Evgeny Kuznetsov and NHL Expectations


Photo credit: Chris Gordon (Click to enlarge. He’s got beautiful blue eyes, you know.)

Evgeny Kuznetsov has had quite a year. Not only did he win a gold medal with Team Russia in the 2011 World Junior Championship, become the youngest player to ever be in the KHL All-Star Game and get engaged, but he also had the second-most goals ever in a season for a Russian player under 19-years old (17 to be exact). But how can we measure his success compared to the NHL?

Gabe over at Behind the Net adopted Bill James’ concept of minor league equivalencies to estimate how well a player’s scoring ability will translate to the NHL. For example, if a forward scores 70 points in the AHL we don’t expect that same player to score 70 points in the big leagues due to a decrease in ice time and power play minutes with other factors including the quality of line-mates also playing in.

These equivalencies are not predictions of what a player will do, but instead an evaluation of what that player has done. When I looked at the Hershey Bears last summer it was evident that Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux, while having strong AHL campaigns, would struggle to find a spot at the National Hockey League level based on the translation of performance to the higher level of NHL play.

As for Kuznetsov, let me say first that the competition level in the Kontinental Hockey League is much greater than the AHL. The game may be slower and less physical, but make no mistake: given two players at the same position and age, with the same ice time and stats, the KHL player will be the better bet in the NHL.

The KHL has come a long way in providing detailed stats, including ice time, so we can get a complete picture of not only what his NHL performance will translate to but also what we could project for him going forward.

First, the NHL equivalency:

KHL (actual) 44 17 15 32 9 5 3 158 624.8
NHLe 44 13 11 24 7 4 2 118 468.6
NHLe for 82 games 82 24 21 45 13 7 4 220 873.3

Forty-five points scored would put him fourth highest on Washington’s leaderboard, just ahead of Brooks Laich and alongside Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers in rookie production for centers. With Kuznetsov’s gold medal performance and regular season play, I don’t find this out of the realm of possibility if he was given a full 82 game schedule .

Now that we know what he would have produced at the NHL level, we can project the next two years and see if it makes sense to rush him or let him develop in the KHL one more year.

Evgeny Kuznetsov Age GP G A Pts Sh TOI GVT
2011 NHLe 19 44 13 11 24 118 624.8
2012 NHL proj 20 57 9 9 18 104 757.4 1.0
2013 NHL proj 21 65 14 19 33 145 941.0 5.4

Kuznetsov would be projected to play more NHL games in 2012-13, but his production would suffer a bit. This is not unexpected — we see phenoms regress in their sophomore season all the time. It is important to understand that it is not really a “sophomore jinx” as much as it is a rookie overachieving his first year. In 2013-14 we can expect to see Kuznetsov beginning to realize his full NHL value, with Tom Awad’s GVT metric climbing over NHL replacement level. This is when an organization wants to start the clock on a player’s salary-controlled years in order to maximize their draft asset to its fullest potential.

Caps fans should hope Kuznetsov is just posturing when he says he may stay in the KHL long-term, but let’s feel good he is developing in a tougher environment so when he does come to the big club his impact will be felt right away.

Additional reporting by Ian Oland and Chris Gordon.

  • Russki_Magic

    He’s said he wants to come, but doesn’t want to get hidden in the AHL because he’s not ready. I think that’s smart because he gets so many more chances with the KHL all-stars-which is taken more seriously over there than NHL ASG’s, he got to play alongside Fedorov and Jagr as well as other great players.
    There are also all the European tournaments that happen. He was in his first adult tournament for Russia this year- the Euro Hockey Tour, and scored two goals and one assist in three games.

    It’s stuff like that, which make it more valuable than if he were to come here so soon.

    That being said, I’m practically squeeing at the thought of him with Hershey or Washington!

    Also, I do agree with the other post, about his wedding, that he may be doing it so when he does come over, she can come as well.

  • AlexE

    I have no clue as to how you project just 14 goals in 65 games in 2013.
    I was thinking something more like 30!!!
    You should take into account his massive improvement over the last season in the KHL(2009/2010) aswell.

  • I have no clue as to how you project just 14 goals in 65 games in 2013.
    I was thinking something more like 30!!!

    @AlexE Since the lockout there have been forty-seven 21-year centers who have played more than 40 games. Only four have scored more than 30 goals. Is Kuz talented? Absolutely. Does that mean we should be over aggressive in our estimates? Absolutely not.

    Is there a chance he outperforms the goal projection above? Yes, and it is relatively high at 34.1%.

    You should take into account his massive improvement over the last season in the KHL(2009/2010) aswell.

    You shouldn’t assume I didn’t 😉

  • JW90

    Neil, I know I should be asking Fed this, but I had a question regarding a Russian prospect called Nikita Zaytsev. I know he was draft eligible in 2010, but was passed on. I watched him at WJC2011 and he was really good (when he wasnt injured). The commentators said he would re-enter the draft in 2011, but with a higher stock. Would the Caps take a risk on him? They have 6th and 7th round picks this year, and they have not shied away from drafting Russians, as was shown with Kuzzy and Galiev….

  • FedFed

    @JW90 Nikita Zaytsev is avery solid d-man. He’s one of two Sibir’s best youngsters (the other one is Tarasenko). I believe he’ll be taken in this draft, late, of course. In the NHL rankings he was 9th among European skaters last year.

  • JW90


    Would the Caps take him?