Dynamic skill level. Exceptional hands. Controls the puck as if he’s got it on a string. Natural sniper. Elite one-on-one talent. Can manufacture his own offense. Great acceleration and finishing ability. Looks to score each shift. Oh, and he’s Russian.
Sound like anybody you know?
Meet Evgeny Kuznetsov, your newest highly skilled Russian Washington Capital, secured with the 26th pick at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Across the vast array of entry draft prospect profiles Kuznetsov’s game uniformly screams out Alexander Semin II . . . until you consider these traits: leadership, and sandpaper and grit.
The Capitals on Friday night got the player they wanted from the first round all right. In fact, they seem to have secured so special a talent with so special a drive to make it big in the NHL that the Capitals could be forgiven this morning for celebrating well into Friday night, long enough to miss the second round, were they scheduled to pick then. General Manager George McPhee made it clear to the media that Kuznetsov was player no. 12 on the team’s draft board, and that he’d made an attempt to trade up to land him — as many as 10 spots — as they saw him slip. If a year ago most who follow the Capitals and the draft were left with a good deal of curiosity and uncertainty associated with the team’s selection of Marcus Johansson, this year there’s no doubt about what this Russian center prospect brings, a universal sense that the Caps may well have made out like bandits on Friday night.
McKeens had Kuznetsov ranked 11th. Red Line, 17th. The Hockey News no. 18. ISS, 19. None of these rankings were a reflection of Kuznetsov’s talent and ability and overall allure — all agreed he was a top 10/12 talent. What precipitated his later first round ranking — and more importantly the reason other NHL teams took a pass on him — was his KHL contract, which endures two more seasons with Traktor Chelyabinsk. For the second year in a row the Caps landed a high-end Russian (Dmitri Orlov last June) simply because the absence of a transfer agreement between the NHL and Russia has approximately 29 NHL clubs skittish about selecting Russians.
The Caps are fine with Kuznetsov’s KHL standing; all you needed to know about this draft moment could be summarized with George McPhee’s turn to the TV camera and quick wink into it right as his left the team’s strategy table to head up to the stage to announce the pick. A bandit’s wink.
McPhee told the Washington Post’s Tarik El Bashir last night that having Alexander Ovechkin on the Caps “is like having a guarantee that Russian draft picks will eventually want to make their way to Washington.”
“We can do some things that other teams are afraid to do,” the GM admitted.
This ace card at the draft poker table is a huge asset for a team that should be drafting late each round for some years to come. No other NHL team has it. So this morning, celebrate the Caps’ ace card and most especially the volume of hosannas so widely sung about an 18-year-old that has scouts thinking Pavel Datsyuk-type pivot in raw ability:
“Very dynamic skill level. Extremely quick, soft hands. Controls the puck like he’s got it on a string and holds onto it for an extra split second, giving linemates time to cut to open ice for his decisive feeds. Superb patience around the net — outwaits goalies and always forces them to make the first move. Tremendous natural sniper who buries his chances . . .”
This from Russian Prospect.com:
“Evgeny Kuznetsov is an entertaining player to watch as he is a gifted, creative offensive player with tons of skills in one-on-one situations in the offensive zone. He is very creative with the puck and is able not only to dance around defensemen, but also to find the open player with a good pass. He is also a very good skater with great acceleration and a very good top speed. He has top notch finishing abilities thanks to his great shot, but also because is very good in waiting for the goalie to make his move and using his soft hands at his advantage. As showed at the U18s he can be a good captain, but he needs to get rid of some undisciplined play that made him amassing too many unnecessary PIMs in certain tournaments. Just like all classical Russian players he needs to work on his defensive play and has to bulk up a bit as at 6’0”, 175 lbs his size isn’t impressive . . . Given his tremendous skills and excellent skating Kuznetsov has a big potential and can develop into a star.”
McKeens had this to say about the Caps’ pick:
“Evgeny Kuznetsov put a stamp on his season with his most recent performance at the U18, where he finished second in tournament scoring. Although Russia failed to medal, he was arguable their best player. Kuznetsov cracked the KHL at the tender age of 17 and even though he did not get much ice time this year, he absolutely dominated when playing against players his own age. He has puck skills and is a natural finisher who looks to score each and every shift. At times he can hold onto the puck and needs to distribute it faster and then get into position to utilize his shot. He uses a short stick so he can get his shots off faster. Kuznetsov is a healthy skater who possesses a nice, efficient stride and is well balanced who keeps his weight shifted proportionately over his skates. He is ornery and does not hesitate to stick the opposition as he plays with sandpaper and grit. At times he played undisciplined and will need to curb his aggression as it resulted in many untimely penalties.”
This Hockeys Future thread on Kuznetsov is also worth perusing.
And how about some more fun. One kneejerk reaction to the selection of Kuznetsov is to deem him a replacement for the infuriating and impetuous Alexander Semin. But the two players share a development heritage (at Traktor), and know one another. What if this pick is uniquely inspiring to the Caps’ 40-goal enigma? What if . . . in say two years’ time . . . there is a second line in Washington that looks a little something like this:
Semin – Kuznetsov – Kugryshev
Let’s sip our joe this morning and wink at the notion.