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Photo credit: @JessieMartin

The Washington Capitals had a few pleasant surprises from their prospects last year. Tom Wilson showed the kind of offensive output everyone had hoped for. Connor Carrick displayed NHL potential. Garrett Mitchell proved he’s NHL-ready in Hershey. But the “Performance Way Over Expectations” award this year goes to Riley Barber, who had a tremendous rookie year at Miami University. Barber was named CCHA Freshman of the Year and played on the top line during the USA’s surprising gold medal win at World Juniors.

A player who wasn’t drafted until the sixth round has somehow turned into a dominant college hockey player.

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Steffen and Markus Soberg during the Division 1 Group A World Juniors (Photo credit: IIHF).

In Norway, NHLers are few and far between. Unlike neighboring Denmark and Germany (let alone Sweden), Norway hasn’t established itself as a producer of elite hockey talent. As of right now, only 18 Norwegians have been selected in the NHL Entry Draft, only seven have played in an NHL game, and just one is currently a part of a big-league roster: the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello.

Hockey fans from Norway sure hope some of their fellow countrymen will be selected in the upcoming draft and one of the names they’re waiting to be called in Newark in late June will sound familiar for the Caps fans: Markus Soberg.

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Photo credit: Richard Wolowicz

On Sunday Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov returned home after Russia lost to Sweden in the 2012 Word Junior Championship gold medal game. Kuznetsov, who was named the MVP of the tournament and to the WJC All-Star team for the second year in a row, did not smile for photos or wear his silver medal after the game.

When he arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, Kuznetsov was greeted by SovSport correspondents and asked his thoughts about winning silver, beating Canada, and his plans for next year. Below the jump, I offer a translation.

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Kuznetsov poses with the second-place silver platter. (Photo credit: Francois Laplante)

After defeating Canada 6-5 Tuesday, Team Russia returned to Calgary’s Saddledome on Thursday night to take on Sweden in the WJC’s gold medal game. Russia struggled from the get-go and only found their game in spurts during the third period.

The shot statistics tell the tale. Russia went without a shot on goal for the first 12:34 of the game, and at the end of the first period Sweden had outshot them 17 to 3.

The second period was even worse, as Russia managed to throw only one puck on net. By the end of the third period, Sweden held a 50 to 16 shot advantage. The game, however, remained scoreless.

In overtime, after outshooting Russia 8-1, Mika Zibanejad scored the golden goal on a breakaway, giving Sweden its first U-20 championship in 31 years. Caps prospect and captain of the Russian WJC team, Evgeny Kuznetsov, returned to the bench, crouched over, and weeped.

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“Canada, I can’t hear you.” (Photo credit: Elena Rusko)

One year ago in the WJC gold medal game, Canada held what seemed to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead over Team Russia heading into the third period. During the second intermission, Head Coach Valery Bragin pleaded with his team to respond, and respond they did. Russia stormed back– riding three assists by Evgeny Kuznetsov to win the gold medal game 5-3 and shock the hockey world.

But antipathy between the Russian team and North American fans and media was high, and the situation degraded even further after the Russians were kicked off their flight home for being rowdy.  Kuznetsov says the incident was “absolute nonsense,” but the tension has only gotten worse since.

Entering the 2012 WJC, Russia intended to prove that last year’s win over Canada was no fluke. Despite being the defending champions, the team still held underdog status. Kuznetsov, Russia’s captain and the only returning player from 2011, netted his second WJC hat trick in three games, pushing Russia to a 6-5 win.

After the game, Allhockey.ru’s Andrey Osadchenko spoke to Kuznetsov and filmed his entire Q/A with reporters. Below the jump, I offer a translation.

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Before facing Canada in the semifinal round of the World Junior Championship, Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov was asked, “Do you want to spoil the holiday season for Canada?” Kuznetsov replied, “No, I rather want Russia to keep on drinking.”

Kuznetsov backed up those words with 4 points (assist and a hat trick) in a 6-5 win over tourney host Team Canada. Combining this game and last year’s Russia-Canada game, Kuznetsov has 3 goals, 4 assists, and 7 points. His overall tally in the WJC tourney with one game remaining is 6 goals, 7 assists, and 13 points. The 19-year-old leads the tournament in scoring despite only registering points in only two of Russia’s six WJC games.

Here are the video highlights from Kuznetsov’s big night in Calgary.

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Photo credit: Francois Laplante

Thanks to his nine-point game versus the LatviansEvgeny Kuznetsov was already the talk of the World Junior Championship before the semifinal game on Tuesday night, but his star-making performance in Russia’s 6-5 victory over Canada has made him the premiere young hockey talent in the world.

The Canadians recovered from a second period meltdown — which ended with them down 6-1– to mount a dramatic comeback in the third with 4 unanswered goals in 5 minutes. The game ended before Canada could close the gap.

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Photo credit: Francois Laplante

Evgeny Kuznetsov has done a lot of spectacular things in his young career: he was the youngest player ever to be named to a KHL all-star game; he’s starred in a movie; he scored the game-winning goal to win Russian the Karjala Cup; and he got married at 19. Late Thursday night in Calgary, Kuzya had the game of his life notching an incredible three goals, six assists, and nine points in a 14-0 thrashing of Latvia. It was the second most points ever scored in a World Junior Championship game.

After the game, Allhockey.ru’s Andrey Osadchenko spoke to Kuznetsov and filmed his entire Q/A with reporters. Below the jump, I offer a translation.

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Kuznetsov and his teammates celebrate his hat-trick. (Photo credit: Mike Sturk)

19-year-old Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov had 0 points heading into Russia’s third World Junior Championship game. On Monday, he was shutdown in Russia’s 3-0 victory over Switzerland. On Wednesday, a frustrated Kuznetsov still could not land on the scoresheet despite rifling nine shots on goal against the Slovaks.

Enter Latvia. After not registering a point in the game’s first 27 minutes, Kuznetsov exploded, tallying an insane nine points over the next 33 minutes pushing Russia to a 14-0 victory.

You can check out video of his big night below the jump.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Next Up is the Stanley Cup”

Russia: The 2011 World Junior Champions

Caps prospects Dmitri Orlov (center, holding the trophy’s handle) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (bottom right, biting his medal enthusiastically) pose with Team Russia following their thrilling 5-3 victory over Canada in the WJC’s Gold Medal Game. (Photo credit: Nathan Denette)

Evgeny Kuznetsov embraces Head Coach Valeri Bragin. (Photo credit: Rick Stewart)

HUGS! Evgeny Kuznetsov embraces Head Coach Valeri Bragin. (Photo credit: Rick Stewart)

If you’ve been paying close attention to RMNB over the past few months, you were already well-aware of the gem that the Capitals have in Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov, who has been tearing it up this season with the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk, found his game when it mattered most in this year’s World Junior Championship. The Russian-born winger finished as the tournament’s second-leading scorer with four goals and eight assists, and led Russia to its first WJC gold medal since 2003.

In the quarterfinals against Finland, Kuznetsov single-handedly brought his team back from a 3-1 deficit registering a goal, an assist, and the overtime game-winner. The 18-year old then followed up that clutch performance with yet another one against the Canadians in the Gold Medal Game. In front of a boisterous pro-Canadian crowd at Buffalo’s HSBC Arena, Kuz assisted on three goals in the third period, including a no-look pass to Vladimir Tarasenko that yielded the game-tying goal.

Suffice to say, when Kuznetsov landed back home in Russia this past Saturday, he was met with a large media horde. RMNB’s Igor Kleyner has translated two Russian articles from this past weekend, which detail Evgeny’s feelings on his new gold medal, what it was like to play in front of such a hostile crowd, and that whole ‘underage-drinking/being-kicked-off-a-plane’ scandal.

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