For the Washington Capitals, the arrival of Evgeni Kuznetsov late last season was a welcome addition. The Capitals have for years struggled to fill the second line center spot that was one of the Achilles heels for the club. Kuznetsov, who was selected by the Capitals in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, was the prime player to fill that role.
“I haven’t really comprehended exactly what was happening due to the short amount of time I spent playing in the NHL last season,” Kuznetsov shared his thoughts with me this week, regarding last season.
With the arrival of the new coach Kuznetsov feels he has even a better shot now.
“We have a new coach this season, so for me everything is new again.” Kuznetsov said. “And it is a plus for me in a way, because it is new for all of the guys here with the new coach. We are all equal here now. And it is a good thing. Everyone was expecting to play defense first and only, but it is not the case. We attack, and defensemen are encouraged to go forward. We will play attacking style hockey this season. We are just told how to play defense the right way.”
And the second line center spot is something that he and Marcus Johansson were said to compete for.
“Yes, we were told that there is a spot. But it is the same when you come to play for a new team. You always want to play the best you can, to try to get the most ice time you can. Everything will depend on how each one of us plays. The season is long, and while it is possible to play the entire season to the best of your abilities, slumps still happen. And I hope we can compliment each other. The most important thing is for all of it to reflect positively on the team.”
Not that Andre Burakovsky is out of the running for that as well. Because of the number of games Kuznetsov played last season, he is still eligible for the Calder Trophy this year. Yet, this is something he feels he shouldn’t really be considered for.
“Of course only once in your career do you have a chance to win it.” Kuznetsov said. “But you have to realize that the Calder Trophy should be given to someone who is 18 years old, someone who is playing professionally for the first time. This is not my first year playing professionally. Again, if I am given the chance… As long as we keep winning as a team, it won’t be just me, but Andre Burakovsky will also have a chance to win it. As long as the team is winning, all individual trophies will come naturally.”
The Capitals captain and Kuznetsov’s countryman Alex Ovechkin said he would do everything to help Kuznetsov win the Calder.
“I think he has all the chances in the world to win it.” Ovechkin told me this week. “The main thing is to have an injury free season. It is obvious that we will try to help him the best we can, both physically and mentally, especially now his wife is here with him, and his mom also came over. We have developed a very close relationship – Orlov, Kuznetsov and I. We are always together. And the experience I have I try to pass it on to him. He should keep playing his game, and not change anything.”
But Kuznetsov is focused on the team first.
“As long as we win, everyone will be happy, regardless of what line you’re on. It is important for us to start this season well. We don’t want any panic to set in. It is a lot easier to play in the middle and the end of the season when you have a cushion of points, and not to stress out checking out wild card standings and hoping for someone else to slip up. You shouldn’t rely on someone else. We got burned by that last season. We have to have our destiny in our own hands.”