Photo: Sanford Myers
After running away with the President’s Trophy during the 2015-16 season, the Capitals have been accepting awards right and left during the offseason. Braden Holtby won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender, Barry Trotz took home the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach, Alex Ovechkin won his fourth consecutive and sixth Richard Trophy overall, and Jay Beagle was tabbed with two of the weirdest plays of the season. On Monday, Evgeny Kuznetsov joined in on the fun, being named the top breakout player of the 2015-16 season by NHL Network.
The Blackhawks Artemi Panarin, the Sharks’ Martin Jones, the Jets’ Mark Scheifele, and the Penguins’ Matt Murray rounded out the top five. No other Capitals were named in the NHL Network’s top 40.
In his second full NHL season, Kuznetsov led the Capitals with 57 assists and 77 points in 82 games. He more than doubled his point total from the previous season, when he had 37 points in 80 games. Kuznetsov had five power-play goals, 18 power-play points and four game-winning goals.
Kuznetsov, 24, tied for ninth in the NHL in points and helped the Capitals to a 56-18-8 record. They won the Metropolitan Division and the Presidents’ Trophy. He led the Capitals with a plus-27 rating and was third in shots on goal with 193. Kuznetsov added another element to Washington’s offense; the Capitals had primarily relied on Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in previous years.
Kuznetsov was the first player not named Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom to lead the Capitals in points since the 2003-04 season. He was also named to his first All-Star Game.
Kuznetsov’s breakout can be traced back to as far as the Caps’ 2014-15 playoff run. After a pedestrian regular season, Kuznetsov scored five goals in 14 playoff games, including the series-ending tally against the Islanders in Game Seven (which closed the coliseum).
“It’s not even the same person,” Barry Trotz said of Kuznetsov at the beginning of the season. “We always knew he had the skill, but his pro game – his North American game – has really come along. He’s not afraid of the big moments. He’s not afraid of the top players in the league. He wants to be one of the best guys in the game, and I think he can be.”
“He’s a sponge. He processes a lot of things. He can make a lot of things happen individually, collectively as a group. He’s getting better at every aspect of the game. He was absolutely terrible at face-offs last year. He’s getting pretty darn good now. That’s just growth. It’s exciting for coaches to see players just grow like that.”
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