Good things come to those who wait and the Washington Capitals were very patient with Evgeny Kuznetsov. Despite drafting the Russian center in 2010, Washington didn't get to sample the kid's skills until the second half of 2013-14. In fact, he was still Calder-eligible last season. But based on his pedigree, there was no way Kuznetsov would experience a sophomore slump this year and actually the opposite has been true: at 23 years of age, he has hit his NHL stride in a serious way with 26 points through 23 games.
That makes Kuznetsov the leading scorer on the Caps – ahead of Alex Ovechkin – and sixth overall in the NHL. Just don't ask him if he's comfortable playing here now.
“I don’t like to talk about my game," he said. "You probably know that, but you have to ask, right?”
Kuznetsov is famously serious when it comes to his on-ice play – he almost literally lets his performances speak for themselves – and since he's having such success, it's hard to knock his approach.
A star in the KHL before he came to Washington, Kuznetsov had shown his potential on North American ice before at the world juniors in Calgary. During that 2012 tournament, he won pretty much every award available to him, captaining Russia to the final against Sweden and racking up 13 points in seven WJC games. Only a Swedish defensive tandem of future NHLers Oscar Klefbom and Jonas Brodin could keep him from total glory, as the Swedes won the final 1-0 on an overtime goal by Mika Zibanejad, heavily outshooting the Russians in the process.
Now fully entrenched in Washington, Kuznetsov has been a huge driver for the Caps, who currently sit first in the Metropolitan Division. One of the other major factors has been goaltender Braden Holtby, also an influence on Kuznetsov once he came over here.
“He’s a hard-working guy," Kuznetsov said. "When I came here a year ago and saw how he practiced – if we lost a game, he would feel the pain after every mistake. We have to block shots and score more goals, because when we win he feels better and better. And when playoff time came, he saved our ass again.”
This season, Kuznetsov has played with Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, but now holds down the second line with Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams – still having success with five points in his past three games.
“When he has the puck on his stick, things start to happen," Oshie said. "He makes so much time and space for his linemates and at other times, he goes through a couple guys and puts the puck in the back in the net, too.”
And though the young Russian doesn't like to talk about his game on the ice, life in D.C. is fair game.
“My family really likes the city and I feel comfortable, too," Kuznetsov said. "It’s not the same as my hometown but it’s nice to have a second hometown. When you feel comfortable off the ice you don’t have any problems.”
A family man already, Kuznetsov is the proud papa of a six-month-old daughter now. Ecenia sleeps in her parents' room and lucky for them, she doesn't wake up much during the night. As for parenthood itself, Kuznetsov couldn't be happier.
“One-hundred percent," he said.
And if Kuznetsov and the Caps can keep up their current level of play for the long-term, perhaps little Ecenia can sleep next to the Stanley Cup for a night.