WASHINGTON – It took the Washington Capitals nearly four years to sign Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. When they finally did on Saturday, general manager George McPhee compared the new forward to a mythical creature.
“It’s kind of like seeing the Loch Ness Monster when he walked in,” McPhee said. “We’ve heard you, but we haven’t seen you. And there he was. I found it hard to believe he was standing there after all this.”
Kuznetsov. selected in the first round—26th overall—in the 2010 NHL draft, is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound winger who spent the last four years playing for his hometown team, Chelyabinsk Traktor of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Kuznetsov led the team in scoring each season from 2010-13 and made the 2012 KHL All-Star team.
He now joins the struggling Capitals (29-25-10), who have lost three straight and are three points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Kuznetsov didn’t play in Saturday night’s home game against Phoenix.
McPhee said he expects Kuznetsov to make his NHL debut on Monday at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kuznetsov has signed a deal for this season and next. McPhee said he wouldn’t discuss terms of the contract until early next week.
“When we first drafted him, I really thought that he could play with us, if not right away, within a year,” McPhee said. “I told him that and he mentioned at that time that he thought he needed two years in the KHL.”
But after completing his second season with Chelyabinsk, Kuznetsov signed to stay home for another two years.
“That was hard on us,” McPhee said.
But earlier this season, McPhee travelled to Russia and got an assurance from Kuznetsov that he would join the Capitals after his season was over. His contract with Chelyabinsk ran through May 1 and the team is participating in a consolation playoff tournament, but Kuznetsov was granted his release.
McPhee said that when Washington selected him, he believed Kuznetsov was one of the three or four best players in the draft.
“His hockey sense is really outstanding. He’s a creative player who can score goals or distribute the puck, make things happen,” McPhee said. “The construction of our team is that we’ve got big wingers and guys who can control the wall and everything else. I wanted some skill guys in the mix.”