Any talk of the Capitals prospects must first include Evgeny Kuznetsov. His current KHL contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk expires at the end of this season, and the Capitals hope that he will then come to North America, either before the conclusion of the 2013-14 NHL campaign or for the start of 2014-15.
The fact that Kuznetsov, 21, could be sporting a Capitals crest sometime in the next calendar year prompted Coach Adam Oates to visit the young forward this August.
Already in Russia to see Alex Ovechkin – if you haven’t already, check out Mike Wise’s column on Oates’s experience in Ovi’s world – Oates took a three-and-a-half hour flight from Moscow to Chelyabinsk.
“I’ve never seen him play, and there’s a chance he’s going to be playing for us,” Oates said of Kuznetsov. “I wanted to, kind of a goodwill thing, just to let him know that we care. Just a chance to watch and experience some more hockey over there.”
Oates watched Kuznetsov play in two KHL games, and they had dinner together twice. Kuznetsov — whose English is good, according to Oates — reminded the coach of Ovechkin, with an outgoing and engaging personality. He wasn’t there to lobby Kuznetsov about joining the Capitals, but just so they could get to know each other.
“No pressure; it was good just to watch the hockey — I’ve never been over there, too,” Oates said. “At first I was a little worried that [KHL officials] might get upset I was there, but he’s told them he’s leaving. He took charge, he took care of us, got us a hotel room.
“He’s anxious. He wants to test himself with the best, is what he said, which is a huge compliment,” Oates said. “Obviously he’s thought about it, because he’s well taken care of over there and he wants to see what he can do in our hockey.”
Kuznetsov recently underwent surgery on his left shoulder, which General Manager George McPhee said should sideline the forward for four to six weeks. As for whether he thinks it would be possible for Kuznetsov to be in the NHL before the end of this season, McPhee was noncommittal.
“We’ll see,” McPhee said. “We hope so, but we’ll see.”