Before the 2010 draft, the highest-rated Russian prospect, Vladimir Tarasenko, was asked what some scouts thought to be a simple question: “Who’s better between you and Evgeny Kuznetsov?”
Tarasenko recalled his answer in a December 29th Sports.ru interview:
I said, “I don’t know.” They said, “You must answer.” I said, “Kuznetsov.” They asked, “Why did you pick him?” I responded, “Ask Zhenya and he’ll say Tarasenko’s better.” I explained it’s a speciality of the Russians. Unlike Canadians, we’ll never say, “I’m the best.”
Lately, the Capitals’ top prospect has played so well that maybe Tarasenko’s humility was more objective fact than “Russian mentality”. Let’s consider Kuznetsov’s achievements over the past few weeks.
- Won the WJC with team Russia, and made the All-Star tournament team.
- Made the Russian National team camp for the last stage of the EuroHockeyTour.
- Named to the third line of Jaromir Jagr’s Eastern team of the KHL All-Star Game. Will suit up alongside Sergei Fedorov and Petri Kontiola, both representing Traktor’s biggest rivals from Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
- Will be the youngest player to ever play in the KHL All-Star Game.
- Has a five-game goal streak as the KHL goes on its All-Star Game/EuroHockeyTour hiatus.
Now take a look at his stats since the World Junor Championships:
- In the 31 games before the WJC: 9 Goals, 5 Assists
- In the 10 games after the WJC: 7 Goals, 7 Assists
In total, Kuznetsov’s 16 KHL goals this season have him in rarefied air. He’s one goal behind Jaromir Jagr, tied with Viktor Kozlov and Chris Simon; and he has more tallies than Alexei Yashin, Sergei Fedorov and Maxim Afinogenov.
Kuznetsov also has the second-most goals ever in a season for a Russian player under 19-years old. That record belongs to the late Alexei Cherepanov. Cherepanov scored 18 goals in the 2006-07 KHL regular season and chipped in another three in the playoffs. In comparison, Alex Ovechkin had 13 in the regular season at this age (15 overall), and Pavel Bure totaled 14.
There were strong rumors that Kuznetsov would be dealt away at the KHL trade deadline to a cup-contending team like SKA St. Petersburg, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, or Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The deadline came and went, however, and Kuznetsov is still in Chelyabinsk.
Now let’s bust out the YouTube and peep his most recent goals. His two goals on Tuesday, which were on a shorthanded breakaway and a penalty shot, were the most impressive. You can find them at bottom.
Goal vs Lokomtiv Yaroslavl [2:10]
Goal vs SKA St. Petersburg
Goal vs Severstal Cherepovets
Goal vs Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg [1:05]
Goal vs Vityaz Chekhov [3:45]
Goals vs UHC Dynamo Moscow:
Kuznetsov has struggled to score on breakaways before Tuesday’s game. His two goals here were done in a Wolski-equal fashion.
After the game, Kuznetsov said:
When I went for the penalty shot, I tried not to think about anything. Valery Konstantinovich [Belousov, Traktor's coach] said to do it the other way. But I was dreaming to do this deke for the whole season. Why not try it in a season-ender [actually it was their last home game of the season]! Especially since we were leading.
In an interview after the game, Belousov was asked if Kuznetsov finally learned how to score on the breakaway:
You’ve seen it today. He learned his lessons.
Additional reporting by Ian Oland.