Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Caps’ No. 1 draft pick in 2010, recently named the top NHL prospect in the world by the Hockey News, has decided not to join the team next season. His decision was announced earlier today on “The Icing Show” on KHL-TV channel.
‘To be honest, my decision has been reached,” the 19-year-old phenom said. “It is my intention to continue my career in the KHL. At the same time there is no clarity as to which club it will be.”
Kuznetsov’s current club, Traktor Chelyabinsk, is still playing in the Kontinental Hockey League playoffs, which explains the lack of clarity. But there won’t be a shortage of offers once the season is over.
Kuznetsov will become an unrestricted free agent this summer and is expected to be fought over by the league’s richest clubs. While the Capitals can only give him the standard entry-level NHL contract, worth just less than $1 million, KHL’s “oligarchs” such as SKA St. Petersburg and Salavat Yulayev Ufa are in a position to offer Kuznetsov at least four or five times that salary. It is probable that his family situation played a part in his decision. (Kuznetsov was married last summer, which is much more common for 19-year-olds in Russia than in the United States.)
Sport-Express, the Russian national daily newspaper, which broke the news today (the show will air tomorrow, but it is hosted by a Sport-Express writer), speculates that the Caps’ struggles this year, Dale Hunter’s defensive approach and Alex Ovechkin’s decline in productivity are also among the reasons.