the WJC in Buffalo. I will see him again.
YG – Is he rich?
EK – He is well-off. He lives in Manhattan, just a stone’s throw away from Brooklyn. When I came to New York, it was raining hard. But I went into the ocean for a swim. People were looking at me like I was crazy. But then, one after another, some people followed me into the water. It was so cool!
YG – Have you met Alex Ovechkin yet?
EK – When Washington picked me, Ovechkin called the Team GM. He passed the phone to me. Sasha congratulated me. I feel embarrassed to admit this, but I have never seen him play live.
YG – Did you get to keep the Washington jersey after the photosession?
EK – Of course, the jersey is at my parents place framed and up on their wall. I only wore it once.
YG – Which team did you dream to play for as a kid?
EK – The New York Rangers.
YG – Who is the best player in the world today?
EK – Pavel Datsyuk. His stickhandling and passing is out of this world. The distance between me and him as players – it’s like walking to China.
YG – Do you think that your stickhandling tricks make some of the veteran players mad in the KHL?
EK – Yes, I have been noticing that more and more lately! It started last year. The older the player is, the harder he takes being tricked. Some call me names, some threaten. Some just say, “You are young. Calm down.” During the warm-ups when we were playing in Chekhov, Vityaz’s tough guys started posturing in front of our bench, saying what they are going to do to us.
YG – Were you scared?
EK – No. It looked to me like they were mostly just talking. What would be the point for Gratton, Sugden, or Verot to fight me?
YG – Who is the best defenseman in the KHL right now?
EK – Sergei Zubov. He is not playing right now, but last year he was just relaxing on the ice. He did whatever he wanted to. He played like a genius.
YG – Who is the dirtiest player?
EK – Definitely someone from Vityaz. Both with their stickwork and fighting. The hardest hit I have ever received was in Canada when playing for our junior team. I had just gotten the puck, and didn’t see anybody near me. I had just started to move, and then I got hit. I didn’t even understand what happened. It took me about five seconds to realize that my nose was smashed and I had lost a tooth. I didn’t even feel the pain at first.
YG – Who is the best passer in the KHL?
EK – Sergei Zinoviev.
YG – You are only eighteen, and have already had a shoulder surgery. What happened?
EK – It’s a mystery for me. I probably wasn’t paying attention as a kid. By the way, the doctors do not like how the surgery turned out. Either it was not completed, or they just made it worse. So, my shoulder is not doing very well.
YG – When did you have the surgery?
EK – May 19th of last year in Moscow. I’ll have to do it again. They know how to fix it in Austria or Germany. I just don’t know when I’ll do it. For now it is not bothering me too much, so I will finish the season as is.
YG – Your current coach, Valery Belousov, told a story about how he was keeping an eye on Alexi Cherepanov when he coached him, and even took away his car at one point. Are you being monitored the same way?
EK – So far he hasn’t taken away the car. And he hasn’t locked me in at the practice facility.
YG – Did you know Cherepanov?
EK – We were friends. We even lived together at a boarding school in Omsk, but I was with my parents then. We were gathering in our room in the evenings, and my mom made pelmeni. We were the only ones with a stove in our room. Lyoshka [Cherepanov] and his buddies were a bit older, and they made fun of me. I just liked listening to their conversations.
YG – Was Cherepanov really a tremendous talent?
EK – His line was always doing incredible things on the ice. But no one was saying that he was a genius. More on the modest side: “a decent kid, and a good prospect”.
YG – By the way, you have a wonderful car: a white porsche.
EK – That is true. There is only one like that in Chelyabinsk. I only had a certain amount of money, and I asked my friends to help. A few days later, I was shown the car. I liked it a lot.
YG – Did they have to bring it from somewhere?
EK – No, it’s used. At first I wanted to get a coupe, and then I realized that my first car should be a bigger one. After all, it’s my first winter behind a wheel. Next year, I am getting a BMW M3. I think I’ll still be in Chelyabinsk.
YG – Is it going to be hard to get rid of a car like that?
EK – Not really. What will be hard for me is leaving Chelyabinsk.
YG – How long were you driving without a license?
EK – About half a year. Never got stopped.
YG – In one of your interviews you mentioned that your dream car is Bentley Continental GT…
EK – I will be able to afford in it Washington. I don’t make enough for a car like that here. It costs about 11 million rubles. When I saw one in the streets of New York, I fell in love with it right away. Once in a while I look at a picture, and I want it even more than before. It’s a little coupe. There is one like that in Chelyabinsk.
YG – Who is the owner – a hockey player?
EK – An oligarch [Ed note: someone who works in the government].
YG – Have you ever driven it?
EK – No, but I got to sit in one.
YG – Are there any other material dreams in your life?
EK – I want to buy an apartment for my parents. That’s my main goal right now. I even feel sorry now to have bought the car so early. I should have saved more, and bought a place to live for my parents. Right now they live on 30 square meters, and their apartment is owned by their employer. The team promised to at least help with privatization.
YG – Do you also live there?
EK – I live with my girlfriend in an apartment I have been renting for the last month and a half.
YG – Do you have to deal with a lot of female admirers?
EK – Not really. I don’t have a big crowd of them chasing me. Sometimes they write me emails on Vkontakte. [Ed note: Vkontakte is a Russian social networking service. It’s very similar to Facebook.]
EK – I have a thousand. And about as many asking to be friends.
YG – Popularity is a great force.
EK – After the game against Spartak where I scored two goals, I walked into a restaurant and people got up and started applauding. I was so embarrassed, and turned red all over. In fact, I tend to stop at McDonalds now more often. No one recognizes me there. We have a big city. No one pays attention to anyone out on the street. I don’t like nightclubs. I prefer movies.
YG – Those two goals against Spartak – are they the most memorable?
EK – The most memorable goal for me was the one I had against Lada. It was my first in the KHL. I could not fall asleep after the game.
YG – Do you have trouble sleeping after games now?
EK – Now I sleep great!
YG – What can you do on the ice particularly well?
EK – Nothing really. I haven’t achieved anything yet. A young player has to keep improvisation to a minimum. Behind you there is always a veteran who will quickly put pressure on you, and will do as the coach says. Although, Belousov does not hold me back.
YG – And what is something you struggle with?
EK – I lose my cool very easily. I hate dirty play. If someone pushes me hard, I can just stop playing. Something like that happened to me in Canada while with our junior team. It took awhile for me to get used to it.
YG – You could have been at Avangard. What happened?
EK – It was quite simple. The coach said he doesn’t like transferred players. My parents and I packed our bags and went home the next morning.
YG – Who is that coach?
EK – Mikhail Anatolievich Komarov. Actually, he is a very good guy, and we are friends now. It wasn’t like that before. Maybe it was my fault.
YG – Your joke about transferring to SKA caused quite a storm on the internet.
EK – It wasn’t my joke! My friends started it with a link to some newspaper, and the headline there was “Kuznetsov traded to St. Peterburg for Kostya Panov.” He is also from Chelyabinsk. It was total nonsense. No way Chelyabinsk is going to let me go to another Russian club.
YG – Is there interest from other teams?
EK – Nobody has contacted either me or my agent for the last three years.
YG – Have you ever talked to Vyacheslav Bykov?
EK – Not yet. I would love to though. My dream is to play for the national team. For now, I only get about ten minutes of ice time per game, but I want to get up to twenty. I probably haven’t reached that level yet.
YG – Maybe you are being protected.
EK – What for?