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; D03

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.

"I can't really compare [myself] to any NHL players yet, but [I] like how Evgeny Malkin plays and that style of play and also Pavel Datsyuk," Kuznetsov said through an interpreter.

More than two hours before Kuznetsov was drafted, league-worst Edmonton selected Taylor Hall over rival Tyler Seguin with the No. 1 pick, thus ending the most heated who-should-go-first debate since the Capitals picked Ovechkin ahead of Malkin in 2004. Seguin was picked moments later by Boston.

Hall, a hard-hitting left wing, finished tied with Seguin, a smooth skating center, for the Ontario Hockey League scoring title with 106 points.

"Hopefully I can make that team next year," said Hall, whose father, Steve, was a wide receiver in the Canadian Football League for Winnipeg, Edmonton and Ottawa. "That's my first step. We can really recreate some of the magic they had there."

It was the highlight of an otherwise ho-hum first round. In the days leading up to the draft, speculation was rampant that picking prospects might be overshadowed by blockbuster trades involving NHL players.

But the only swaps were minor ones. Florida dealt defenseman Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich to Vancouver for Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and the 25th pick.

The other notable trade involved local player Jarred Tinordi. Montreal moved up to No. 22 to snag the 6-foot-6, 205-pound defenseman, who is the son of former Capitals defenseman Mark Tinordi and a native of Millersville.

The big trades that created so much buzz leading up to Friday's first round, however, will have to wait.

"It might happen in the next weeks; it may not happen here the next few days," McPhee said. "It's hard to do trades now because if you move something and you get something else, you create a hole here. It's a really hard league to make trades in."

Capitals notes: McPhee disputed a recent report that said pending restricted free agent Chris Bourque had signed a contract with Kontinetal Hockey League team HK Atlant. "It's not true as far as we know," McPhee said. . . . Washington's media relations staff claimed its fourth consecutive Dick Dillman Award as the top staff in the Eastern Conference as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. . . . The Capitals will have picks 86, 116, 142, 146 and 176 when the draft resumes Saturday morning.

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