If you were concerned about Evgeny Kuznetsov leaving DC this summer for the KHL, well… your worries were well founded.
The Caps Russian center, who signed an eight-year, $62.4 million contract over the offseason, admitted that he considered returning to the KHL for one big reason.
Like most NHL players, Kuznetsov was not happy about the NHL’s decision to withdraw from the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“In my head, yeah, because I miss the first Olympic games in Sochi because I didn’t make the team,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s kind of a little bit in my head on what I should do.
“I think every player have a chance to decide where he want to play,” Kuznetsov continued. “He have to sit and think about it – that’s smart of him you know? I make my decision. I’m happy for that – to be here and I hope I play here a long time.”
Kuznetsov was rumored to have been offered up to $10 million a season to return to the KHL. However, the Chelyabinsk native was quoted saying in July that he considered the KHL until the Capitals gave him an offer he could not refuse.
Kuznetsov ended up signing a bigger contract than first-line center Nicklas Backstrom.
“It’s not about I want to go play in the KHL. Sometimes this just happens,” Kuznetsov said. “You have to think about some other options you have. I’m not alone. I have a wife, I have a kid, I have a family. I have to be prepared, you know? It’s not easy way to sign deal in NHL. Everybody go through it.”
Kuznetsov also still sees himself as young at the prime age of 25. When one media member began a question saying “you’re one of the older guys now…,” Kuznetsov interjected.
“I’m not an older guy, c’mon,” the center said breaking into laughter. “They same age as me.”
“I always trying to be quiet when some serious conversation come in the locker room,” Kuznetsov said of how he approaches leadership on and off the ice. “I always try to learn a lot and listen to guys who have more experience than me, you know? But on the ice, I just trying to be me. Of course if I have some new line mates, we will find a way on how to play.”
Kuznetsov also commented on wanting to be given a bigger role and appreciating the trust he was given by the Caps via his new contract. He acknowledges that teams need “younger guys to step up and score” in the playoffs to win the Cup and that those championships are not won on paper.
Over the offseason, the Capitals lost both of Kuznetsov’s line-mates: Justin Williams signed with the Carolina Hurricanes and Marcus Johansson was traded in a salary dump to the lowly New Jersey Devils.
One likely candidate to fill that void is talented top forward prospect Jakub Vrana, who Kuznetsov skated with early in the season.
“He got speed,” Kuznetsov said. “He’s European player. He understand hockey like we learn the hockey back home. He can play. He can do everything on the ice. But it’s all what he want and how he going to take his opportunity. I knew he going to be an NHL player for a long time. [It’s] his time right now.”
Ian Oland also contributed to this article.
Headline photo: @CSNCapitals
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