Friday, September 17, 2021

Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Forwards: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov

“Don't let yesterday use up too much of today.”
― Will Rogers


There might be no word in the English language associated more with Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov than “time.”  The almost four years it took between the time Kuznetsov was drafted (June 2010) and his setting foot on the ice for the Caps for the first time (March 2014).  The two years over which he became familiar with the NHL and gave glimpses of the supremely skilled player he is.  The four seasons over which he went 87-204-291, plus-55, in 319 games (tied for 11th in assists and 19th in points over that period) and became the only player in Capitals history to post more than 30 points in a postseason (32 in the Caps’ 2018 Stanley Cup run).  And the last two seasons in which the spark seems to have appeared only intermittently in Kuznetsov’s game (28-53-81, plus-5, in 104 games), and it has been burdened by off-ice issues.  His recent slide had a bitter exclamation point with no points in three postseason games last spring, his only career postseason without a point.

Odd Kuznetsov Fact… Only Alex Ovechkin and Mike Gartner had more 70-point seasons in their first six NHL seasons with the Caps (six and five, respectively) than did Evgeny Kuznetsov (three).

Odd Kuznetsov Fact II… Evgeny Kuznetsov averaged 20.8 shifts per game in 2020-2021, the highest average of his career.

Fearless’ Take… Even though one might view Kuznetsov’s last two seasons as disappointing, it is not as if he has been an utter stiff in the offensive zone.  Over the last two seasons he averaged 0.78 points per game, more than Tyler Seguin (0.72), more than Taylor Hall (0.72), more than Joe Pavelski (0.67).  And he did have four game-winning goals, more than any season since he had eight in 2017-2018.

Cheerless’ Take… Kuznetsov had a significant drop in power play ice time and production last season.  His 2:29 of man advantage ice time per game was almost a minute or more lower than each of his previous three seasons (3:11 in 2019-2020, 3:40 the previous season, and 3:27 the year before that).  He had only one power play goal, a career low for a full season and eight power play points, also a career low for a full season.  Then there was his shooting, which fell off in frequency to 6.9 shots per 60 minutes, second-fewest of his career.  It largely negated a respectable shooting percentage (11.5 percent) that was his fourth-best in eight seasons.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

  • 100 career multi-point games (currently 99)
  • 600 career games played (520)
  • 300 career assists (289)
  • 500 career points (418)
  • 10,000 career minutes played (8,831)

The Big Question… Is this Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Last Stand with the Caps?

Let’s face it.  The Caps aren’t making any deep playoff runs if Evgeny Kuznetsov’s production resembles the last two years.  Good, not great, and certainly not elite.  That he would be the subject of so much trade talk is evidence of both his disappointing play and the importance of his production to the team.  If his recent level of production isn’t necessary a liability, paying $7.8 million a year this year and the three years to follow for it is.  Kuznetsov is capable of a big season.  It is not as if 2017-2018 (27-56-83, plus-3) was a fluke or an outlier.  He has three 70-point seasons on his resume.  He has topped 50 assists in three seasons.  Three times in his career he averaged at least 0.90 points per game.  He has been a double-digit power play point producer six times in eight seasons.  Only twice in eight seasons has he failed to produce a game-winning goal.  He can score in bunches – 23 multi-point games in 79 contests in 2017-2018 – but he had only seven in 41 games last season.

In the end…

Evgeny Kuznetsov is capable of a big season, and he is in the chronological prime of his career (he will turn 30 next May).  Perhaps if he can clean his slate of off-ice issues and distractions, he can approach the better years of production on his resume.  But there is the lingering matter of whether his internal furnace burns hot enough to be an elite-level player.   In another space, we said with respect to last season that “no other forward had a season that screams ‘do-over' like Kuznetsov’s.”

This could be his last hurrah with the Caps should he fail to post bigger numbers than he has over the past two seasons.  Yesterday, with all its distractions and disappointments, needs to be left behind.  But attention needs to be paid to the clock that ticks loudly for Kuznetsov.

Projection: 76 games, 20-48-68, plus-5


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kuznetsov had a great playoffs in 2018 but did not get the MVP award. His ego was wounded. He once said something like why work hard all year and not get recognized for it. He realized that he would not supllant Ovi no matter what he did. His play deteriorated from that point on. This is a make or break season for him. If he doesn't produce it woulsd be better for him and the team to move him.