Washington has signed 23-year-old center Evgeny Kuznetsov to a two-year bridge contract, solidifying a key piece for the win-now team, but also giving the player a chance to earn a bigger payday down the road.
Kuznetsov, who quickly became a key component of the Caps once he arrived from Russia during the 2013-14 campaign, has so far looked like the perfect option for a No. 2 center behind Nicklas Backstrom. His new contract will pay him an average of $3 million for the next two years.
This past season, his first full campaign in the NHL, saw Kuznetsov rank seventh in scoring on the Caps and his dynamic skill set brought another dangerous offensive weapon to a Washington team already blessed with Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and another emerging youngster in Andre Burakovsky.
It will be very interesting to see how he lines up for the 2015-16 campaign, as the Capitals brought in veteran right wingers Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie. If Kuznetsov clicks with one of them, expect his point totals to be driven up during the duration of his new contract, setting up a nice cash-in for the pivot afterwards.
Kuznetsov will still be a restricted free agent once the pact expires, but assuming he develops on the track he's on, it's easy to see him signing to the maximum eight-year term for big dollars after that. The glorious thing for the Caps is that Backstrom is just 27 right now, enjoying the prime years of his career. So there's a pretty good 1-2 punch in D.C. from here on out.
The key now for 'Kuzya' and crew is to break through in the playoffs. Washington dropped another heartbreaking Game 7 to the Rangers in Round 2 this season after Kuznetsov helped his squad torch the Islanders in seven games prior. Two other key pieces of the franchise, goalie Braden Holtby and left winger Marcus Johansson, are up for arbitration right now, though Holtby in particular sounds like he might reach a deal before it gets to the formal stage.
With all hands on deck and a maturing Kuznetsov in charge of secondary scoring, all the Caps have to do next year is show and prove.