The trade deadline is at 3 p.m. Wednesday, but the Capitals’ biggest addition this March may not come from another NHL team.
Speculation that highly touted 2010 first-round draft pick Evgeny Kuznetsov will finally join the Capitals this season has increased in recent weeks. On Tuesday as Kuznetsov’s KHL team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, played its final regular season game, having already been eliminated from the KHL playoffs, Russian news organization R-Sport reported that the 21-year-old forward will soon travel to North America.
According to R-Sport, Kuznetsov does not intend to play in the KHL’s consolation tournament for teams that do not make the playoffs and will join the Capitals instead.
“Kuznetsov wasn’t going to play in the Cup of Hope matches. He has already bought tickets and after the end of the KHL regular season, he will fly to North America,” the source said.
It’s important to note, though, that Kuznetsov’s KHL contract runs through April 30 and that deal must be bought out in order for the forward to sign an entry-level contract in the NHL. How long that process will take remains uncertain.
“I just talk to him couple minutes ago,” Alex Ovechkin said after Washington’s practice Tuesday in Arlington. “He said we’ll see what’s going on, because he don’t know yet as well. So we just wait.”
According to the contract stipulations in the collective bargaining agreement, Kuznetsov is eligible to sign a two-year entry-level deal with a maximum base salary of $900,000. The Capitals would need to clear some space under the salary cap to accommodate Kuznetsov on the roster.
For as long awaited as Kuznetsov’s arrival is, it’s difficult to gauge how he will fare in the transition to the NHL. He underwent shoulder surgery and knee surgery earlier this season and has spent the past five years playing in the KHL, which features a different style of game than the NHL.
Coach Adam Oates cautioned against placing too high of expectations on the young forward before he even arrives.
“I think you’ve got to be realistic about it. It’s tough. Anything’s a bonus. It will be nice life for the guys, I’m sure but in fairness to him he’ll have to go slow,” Oates said. “I saw him play this summer, get some latest video if we could and obviously his reputation is very good. Still you’re going to the NHL, he’s never played over here I don’t want to get everybody too pumped up before he has a chance to get acclimated to the league.”
Ovechkin will host Kuznetsov and his wife whenever he does make the move to Washington and he, too, said there’s no way to tell how the forward will adjust.
“I don’t know how he’s going to play on small ice to be honest with you. He’s skilled guy. Of course probably going to need some time to realize what’s happening,” Ovechkin said, acknowledging that it would be an intense stretch of the season to throw Kuznetsov in the lineup with the Capitals vying for a playoff spot.
“I think when you 21 years old you have to understand especially right now when we fight for playoffs and every points counts,” Ovechkin said. “He just have to play his game and help us.”