Before this season, Evgeny Kuznetsov had only played sparingly at center in his hockey career. But with the Capitals lacking in center depth, head coach Barry Trotz has tried to convert Kuznetsov and fellow rookie Andre Burakovsky into pivots. Both struggled earlier in the year, with Burakovsky getting scratched and eventually moving back to wing. But Kuznetsov has stuck and is finally adjusting to the new role. Against the Avalanche on Monday night, Kuznetsov was an offensive force, with four shots on net, a shot off the crossbar, and a myriad of drives past the Colorado defense.
“He’s got really good vision, he’s got great hands, and he’s skating well,” Trotz said after the game. “I think his puck protection has been really good, his detail in the D-zone has been really good. You get chances, you’re gonna produce. I think he’s a very talented guy.”
Kuznetsov’s biggest improvement may be in the faceoff dot. He was terrible at draws when playing for Traktor and the junior Russian national team, but was Washington’s best faceoff man Monday, winning his first five draws and finishing the night eight for 12. Part of this is due to the work of Jay Beagle, who has worked with Kuznetsov on face-offs.
Video by Amanda Bowen
“He’s progressed a lot,” Beagle told me. “The kid has a lot of work ethic. That’s the main thing: you gotta work real hard coming into this league and he has that, which is great. It’s easy to work with him.”
“We all pick each other’s brains, all centermen,” he continued. “We always like to see what’s going on, even throughout the game. If you’ve had a couple against a guy and I’m going up against him, I want to talk to someone and see what his tendencies are. … It’s all about reading the other guy. It’s all about adjustments. It’s almost like a chess match. It’s a lot more complicated than a lot of people would think.”
Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
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