Winning the Stanley Cup was a dream come true for Evgeny Kuznetsov, and this season, he’s willing to take on a new role to go back-to-back.
Kuzy would like to become part of the Caps penalty-killing unit. And according to the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan encouraged Todd Reirden to give Kuzy a chance.
Something interesting: MacLellan told Reirden that he thinks Kuznetsov can PK. Don't be surprised if we see that this season.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) September 14, 2018
During NHL Media Day last week, Kuznetsov talked about his PK dreams to NHL.com’s Nicholas J. Cotsonika.
“Why I want to play on the PK? That way you can be in the game every time,” Kuznetsov said. “You don’t see [the ice] sometimes for five minutes or whatever. At the same time, PK, power play, you’re in the game. I need to be in the game.”
Kuznetsov played only four minutes and 35 seconds of PK time during the 2017-18 regular season and 57 seconds during the Caps’ Cup run in the postseason. The role is an unlikely fit due to Kuznetsov’s already outsized role on the team: he’s Alex Ovechkin’s setup man, one of the team’s best even-strength players, and an important part of the team’s power play. PK’ing also demands a player to block shots which would open Kuznetsov up to injury.
But it’s Kuznestov’s struggles at the faceoff dot that could ultimately put his PK hopes on ice. Kuzy’s FO skills kept him from playing center full-time in the KHL and it’s still the Russian center’s biggest weakness in North America. Last season, Kuznetsov had one of his worst seasons to date in the dot (44.2 percent) and is a career 45.1% drawer.
“The biggest thing for me: Don’t lose anything,” Kuznetsov said. “I want to be consistent. … Of course I’m going to get stronger on the face-off. … If someone going to put me on the PK, they’re not going to give me a lot of time, a lot of opportunities. I only have two, three times maybe, and I have to take it right away. I have to do it like Coach said. If not, you’re not going to play on the PK.”
A love for the penalty kill is nothing new for Kuznetsov. He wrote and successfully defended his college thesis on penalty-killing tactics. In an interview with Hornews.ru, Kuznetsov’s advisor, Vyacheslav Ponomarev said that Kuznetsov “is a productive player when killing penalties…[Kuznetsov] wanted to develop the subject in depth, collect statistical data, and prepare theoretical reasoning.”
Kuznetsov is also likely inspired by his friend and hockey player idol, Pavel Datsyuk. The Magic Man was a one-stop shop and could do it all on the ice. Datsyuk averaged nearly a point-per game during his 14 years pro (918 points in 953 games) while also winning three Selke Trophies as the league’s best defensive forward. Datsyuk was also named one of the top 100 NHL players of all time.
“I can’t compare myself to any famous player because he’s already been playing, already accomplished something,” an 18-year-old Kuznetsov said to RMNB at the Capitals’ 2010 Development Camp. “I can only say who I admire, who I watch. I watch Malkin, Datsyuk, how they play, and try to do the same.”
Headline photo: Bruce Bennett
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