Despite winning gold at the World Junior Championships and putting up one of the best years ever recorded by a 18-year-old in Russia, Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov spent most of last year playing through pain. The reason? A nagging shoulder injury that never completely healed after offseason surgery.
So Kuznetsov, who revealed to reporters in December that he struggled doing push-ups, flew back to Germany and went under the knife again in April. Thirteen and a half weeks later — with a renegotiated contract with Traktor and wife in hand — Kuznetsov seems optimistic of a full recovery.
Sport.ru’s Andrey Osadchenko recently spoke with the now 19-year-old and the two discussed a variety of topics. Most notably for Caps fans, Kuznetsov said that he has been looking at real estate in the D.C. area and plans to play for the Capitals in 2012-13.
Below, RMNB’s Igor Kleyner has your translation.
Pedaling, pedaling, pedaling
Andrey Osadchenko: Recently you had another shoulder surgery in Germany. A year ago you said that the first surgery was not very successful. What about this time?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: At first, I went there for evaluation. In the beginning, the doctor did not want to do another surgery. He was saying it was pretty serious, the surgery would take a long time. In the end, he did operate on me, and it turned out pretty good. He said that he managed to do everything he had planned. My pain was in the bone. So he came up with something new, and now the shoulder is perfectly safe. The main thing is to maintain the rehab schedule the doctor prescribed.
Andrey Osadchenko: The initial assessment was that your rehab would take about 3 months.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: 17 weeks. It’s been 13 and a half.
Andrey Osadchenko: Are you not training?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I am not even allowed more than 15 minutes on a stationary bike. Although, sometimes I cheat and just keep pedaling, if no one sees me. (laughing)
Andrey Osadchenko: Is it possible that you will miss the start of the season?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It all depends on how my recovery progresses. So far I just go to physical therapy and various treatments. In a couple of weeks, I will start the full training. Stationary bike, running, bungee cord exercises. Then we’ll see. I think I will get a chance to play in the Romazan tournament. Maybe in a limited role. We’ll see how I feel. The doctor said in this situation there should be no fixed schedule. How I feel will determine everything. If there is no pain, I can practice and play. If it hurts, I need to stop.
Andrey Osadchenko: Why was your surgery in April, and not right after the season ended?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Because I got injured playing for the Sbornaya in Smolensk against Belarus. There wasn’t even that much contact. But my shoulder popped out. When I returned to Moscow, the doctors evaluated me, and said that I needed surgery, otherwise it will be too late. If I put it off, they possibly would have brought me to the World Championship. And if I got re-injured there, it would hurt the team, as I would be taking someone’s spot. So we decided to go ahead with the surgery, to be able to recover in time for the start of next season. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have been able to prepare for the WJC training camp. If, of course, I am invited.
Andrey Osadchenko: Following the triumphal return from Buffalo, there were lots of rumors surrounding you. There was talk of you being traded to SKA, Salavat and Magnitogorsk. Was there anything behind those rumors?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Let’s just say there was a possibility. Valery Konstantinovich [Belousov, Traktor head coach] said there was something like eleven teams that wanted to get me for the playoffs. But if I went somewhere for the playoffs, I would become a player of that club. There is no possibility of being loaned to another team in the KHL. You can only be traded. And even if there was some way around that, there was no guarantee I would be allowed to return. That was too risky. So they decided not to trade me. And I did not want to be traded. Because I promised to the coach, and to the whole city, that the next season I will play in Chelyabinsk 100%. I have a 5 year contract, which I signed a long time ago. This will be the last year of the contract.
Tactics with Fedorov
Andrey Osadchenko: Nevertheless, you did get a chance to play alongside many players from those teams – during the KHL All Stars game. Was it a surprise for you?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I was just leaving the practice facility. Myagent calls me and says: “Did you see it?” So I said “Did I see what? I don’t understand.” And he says “Go on the internet.” So I did. I take a look – and see I am selected to play on the third line with Fedorov and Kontiola. Then I realized that the organizers were trying to get the young players involved. So, frankly, I was selected simply because I am young, and not based on my game.
Andrey Osadchenko: What can you say about the event?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It was all very new to me. I was waking around with my mouth open, looking at the stars. I did not get to interact with all of them – I was too shy to walk up to them. I really wanted to meet Sergei Fedorov. That I managed to do – we talked a bit. He is a great person. There is a lot to learn from him. To play like that in the playoffs at his age! He has so many games behind him, but he always goes out there like he is 18 years old. That’s the kind of person to learn from. I follow him not just on the ice, but also in life.
Andrey Osadchenko: During the skills competition program, you were interacting with Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Radulov. If it’s not a secret, what were you talking about.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: That was during the shot accuracy contest, and it was Sergei Fedorov’s turn. We were discussing the tactics (laughing). Although, in the end, he wasn’t able to do what he intended to. And with Radulov, we were just kidding around, because I was shooting right after him.
Andrey Osadchenko: Your “artistic” shootout attempts were awesome. Did it take you a while to come up with those?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Not at all. I remember doing it since I was a kid. I used to do it pretty well, so I decided to try again.
Andrey Osadchenko: Hasek practically ruined one of your attempts, when he left the crease and grabbed you. Did you ask him later why he did that?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: No, I did not. Regardless, I was able to do what I was trying in a later attempt.
Andrey Osadchenko: You tried using two sticks for one of your attempts. Is it hard to control the puck that way?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: To tell you the truth, I simply didn’t know what to try. And Radulov just gave me the stick and said “Here. Go!” I was a bit nervous, so it didn’t really work out.
A couple of words for the lawyer
Andrey Osadchenko: Following the victory in Buffalo some of the players were invited to be on a Channel 1 show. What was it like to see your teammates with Andrey Malakhov?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I don’t know about the guys, I landed at 10 in the morning, and was on the ice playing for Traktor at 5 in the evening that day. I did, of course, see a replay of that show. I also would have liked to go on it. To see people. To get some TV exposure, so to speak. (laughing)
Andrey Osadchenko: A large part of that show was dedicated to the events at the airport. Are you tired of all this talk over the last half a year?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I keep telling everybody just the truth. I tell like it was. Only sick people refuse to believe that there was nothing there for real. No, I am not getting tired from it. Normal people understand me. When a team wins, there is celebration. No one should be mad at us for beating the Canadians 5:3. Actually, even more than that. We beat them 5:0 in the third period. That’s why they are angry at us. That’s unsportsmanlike.
Andrey Osadchenko: When you watched the show, were you angry at the people who criticized the sbornaya?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I would like to say a few words, face to face, to that lawyer, or whoever he was. That’s the kind of person I am – I always say everything openly. I would find something to tell him. Everybody would laugh, and he would have left early, without even going to his seat.
Andrey Osadchenko: Later on, you participated in a feature “Without a Helmet” of the show Russia’s Hockey (translated here). Did you like answering funny questions?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Yes, I did. Although I was a bit baffled. I never had to answer such questions before, so I had to come up with something on the spot. But I really liked it. Thanks to the people who invite young players like myself.
Andrey Osadchenko: You said that you don’t like when girls ask you about your age. Why?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: That was simply the first thing that came to mind. (laughing)
Andrey Osadchenko: So, in this situation, is it appropriate to ask you which question you don’t like to hear from the reporters?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: When they start asking about those close to you. I think no one wants to talk about the family. That’s personal. Ask any player – no one is ready to talk about that. And for the journalists, it is interesting to dig something up, find out something nasty about me, and write about it. Of course some are normal and don’t ask about it. I just don’t like when they dig into the personal life.
A concealed medal
Andrey Osadchenko: Your long time Sbornaya teammate Vladimir Tarasenko recently had a role in a music video [KHL promotinal video by Noize MC]. How long will we have to wait for you to participate in a similar event?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: As soon as they ask me, I’ll be happy to do it. But nobody has invited me so far. Which means I am not at Volodya Tarasenko level yet, to be in a music video.
Andrey Osadchenko: If we assume hypothetically that you are in a music video, which song would you like it to be?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I don’t know. Maybe some Russian pop, so I can at least understand the lyrics. Although I wouldn’t mind to be in a rap video. I would like to sing with Noggano. [a.k.a.Basta – Ovi and Semin like him too. See here.]
Andrey Osadchenko: How about acting in a movie?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I would love to. Any movie. Except porn.
Andrey Osadchenko: The domestic movie industry has promised to release several sports movies. Do you think there will be a feature film about your victory in WJC 2011?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I don’t think it will be a full-feature, but they should pick up some moments from it. Because we have not won it in a while. It doesn’t matter what they say – luck or otherwise. In any case it is a gold medal, a victory. We’ll see what happens at the next World Championship.
Andrey Osadchenko: If there is a movie, who do you see playing the role of Evgeny Kuznetsov?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Maybe Brad Pitt or Jackie Chan. At worst, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Andrey Osadchenko: By the way, have you ever thought about writing a book? There could be a nice anthology of of your aphorisms.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: When I am finished with hockey, I will write a tell-all book. Can’t do it right now. I could write a lot about things that are not for the media, and not for anybody at all. Especially about kids’ hockey.
Andrey Osadchenko: In early June you had your wedding at Traktor Arena. Did everything go as planned, or were there any surprises?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: At first, they were trying to talk us into it for a long time. We basically opened the arena. When they built the arena, they handed me the ceremonial key. The city government asked us to have our wedding ceremony there. We agreed. Everything was exceptional, just as they promised us – minute by minute. Everything was great.
Andrey Osadchenko: Was it strange to see a familiar arena turned into a wedding palace?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I did not even see much of it. I was watching my step, trying not to fall down. (laughing) I was afraid to trip over the carpet.
Andrey Osadchenko: Following the final game in Buffalo you said you would be wearing your gold medal to you wedding. Why did you change your mind?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: How do you know? What if it was under my shirt?
Andrey Osadchenko: So was it or not?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It’s a secret.
Andrey Osadchenko: When were you more nervous – during your wedding or before the final game in Buffalo?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I wasn’t nervous at either. And those are different things. In the final everything depended not just on me, but on all of the guys, the team. During the wedding I was not nervous – I knew what I was going for, I was ready. I was nervous when I proposed. At the wedding – what is there be nervous about? There was no way back. And I did not want to go back, I was already under the spell.
Andrey Osadchenko: You made your debut for the Sbornaya this year, managed to score three points in three Eurotour games. Are you satisfied with this result?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: If we won, then I would be satisfied… I really wanted to go to the Worlds, even as a reserve player. If it weren’t for the surgery, I think I would have gone there. I even would pay my own way just to support our guys. That was one of the goals I set for myself before the season.
Andrey Osadchenko: You went through every stage of the National Team. How is the main Sbornaya different from the U20 or U18 teams?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: No, not “every”… I haven’t played for the women Sbornaya yet. (laughing) There are a lot of differences. Above all, the level of players. In the main team there are adults. They think totally differently. In a way, it is easier to play for the first Sbornaya, because there veterans there. They always help with advice. Everybody understands each other at half word. In the junior team everybody tries to stand out, pull the blanket toward himself.
Andrey Osadchenko: Interestingly, Finland brought Sami Valtanen to this tournament, you had a bit of a war of words with him in the media during the WJC. Did you talk to each other?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: No. they probably saw it on YouTube and decided to have a real life test.
Andrey Osadchenko: Do you think he is mad at you for your frank comments?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I do not think so. We met, and he did not say a word. It’s his fault. I did not say it for no reason. I don’t think many people know why I said it. If everybody knew why I said it, I think not only people would they support me, they would think I did not say enough. How could he say: “Who are the Russians? Who are Tarasenko, Kuznetsov, Orlov, Kitsyn? I don’t know them.” You should be more humble. You haven’t beat us yet, and you are talking about playing in the final. That’s not nice.
Andrey Osadchenko: Did you keep the puck that you scored your first goal for the Sbornaya with?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Yes. It’s on the shelf at home. My mom wipes the dust off of it. I have two pucks there. The first goal in the KHL and that one.
Andrey Osadchenko: What was the most memorable moment of Eurotour for you?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Probably the first practice. A very anxious moment. Everybody gathered – coaches, players, reporters. Then everything was all right. I became friends with the guys and calmed down.
Andrey Osadchenko: You decided to stay with Traktor for another year, even though you could have tried yourself overseas. Why?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It was a difficult situation. There was a moment when I decided to leave, because there were certain problems. Then everything changed. I promised to Valery Konstantinovich and to the governor to stay in Chelyabinsk for another year. I am thankful to them for giving me so much attention. I even got an apartment after the World Championship. I simply had to stay. Besides, realistically, it’s a bit too early for me to go there. I want to go to the NHL prepared, when I am confident I can make the team. To play in the AHL for 2-3 years – that’s not for me.
Andrey Osadchenko: Do for now you familiarize yourself with the NHL on Playstation?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Yes, when I play, my hands shake. I really want to make it there soon.
Andrey Osadchenko: Which team are you?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Washington. I gathered all the Russians, including the young guys, and play. I put myself on the line with Alex Ovechkin.
Andrey Osadchenko: So who scores more?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I do, of course. (laughing) But only in a virtual game.
Andrey Osadchenko: The fans in Washington can’t wait for you to join.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Next year (2012-2013). I don’t know if I am going to make the main team, but I am planning to move there for the next season. Sasha Ovechkin said he would help with the apartment at first. We will live at his place for a couple of months, then, of course we will rent our own apartment. I even checked the apartment prices there over the internet.
Andrey Osadchenko: Much more expensive than in Chelyabinsk?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Yes, but it makes no sense to buy. We’ll rent. Most important thing is to be close to the practice facility. They explained everything to me. The agent said he would help with the car. There shouldn’t be any problem. They told me: “Just come. We’ll take care of everything”.
Additional reporting by Ian Oland.