With the 2012 NHL draft coming up on June 22nd and 23rd, the memory of one particular draft stuck out in my head for the Caps. I began to think to myself “what was the name of the draft pick from a couple of years back”…. then it came to me. Many of the casual Capitals fans don’t remember the name Evgeny Kuznetsov, but the die hard fans that this guy has frustrated certainly remember the name.
In the 2010 draft, the Washington Capitals had the 26th overall pick in the first round. After potential draft pick Vladimir Tarasenko was picked 16th overall by the St. Louis Blues, Washington went with the Russian born burner Evgeny Kuznetsov. Before George McPhee went up to announce the pick, he proceed to look back at the camera and give it a little wink as to say “we got our guy”. I had a little chuckle with a friend saying “…you know you’re pretty good when your GM looks into the camera right before he goes up to announce the pick and winks.”
I remember being very excited after checking some footage out on Evgeny, and with the Caps need at centre, it made the pick that much more exciting and sensible. But my excitement suddenly turned into confusion as I noticed something that kind of through me for a loop, Kuznetsov was still under contract with his KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) team Traktor Chelyabinsk. Granted it was only for two more years, but I felt the Capitals couldn’t afford to wait for another two years for such a critical team need.
A week after the draft Kuznetsov and fellow Russian and third round pick Stanislav Galiev practiced at Kettler Iceplex for a couple of days. After practice both Kuznetsov and Galiev stopped and answered questions about the contract situation. The two of them answered in the same manner, saying that they will honor their contracts with the KHL and QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League… with whom Galiev is contracted with).
Evegeny Kuznetsov is nothing short of a net minders nightmare! His stats in the KHL speak for themselves: in 144 games played Kuznetsov had 46 goals, 45 assist, 14 game winning goals and 91 total points. His ability to read the ice and make great passes to open wingers is something spectacular, the skating ability that he possesses is unheard of, and he is able to frequently find open seems in the defense. Another plus in his game is the ability to win face-offs and make it look routine every single time. All of these are big time needs that the Washington hockey team lacks.
The drafting of Evgeny Kuznetsov was supposed to fix the centre woes of the Capitals for the next 5 to 10 years. But the dilemma of the KHL contract has become a burden not only to the Capitals organization, but to the fans that want to see this young phenomenon. To me, the only shining light on this whole situation is the fact that Kuznetsov is still very young (20) and his talents should be very much worth the wait.
Fast forward to May 1st 2012….this is the time that Caps fans have waited for — the long two years for the end of Kuznetsov’s KHL contract. Prior to this date, the KHL had offered Kuznetsov two different contracts to try and keep him around. Both KHL contracts didn’t hold enough water to change Kuznetsov’s mind about waiting until the 1st of May to hear what the Capitals offer was. One day his agent says that he is going to stay in “Mother Russia” to continue playing hockey, then a day later Evgeny states that “nothing is official” — leaving my mind rattled with a million thoughts going through it.
Finally May 1st came and the time to hear what Kuznetsov has decided was here. The verdict—he’s “not ready” to join the Capitals and is going to stay with Traktor Chelyabinsk for not one, but TWO more years. He said it’s not about money, but it’s about comfort for him.
I understand where Kuznetsov is coming from, but I also can’t help but be utterly disappointed with the decision.
The interesting part is GM George McPhee saying “ Kuznetsov is going to stay another year.” He said nothing about two years….makes me wonder.