Among the topics General Manager George McPhee discussed in a lengthy interview with reporters Friday afternoon was the status of prominent Capitals prospects Evgeny Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson. Here’s a breakdown of his comments on each of the three young players.
>> The Capitals drafted Evgeny Kuznetsov 26th overall in the 2010 draft but since the selection there has been plenty of uncertainty as to when the offensively gifted forward would come to North America. It appears as though Kuznetsov will be Washington bound when his contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk expires after the 2013-14 KHL season.
Kuznetsov told Russian-language allhockey.ru that he planed to join the Capitals following the end of his KHL contract in January and McPhee said the organization has received the same message from the young forward.
“There have been some discussions there and he really wants to play in the NHL. That’s the next challenge for him,” McPhee said. “We know he wants to come when his obligations are fulfilled over there.”
It’s uncertain how the 2014 Sochi Olympics will push back the end of the KHL season, so McPhee wasn’t sure if Kuznetsov would be able to come to North America late in the spring of 2014. The earliest full season Kuznetsov would be eligible to play in Washington is 2014-15.
This season Kuznetsov has recorded 19 goals and 25 assists for Traktor Chelyabinsk. He’s playing on the wing in the KHL but he has some experience as a center and that’s where the Capitals would like to try him in the NHL.
“He was a terrific center as a junior and if a guy can show you that he plays center, you try him at center. It looks like he’ll be a pretty dynamic, playmaking center,” McPhee said. But when asked if Kuznetsov playing center factors into the decision about re-signing Mike Ribeiro, McPhee said not necessarily.
“Two different players. It’s okay to have centers who you can move to the wing if necessary. It’s nice to have that situation, we’ve got it with Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson,” McPhee said. “You can always move people to the wing. You can’t move them from wing to center if they don’t know how to play center.”
>> The Capitals want Filip Forsberg, the No. 11 overall selection in the 2012 draft, in North America and playing for the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears as soon as his season ends in Sweden in early April.
Forsberg has recorded 15 goals and 18 assists for Leksand in Allsvenskan, the second-tier Swedish league. While Forsberg has done well – he was dubbed an all star at this year’s world junior championships — but because he’s playing in the second-tier Swedish league McPhee admitted it’s difficult to truly evaluate the young winger.
“That’s why it’s probably best to put him in the American League, take a look and see where he is,” McPhee said, “Because that would be a big step up for him.”
McPhee is a proponent of allowing prospects to get their feet wet in the AHL. So it’s not surprising that McPhee wants to see how Forsberg, 18, handles the North American game at a minor league level before making any assessment of where he will play in the 2013-14 season.
“It’s always the safe way to go. To bring a kid right to the NHL – maybe he’s ready to the NHL but I’d rather have him start in Hershey take a look and see how it goes,” McPhee said. “If he’s good enough to play here we’ll make a change, it helps everyone to spend a little time in the minors. It’s a good education for them.”
>> Big right wing prospect Tom Wilson, who was invited to Capitals training camp back in January, impressed McPhee during his recent scouting trip.
“He’s a real handful to play against,” McPhee said. “He’s going to be a fun player to watch. He’s a real competitive kid, real physical. He’s really improved. He’s done a lot of penalty killing this year, he’s on the power play and what’s going to make him a real good player is the way he works.”
Wilson, 19, has recorded 23 goals and 35 assists for the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers and continues to make an impact with his physicality. Listed at 6 foot 4, 205 pounds by the Capitals during camp, Wilson is physically prepared to move up but the team wanted to see him continue to develop his skills and become a better all-around player.
So far, so good according to McPhee, who likes Wilson’s work ethic.
“He really works hard, all night long as a responsible player, a committed player,” McPhee said. “He wants to be a player, not unlike Brooks Laich, who has really turned himself into a valuable player because he’s so committed.”