Evgeny Kuznetsov speeds down the middle during Traktor’s game against Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk (Photo credit: Vitaly Gubin, Traktor PR Service)
Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, currently sitting in the top 15 in both goals and points (12g, 12a), was named a KHL All-Star for the second time on Monday. Unlike last season, Kuznetsov was overwhelmingly voted in as a starter this year by fans and will represent “Team Fedorov” of the Eastern conference. The 19-year-old Traktor Chelyabinsk forward finished second overall in total votes (33,800), trailing only Mikelis Redlihs of the Western Conference’s “Team Ozolins.”
To put Kuznetsov’s immense popularity in perspective, consider that he garnered more votes than reigning MVP Alexander Radulov, Roman Cervenka (the KHL’s leading scorer), Vladimir Tarasenko, and Russian National Team Captain Alexei Morozov.
Recently, Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lysenkov did a lengthy feature story on Kuznetsov, who some have called the new face of the KHL. Like most interviews with Russian players, the story starts off with questions about Vityaz Chekhov, who was recently beaten by Traktor on the scoreboard and tried to beat them back with their fists.
Most importantly to Caps fans, Kuznetsov discussed his possible NHL future, his contract situation, and who he idolized as a kid. Below the jump, I have the translation.
Evgeny Kuznetov: It’s difficult for Vityaz and Coach Nazarov to prove themselves anymore. What’s left for their enforcers? They need to fight somebody. I think every club in the KHL should have a tough guy. Let them fight each other. That’s useful. You get a “policeman” on the ice and everyone sees they shouldn’t touch the other players.
Pavel Lysenkov: Have you seen what Gimaev said to Sovetsky Sport? “[Russia] has to keep Kuznetsov until the Olympics”.
Evgeny Kuznetov: Right now my agent is negotiating with Washington. I am going to meet the team representatives when I am at the World Junior Championships in Calgary. I have no idea what kind of offer I am going to get. For now I am not going anywhere. I still have another half season to go on my contract with Traktor.
Pavel Lysenkov: National Team head Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov also said you should not go.
Evgeny Kuznetov: I would stay in the KHL for 15 years! But in Russia they’re not used to giving out such long contracts. Who would pay a young player the money Ovechkin is getting in Washington? If I were offered a KHL contract like the one Ovechkin has, I’d sign it without a doubt! And I would play for Traktor until the end of my career. Wherever you get paid is a good place to be. That’s our job. But I have a dream to test myself in the NHL.
Pavel Lysenkov: Do you watch games of that league?
Evgeny Kuznetov: Yes, of course. It’s impressive that they squeeze so much out of half-chances. Mediocre players grind it out and score goals just on their character. In the NHL you’ve got to do everything very fast. In the KHL, the game is more finesse.
Pavel Lysenkov: What did Alex Ovechkin say when he hung out with you at your wedding party?
Evgeny Kuznetov: “Don’t worry. Come to the NHL and everything will be okay.” I went to Caps’ Development Camp after the draft last year. I went into the locker room and walked around for a week with my jaw on the floor.
Pavel Lysenkov: Why?
Evgeny Kuznetov: I came without a uniform. A man measured me with just a look. Then I returned from the hotel and the uniform of my size was already hanging there! After the training session, I started hanging it up. The equipment guy waved and said, “Throw it down! I’ll pick it up myself!” There’s professionalism everywhere. All you have to concentrate on is playing hockey.
Pavel Lysenkov: Is the KHL different?
Evgeny Kuznetov: In Traktor, they also help us handle our luggage. But in America you don’t even see these people [handling equipment]. You can go to Vegas with your wife. Or catch some sun rays in Miami. And return in time for the game. I know, many guys do that. But here – there is some lack of trust in the players. You must be with the team the day before a game.
Pavel Lysenkov: You know North America well.
Evgeny Kuznetov: So far, I’ve been there like 10 times. I played in Canada. I lived in New York. The first time I flew there I was 14. I just got my international passport! My mom put me on a plane, and my uncle godfather picked me up in New York. I played for a local team with a Russian coach. I walked around Manhattan. Bought souvenirs. I went to McDonald’s, and ordered by myself. Then I put 25 cents in a public phone, called my uncle and told him where I was standing and he picked me up. The weather was a bit of a let down. It was raining for the first three weeks. I wanted to swim in the ocean. My godfather said, “Let’s go to the beach”. All the Americans were hiding under their umbrellas. I ran right into the waves. They were thinking there goes some crazy Russian kid. But then some followed me. The water turned out to be pretty warm.
Pavel Lysenkov: Who do you like among hockey players?
Evgeny Kuznetov: I follow a lot of players. What they do during the game, how they hold their stick for a faceoff. You try to pick up few tricks. Malkin and Datsyuk of course are top class.
Pavel Lysenkov: Have you met them?
Evgeny Kuznetov: No. Alexander Semin played in Chelyabinsk at one point. But he probably doesn’t remember me. I was little, about eight years old. They lived at the boarding school for the kids from out of town. I was spending all my time at the stadium. Went right by the school and to the rink.
Pavel Lysenkov: Did you ask for Semin’s stick?
Evgeny Kuznetov: I asked other guys from Traktor’s squad for their sticks. Nobody gave me one. I became their teammate in like eight years.
Pavel Lysenkov: When you were 12, Canadians made a movie about you. How did they know you’d be a famous player?!
Evgeny Kuznetov: Canadians sent a letter beforehand saying they need Kuznetsov. I played in Omsk then. It was shot in about two weeks. The entire movie is three hours long and it’s about hockey in Siberia. One and a half of that is about me. They were interested about everything: how do we make pelmeni; how the kids are playing hockey. We were walking for 30 minutes in -22 degrees Fahrenheit from the camp to the rink, while the Canadians were running behind us with a camera. They first noticed me when I was nine in a tournament. We played in Mahnitogorsk. The whole “Romazan” [Ed. Note - Former Metallurg arena] was watching. The locals were invincible, but we smashed them 12-2 in the final. We were given a cup like a table lamp. The Magnitogorsk guys were give a trophy that looked like a Stanley Cup, along with uniforms, shoes, and sticks. They gave me 600 rubles for being the top scorer. And a medal. I scored like 20 goals then. Nobody else was even close! I was so disappointed that I wanted to cry.
Pavel Lysenkov: What were you dreaming about when you were 12?
Evgeny Kuznetov: I wanted to be Jaromir Jagr [Ed. note: Sigh].
Pavel Lysenkov: Wow!
Evgeny Kuznetov: When Jaromir came to Avangard in 2004, all of Omsk was crazy about him. First, we thought at the training, “Who is that clumsy guy skating?” But then he went out on the ice for the game. And everybody just gasped. I couldn’t get an autograph then. I have photo from that year. I took a picture of him with my cellphone camera from up close. I printed that out then. It’s now hanging on the wall in my house.
Pavel Lysenkov: So you never met him?
Evgeny Kuznetov: Why? During the previous KHL All-Star Game, I said hello to him. I stood near him. I was quiet. I saw Jagr smiling when I scored on the breakaway. “Great job,” he said.
Pavel Lysenkov: You played on the line with Sergei Fedorov.
Evgeny Kuznetov: When he went to Detroit in 1991 I wasn’t even born yet. When I look at guys like him I see how i need to work. I read Sovetsky Sport when Fedorov gave me three pieces of advice. One of them – only go to the NHL as a mature player and don’t get lost on a farm team. If you’re not ready, you better stay. Achieve something in Russia, it will be easier for you then. When Ovechkin went to NHL, he was big like a wardrobe [Ed. Note: Not to be confused with the one and only Wardrobe in the history of hockey]. You couldn’t push him out. Malkin achieved everything in Magnitogorsk. Kovalchuk showed himself playing for Spartak.
Additional reporting by Ian Oland.