Evgeny Kuznetsov

Photo: Chris Gordon

The Washington Capitals spent about 20 minutes Thursday morning posing for pictures with cute animals, both domestic and wild, and then proceeded to a grueling practice session featuring something that looked suspiciously like a bag skate.

After almost an hour and a half on the ice, the players started trickling in to the locker room. Some of the guys, though, stayed on the ice a bit longer, including Dmitry Orlov, Mikhail Grabovski, and the latest addition to the Capitals roster, Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Russian-speaking troika remained on the ice, enjoying a game of King of the Hill on the center circle.

Finally, the Russian rookie and his buddies made their way to their locker room stalls, where he patiently answered RMNB’s questions until no stone was left unturned in the first chapter of what hopefully will be Kuzya’s long tenure in a red jersey with #92 on the back.

Now that the first couple of weeks in the NHL are behind you, what are your first impressions? What do you like? What do you not like?

I like everything. Everything is new for me, it’s like I discovered a whole new world for myself. I came to another country, but I don’t really have any problems here. I feel very comfortable. Everybody is helping me out, and I am thankful to everybody for their help. We have a great atmosphere on the team, even though we are in a difficult situation, and we really need to win every game, but we are all thinking only positively.

After the first game you said that there were moments when you felt unsure of where you were supposed to be.

Well, it’s not like I didn’t know what I was supposed to do or where I had to skate. Everything was explained to me, but it almost felt like there were so many players on the ice playing against me [laughing], and everything was happening so fast! But now, little by little, I have begun to understand the substance of the game. I wouldn’t say it has gotten to be easy for me, it’s just that – and everybody says that – I just happened to come here at such difficult time, when we are facing very strong opponents, one after another. All the games are very difficult, but maybe it’s even for the better.

Speaking of this difficult run of games, especially the trip to California, where you faced the likes of Doughty and Beauchemin– how hard was it to play against such elite defensemen?

Well, it’s not like I have never played against top-level defensemen; there are a few very good ones in the KHL, especially during the NHL lockout. But the game is a bit different here – you just get ahead of someone by half a body, and you are closer to the goal right away, and a bit of space opens up for you. There are a lot of one-on-one battles – and if you beat your guy, you may catch a good chance to get a shot on goal.

During these eight games you have played so far, was there a particular defenseman you felt was the hardest to play against?

Well, I pretty much know everybody, even though I hadn’t played against them. These days, everybody watches the NHL games. And I can’t say that I paid any special attention to any one in particular. There are a lot of good defensemen out there.

Your first NHL career goal – how did it feel when you scored?

Yeah, the sensations were…  it was just incredible. I was standing right there in front of the goal, and I saw the puck coming right onto my stick… to really understand it, you need to live through it. Of course, if only it weren’t for that shootout attempt – there would be a more festive mood; I was really upset because of that miss. Didn’t even get a shot off!

Speaking of that first goal – it really wasn’t the highlight-reel kind of goal, unlike many you have scored in your career; it was much more of a blue-collar type, may I even say a typical North American goal?

I think here you can only succeed… you can only score goals if you are willing to put that kind of work, that kind of effort in. You can’t just stickhandle around the whole team. Hockey here is somewhat different from what we have in Russia, where there is a lot of open skating. Also, we as a team are in a situation where we have to play this way.

That puck that Ovi scooped up for you – what are you going to do with it?

I don’t even know where it is, somewhere at the arena… Sasha got it for me; they are going to put it in a frame. And then I am going to give it to my parents, to put on the shelf with my other trophies.

You are somewhat famous for your extravagant goal celebrations – including kayaking, swimming, doing pushups and even playing dead. But after your first NHL goal, your celly was kind of modest – are we going to see anything more spectacular any time soon?

Not yet, right now I would hesitate to put on anything like that. I think I need to establish myself as a player in this league first, then – maybe [smiling] – when I am scoring a lot of goals!

Is it easier for you to be on the same wavelength with other Russians, or maybe any Europeans?

Actually, that is not the case at all. I have good understanding with all of our guys, Europeans, or guys from North America. Because [the coaches] explain very well how to play our game, and I like all of our guys, everybody I got a chance to play with, I found good understanding. If you explain to a player what’s expected of him, he’ll play well no matter where he is from.

What is harder for you: to make adjustments on or off the ice, in hockey, or in your everyday life?

I don’t really have any problems here on or off the ice. The most important thing is I like it here and when you are enjoying everything it is easier to adjust, to do whatever is necessary.

Do you miss your family a lot?

Of course I do, anybody who moves to another country would feel that way. But that’s life. I will definitely bring them all here by the start of the next season. My wife should be here by the time playoffs begin.

And the doggie, do you miss her? And by the way, how does a Yorkie get through that tough Uralian winter?

Yes, every time I talk to my wife on Skype, she picks her up and shows her to me. And the last two or three winters were kind of mild in Chelyabinsk, it only got below minus-30 a couple of times. And she always wears a coat when she goes outside in winter.

What can you say about the fans and the hockey arenas here?

It’s really nothing but positive here for me. Every day there is something new. Of course, I have played in big arenas before, but to have such a great building as your home arena, it is really awesome. And the atmosphere, the fans screaming, supporting us – especially [against the Kings], when we tied the game, it was incredible how loud everybody was screaming. It’s such a festive feeling. It really is a celebration here for the people.

Are you going to stick with 92 on your jersey?

Yes, I have said it before, I just changed the number for my last season in Chelyabinsk, but here I am back to my number. It’s going to be 92.

You got to play next to Sergei Fedorov in the KHL All Star Game; Fedorov is really a very special player for many Caps fans, even though his stay in Washington wasn’t very long. Did he talk to you about the Capitals and the NHL?

Simply said: he is a legend. Not just in Russian hockey, but for the whole world. It is really something special even to be next to such a great player. When I was growing up, I looked up to him, tried to learn whatever I could from him, even how he skates, everything. He said a few words to me two years ago, and those words made me really think about myself, and I really did change a lot about myself because of that talk. Those words will forever stay between him and me, not even so many words – just 5 or 6 maybe, but they were very special. His words really touched a nerve – in a good way, I am very thankful to him for it. If he ever reads this, he’ll know what I am talking about.

Did you bring your parachute here with you?

No, but I will go back to using it in summer when I start training. It’s a good skating exercise, they do it here as well.

EvgenyKuznetsov (5 of 7)

Photo: Chris Gordon

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  • Simonezero

    Fantastic interview. Brb getting his jersey.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    Obviously I’m pretty biased, but this is such a great, insightful interview. Unreal work, Igor.

  • jp_daddi0

    I couldn’t agree more; you ask all the right questions. Thanks, Igor!

  • Chris Cerullo

    Kuzya just seems so chill

  • Mark

    I’ll be honest. After all the drama regarding his transition to the NHL, I didn’t expect such a mature player. He has been great on the ice and his interaction with the media is more developed than a lot of veterans. I’m excited about his future in RED.

  • Yo8

    I can’t wait for that little fur ball! ♥
    ───▄▀▀▀▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▀▀▀▄───
    ───█▒▒░░░░░░░░░▒▒█───
    ────█░░█░░░░░█░░█────
    ─▄▄──█░░░▀█▀░░░█──▄▄─
    █░░█─▀▄░░░░░░░▄▀─█░░█

  • Lawrence

    He’s just a very honest person and that makes it easier to deal with the media when you aren’t pretending to be someone you’re not.

  • Matt Lauer

    Might I also call attention to the fact that his locker stall is positioned right next to Nate Schmidt’s?

    #freeschmidt

  • Igor Kleyner

    That was actually very convenient, as you can see from the picture, because it allowed me to safely park my nose somewhere for the duration of our interview.

  • John Bolt

    Agreed. Thanks for the excellent read.

  • Myan

    Really insightful interview and thank you for the kayaking GIF! I’m wearing his player shirt at work today :D Can’t wait to see him & the boys in Nashvegas on Sunday. woohoo!

  • Diller M

    After this year will he have 1 or 2 left on the ELC?

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    One year. But I wouldn’t worry about it too much. He seems very happy here.

  • Myan

    Does Igor read/write Russian? I wanted to make a sign for Kuzya on Sunday and I don’t think Google Translate will translate what I want to say….

  • capsyoungguns

    Fabulous interview with real information in it. I hope the Caps make the playoffs and Kuznetsov can hear Verizon get even louder. But this bit about the mild weather back in Chelyabinsk. At below -30 C I’ve go to stop complaining about our winter.

  • bill

    I can see his next contract being a big one if he proves himself. He’s not going to play here for $2 million a year. If he has Backstrom type talent maybe he gets a Backstrom level contract.

  • Igor Kleyner

    yes, Igor indeed reads/writes Russian… Come to think of it – if you had to ask, maybe our editorial board needed to make it more obvious that this interview was conducted in Russian and then translated!

  • Stevarooni

    The Kuznetsov the Caps drafted would not have been so mature in his interviews, his game on the ice, or off the ice.

    But it is still early in his NHL career for him to show us

  • Igor Kleyner

    I just clicked on “below -30″ link. This is AWESOME! Also, other people on my telecon want to know what’s so funny.

  • Igor Kleyner

    And, of course, go ahead and let me know what you want for the sign.

  • Igor Kleyner

    Just in case it wasn’t obvious from reading between the lines… My personal impression #1 was – Kuzya seems to be a very willing student of the game. He really wants to be coached. Over to you, Mr Oates :)

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    “He’s not going to play here for $2 million a year.”

    No – he will. He knows he needs to pay his dues and earn what he makes. Thing is, I agree with you though. His talent translates to the NHL, he’s going to be a very good NHL player. He’s nearly a point per game player already and he’s not even getting much time on the PP. They should lock him up long-term as soon as humanly possible. More so they can get value on his salary, not because they should fear him leaving.

  • Myan

    Thank you so much! I want to make a sign that says something along the lines of “KUZYA: keep calm & dangle, snipe & celly”…but in Russian hockey jargon/terms that he will understand. Thank you so much for your help :)

  • Fedor

    Sorry for chiming in, but though you can translate it literally, there’s no such meme in Russian. In fact, in my office, there’s a “Keep calm and turn it off and on again” sign in English on the IT dept. door ;)

  • Jeanne Blue

    Fabulous interview. And oh my, I love this kid’s attitude. Confident, humble, generous to his teammates and the fans, and funny. Seems like he has a tremendous skillset; Skates well and sees and gets to the puck, etc, etc.
    I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, he can’t be real, can he?

  • Igor Kleyner

    I agree – Keep Calm has too much of British flavor to be Russian-ized – Fedor, can you come up with a good authentic Russian alternative for our reader?

  • Myan

    Aw boo you’re crushing my dreams! I had wonderful visions for my glorious sign that my poor boyfriend will have to make. Will he understand my sign if I translate that literally?

  • Igor Kleyner

    How about “Спокойствие. Только спокойствие.” :)))
    The closest thing to Keep Calm that is authentically Russian (by the way of Sweden!)
    Fedor, is this still a thing in Russia? I know, totally stupid for the sign, but I loved that Karlsson dude so much!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLVlRGj6pog

  • Fedor

    Не парься — slang-y “don’t bother”

  • araporrada21

    Good stuff

  • Fedor

    Not really. Не парься is used on a daily basis though.

  • Matt Lauer

    That is, unfortunately, questionable tutelage.

  • Igor Kleyner

    What do they say for “celly”? – I kind of sheepishly mumbled “праздновать” yesterday :) And, we are NOT doing Не парься sign!

  • Myan

    Fedor, can you help me come up with an authentic Russian slogan/meme? I promise to make the sign breathtakingly beautiful/awesome.

  • Fedor

    Празднуй, yeah, it’s the closest. I thought of: Не парься. Финти, бросай, празднуй.

  • Myan

    What does this mean??

  • Fedor

    Don’t bother. Dangle, shoot, celebrate. Though the gathering of the minds with Igor is not over yet, we’ll try to put it better.

  • Myan

    You guys are awesome! Thank you both so so much :)

  • Igor Kleyner

    i am still uneasy about Не парься :) How about…

    Финти
    Бросай
    Забивай
    ………..
    И ПРАЗДНУЙ!!!

  • Fedor

    Thought about it. Drops the “Keep calm” part, but makes a lot of sense.

  • Myan

    I like that! Thanks, Igor & Fedor! I really really appreciate the help from you both :) I’ll post a picture of my sign on Sunday!

  • Myan

    How do I write Kuzya or his nickname in Russian?

  • Fedor

    Кузя

  • Steven Lemmeyer

    I have always stuck to getting our goalie’s jerseys but Kuz has ended this tradition. Sorry, Kolzig, I still love you man.

  • Simonezero

    I’m with you on the goalie jerseys. I’ve spent 4 months trying to decide on my next one. The important decisions are always so difficult!

  • Steven Lemmeyer

    I’m going with Kuznetsov for sure, Halak if they re-sign him, aaaand…hmm…Ward. Ward has been long overdue since his OTG against Boston.

  • guest

    ‘Ne par’sya’ don’t think it is good expression,
    I’d prefer ” Kuzya, Ne unyvaj, nakruchivaj, brosaj i prazdnuj!”

  • Stanley Cup in Washington

    Buy out Laich.

    Trade Green for anything. Dump salary. But him out if
    necessary.

    Re-sign Grabovski.

    Trade Brouwer, Johansson, Burakovsky/1st round
    pick (either or both) for Shea Weber.

    Hire an established, winning NHL coaching staff.

    Make every effort to attract free agents to Washington,
    overpay if you must, the window is closing.

    Moulson – 4.5 mil

    Ott – 3.5 mil

    Greene – 3.5 mil

    http://www.capgeek.com/armchair-gm/roster/7523

    ???

    Stanley Cup

  • Myan

    I don’t think that his decision to stay in DC will 100% depend on money because even at this current point in his career, he’s already set himself and his family up for life. I think in 18 months time, he’ll make the decision to stay based on if he & his family are happy living in DC and if he likes the guys he plays with here. If he has an 80 pt season, I could see us giving him something like 3-4m a year. If he has a 100+ pt season, then the management would think about a bigger deal. I think the management has learned their lesson with long & expensive contracts to Green and Laich. The last contracts to Alzner & Orlov have been much more reasonable.

  • Myan

    Isn’t Weber’s contract like 8m a year for the next decade? That means that we’ll be paying him 8m a year until he is 38 years old. That seems like an exceptionally risky gamble to make when we have enough cap room to sign a child to a 1 day contract & let him/her live the NHL dream for an afternoon.

  • Owen Johnson

    Kinda hope he pulls out the kayak celly, just to hear Don Cherry’s rage boner.

  • Igor Kleyner

    Wait… game on Sunday? Against Preds? Hey, I have a sign for you! We just need to make sure Ian takes his blood pressure meds! :)

  • Myan

    Yes! What is your sign/idea??

  • Stanley Cup in Washington

    Nothing about Shea Weber is a gamble.
    He is an elite defenseman.
    We have none of those.
    Buying out Laich and moving Green would give us all the cap room anyone could ever want.

  • Roman Z.

    Hey if you need help with that and Igor/Fedor aren’t available right away, I can always hep!

  • Myan

    That doesn’t change the fact that we will still carry a $7.8m cap hit when he is 40 years old. He’s getting paid $12-$14m a year until he is 35. If he struggles, we’re going to have a hell of a hard time moving a contract of that size without retaining some part of his monstrous salary. We have an elite defeseman name John Carlson whose salary is literally half of Weber’s and is about a 35 pt/season producer. Weber is about a 42 pt/season producer and we’ve seen his ceiling. I don’t believe that we’ve seen Carlson’s ceiling yet.

  • Myan

    They helped me come up with the sign :) Now my only question is: what materials are most efficient for sign-making?? Paints? Construction paper letters?

  • Stanley Cup in Washington

    Who better to bring the young Carlson along than a top 5 NHL veteran.
    You raise good points about the money, but that’s probably the only reason we’d be able to pry him away from Nashville.
    I think we have different definitions of the word “elite”, as well.
    Points don’t tell the whole story for DEFENSEmen.
    Weber does everything, and at the highest level.
    27 minutes a game, PP, and PK.
    Every team in the NHL is better with him on the blueline.

  • BornToHula

    And Carlson is nowhere near Weber. The caps have not had a good defensive top pairing Dman since Tinordi. Also, D is not necessarily about points.

  • Myan

    No, I totally get what you mean by an elite defeseman but bringing in Weber just seems too risky with a contract that big. What would we even have to give up to get him? What about the no trade clause on his contract? I live in Nashville and even fans here were/are horrified that the Preds matched Philadelphia’s offer to keep Weber. Even if we brought Weber in, who else would we play on the blue line? We’d still only have 3 true Top 4 Dmen.

  • Stanley Cup in Washington

    Check out the roster I made on CapGeek in my original post.
    Weber could even make Green look like a 2D

  • Roman Z.

    Lol errrr … yeah I’m not the arty type unfortunately. Maybe Rachel could pitch in.

  • Myan

    Well Carlson is a -3 on the season and Weber is a -6 with comparable TOI and games played. The most important thing here is that Carlson is on a manageable contract that is far less risky than Weber’s. If we needed to move Carlson for whatever reason, there would be a dozen teams willing & eager to take him off our hands and they’d give us something good in return. If we needed to move Weber, we’d have to find a team who could clear up $7.8m in cap space until 2025. That significantly narrows the buyers pool. Say we wanted to move either guys because they just don’t perform for us: it’s a whole lot easier to get someone to take on an under-performing player for $3.9m/yr until 2018 than for $7.8m/yr until 2025. At the end of their contracts, Carlson would be 28 and Weber would be 40.

  • Stanley Cup in Washington

    I still don’t see the risk.
    The guy is a top 5 Dman in the NHL.
    You know exactly what you get with Weber.
    The risk is squandering the career of our 3x MVP and most prolific goal scorer of a generation without ever winning a cup.

  • Myan

    Honestly, I’m just not convinced that he’s worth $7.8m a year until 2025. He’s a great player but I don’t think that he’s twice as good as Carlson…which is what his contract suggests. I’ve seen him play at least a dozen times this season and he’s prone to errors just like our guys…not exactly Mike Green type errors, but I’ve seen plenty of guys score with Weber on the ice.

  • Myan

    The risk is not having the cap space to play with before the playoffs should we find ourselves cup contenders but short a center or a wing. Or worse, being stuck with a guy who’s under performing with a massive contract that we can’t move…like Mike Green & Brooks Laich.

    Solution: We could bring in another Top 4 D that doesn’t cost $7.8m a year until 2025.

  • Stanley Cup in Washington

    Shea Weber and a real NHL coaching staff already makes this team a contender

  • BornToHula

    The caps need a 1D not a top 4D (well actually need both) but won’t be Cup contenders until they get a 1D

  • BornToHula

    Schultz was really elite then.

    I’d be willing to be stuck with that contract when he may no longer be worth it because there is no way they win a cup with this D and Ovi’s and Backstrom’s window will not last forever.

  • Myan

    The Capitals need a Top 4D and a new coaching staff…or at least a Top 4D and new defensive coach. We absolutely do not need Shea Weber.

  • Myan

    A real NHL coaching staff and a Top 4D would make this team a contender. Shea Weber’s explicit and implicit cost does not outweigh the marginal benefit he would provide this team.

  • Myan

    You hit the nail on the head. There’s no way we win a cup with this D. We don’t have to have this D but it also doesn’t mean we need to mortgage our future & assume a risk as big as Weber to win a cup either. Look up “opportunity cost”.

  • BornToHula

    After 16 years of GMGM and 40 years of no cups I am willing to mortgage the future for a decent shot and I think Weber provides that.

  • Myan

    Fair enough but fact of the matter is there is absolutely no financially possible way we can have him, Ovechkin, and Backstrom on the same team without the rest of the guys being bottom tier players. You’re not going to change my mind and I’m not going to change yours so it’s just a case of differing opinions. Have a great weekend!

  • Austin

    Maybe, but giving up Brouwer is stupid he’s become a leader ( if there are any on this team) for the caps

  • Owen Johnson

    His locker is right next to Nate Schmidt’s. He must have a lot of elbow room.

  • Smiley456

    Very impressed with Kuzya’s maturity, thoughtful answers, and all around nice guy personality. If Federov’s (sp?) words made such a difference, maybe the longer than expected wait was worth it.

  • Smiley456

    I figured as much. After all, I doubt Kuzya as very good as his english is, would understand “celly” :-)

  • Owen Johnson

    I also think a lot of our defensive deficiencies are due to poor coaching. I definitely think a personnel upgrade is in order, but we don’t need to gamble to get a superstar from another team.

  • Graham Dumas

    Igor, what am I missing with не парься? I always used it as a pretty standard slang way to say chill out. Bashakov even did a Russian version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” called не парься.

  • Igor Kleyner

    I don’t know, has a tinge of condescension to me. Then again, my Russian is a bit old-fashioned, kind of stuck in the 80s. When I talk to my friends now, I often get a feeling the language is only 90% the same :)

  • Eric Schulz

    He’s a Hall of Fame center. Nothing wrong with the tutelage there… Kuznetsov will just pick up bad habits with regards to line combinations; not too worried about it. (Johansson’s defensive schemes… a tad worrisome… but as a winger, I’m not overly worried yet.)

  • Eric Schulz

    Yeah, he waited until he was more mature (physically and emotionally) before coming over; makes sense that he’s a relatively mature player and person now. The “drama” stemmed from him being Russian… oh well.

  • Eric Schulz

    Fedorov.

  • Smiley456

    Smarty Pants! :-)

  • John M

    Weber’s contract is awfully large, and he has a no trade clause anyway. But I agree with the principle that the Caps need to overspend to get a truly elite defenseman (after replacing the defensive coach), and they need to be willing to trade someone valuable (like Brouwer) to do so. A few years back Chicago gave out “crazy” contracts to keep Brian Campbell and add M. Hossa; they knew they would have to fire sale their secondary players after just a year to stay under the cap. Well, guess what–they won the Cup, they did the fire sale on their secondary players, and within three years they had re-tooled and won the Cup again! Becoming the first team to win two Cups with the same coach since Detroit/Scotty Bowman in 2002. Go big or go home.

  • Jonah

    the free wardo RMNB shirt is much better than a jersey. also, wardo is such a goof that hed appreciate it more!

  • John Whatmeworry

    Ha, in the vine video this is what he’s saying to the dog while it’s barking:

    ‘That’s right, scold daddy, daddy was bad, daddy didn’t win today. I’m sorry, but I promise that I will do better the day after tomorrow. Ok?’

  • Steven Lemmeyer

    Jonah, I have the ‘I Hate the Penguins’ and & Swedes on Bikes’ shirts already! I didn’t see ‘Free Wardo’.

  • Jonah

    ah yes of course you are a man of impeccable taste! and is “free wardo” not there anymore?
    thats too bad…

  • Graham Dumas

    It’s соol. Just recently a friend if mine from Perm told me the hip new way to say something is cool or not cool is Это айс или это не айс. Gross.