Washington Capitals select Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov in first round of NHL Draft

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- The Washington Capitals' roster already boasts three first-round draft picks who hail from Russia. In a few years, there might be another.

With the 26th overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft on Friday, the Capitals chose Evgeny Kuznetsov, 18, a skilled forward who patterns his game after Pittsburgh's Evgeny Malkin and whom scouts have compared to Alexander Semin.

"When we got to our pick," General Manager George McPhee said. "It was unanimous."

Kuznetsov is the latest top prospect to trade Russia's red jersey for Washington's, joining an organization that already has Semin, Alex Ovechkin and Semyon Varlamov on the roster as well as Dmitry Orlov and Dmitry Kugryshev in the pipeline.

McPhee said he was so eager to select Kuznetsov, he attempted to trade a prospect in order to move up as many as 10 spots. As it turned out, that wasn't necessary.

"We think he can play center," McPhee said of Kuznetsov, who is listed at 6 feet and 172 pounds. "We think he's a very, very dynamic player. He can skate, he thinks the game well, he moves the puck, he really attacks the net."

Kuznetsov scored two goals and notched seven assists in 35 games for Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. He also scored two goals in six games for Russia in the world junior championships, which is where McPhee scouted him.

McPhee played down the Russian connection. But he did concede that he's less concerned than other general managers when it comes to selecting and signing Russian youngsters for one reason: Ovechkin's influence.

"People are concerned about signing and drafting Russian players, but we just feel that what we're doing in Ovechkin that he'll play in Washington," McPhee said. "We can do some things that other teams are afraid to do."

Kuznetsov has two years remaining on his contract with Chelyabinsk, and according to McPhee, is likely to return to the KHL. But McPhee stopped short of saying he won't be given the opportunity to play in Washington next season.

"He's probably talented enough to play" in the NHL, McPhee said.

Although Kuznetsov met Semin as a young boy when Semin played for Chelyabinsk, he patterns his game after two other countrymen.

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