Photo credit: hotice.ru
On March 12th, the MHL, the KHL’s developmental league, held an All-Star game for under-18 year-old players in Cheylabinsk, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s hometown. KHL president Alexander Medvedev attended the one-day event and made time to meet with the local press. When asked his opinion about the future of the league’s most popular player, Medvedev responded, “Kuznetsov would be better playing a couple more years here.”
Apparently Kuznetsov agrees with Medvedev, because today on KHL-TV’s “The Icing Show,” the 19-year-old Caps prospect revealed that he will stay in Russia next season.
‘To be honest, my decision has been reached,” Kuznetsov told host Igor Larin (a contributor to the Russian newspaper Sport-Express, who originally broke the news). “It is my intention to continue my career in the KHL. At the same time there is no clarity as to which club it will be.”
Larin speculated in his article for Sport-Express that the Caps’ struggles this season– Dale Hunter’s defensive-first system and Alex Ovechkin’s decline in productivity– are among the reasons why Kuznetsov will stay with the KHL.
Other reasons for the decisions may include finances (Russia’s income tax rate is significantly lower than America’s), his new marriage, uncertainty over the NHL’s pending collective-bargaining agreement discussions, and the upcoming Olympics in Sochi.
There has been no shortage of opinions on Kuznetsov’s decision. Russian hockey legend Boris Mikhaylov, a two-time gold medal winner for Russia in the 70′s and second all-time in national team goals, told Sports.ru:
Well done, Kuznetsov! He’s made the right, competent and well-thought decision. There’s only one reason: He needs one more year to get stronger, more consistent, play on the national team level and he’ll be okay. He needs to stay in the KHL for one more year for sure.
As far as I know [in the NHL] the first deal you sign is always two-way so he might be sent down at anytime. That’s a minus. Of course, if he’d make the [Capitals] that’d be good. But would he improve there? I doubt it. He won’t be a leader there. Evgeny is a young guy and I doubt he’d play on the first line. If he’d have a guaranteed place on the team, he’d progress. Nobody knows how much ice time he’d get.
Valery Bragin, Kuznetsov’s coach on Russia’s WJC team, also told allhockey.ru:
It looks like the conditions he was offered in Traktor satisfied him. So he’s staying. He probably thought that’s too early for him [to go to the NHL].
It’s his decision, not mine. He’s a grown-up, married person. He probably thought a lot about it. What’s to discuss here?
Kuznetsov’s decision reverses previous statements he has made about his professional future. In August of 2011, Kuznetsov told Sports.ru he had made plans to move to America:
I don’t know if I am going to make [the Capitals], 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.
Kuznetsov’s contract with Traktor ends this summer. His free agent status is expected to ignite a bidding war. But until he signs on the dotted line, Kuzya could once again reverse his decision, and we’ll be here to translate it.
In a few hours, Kuznetsov’s interview will air on KHL-TV. We’ll bring you the full translation and video.
Fedor Fedin also contributed to this article.