Evgeny Kuznetsov is the most highly touted prospect in the Capitals’ system and if General Manager George McPhee has his way the young Russian will be playing in the NHL in the 2012-13 season.

“He should be here next year. He’s ready to play here and he needs to play in a better league,” McPhee said prior to the start of Washington’s game against Buffalo on Friday night. “Sometimes when you’re not playing at the highest level you can develop bad habits. We don’t want that stuff to become engrained — so get him to the best league you can and get working with him.”

Kuznetsov, 19, is the captain of the Russian team taking part in the world junior hockey championships and on Thursday he recorded nine points (three goals, six assists) in his squad’s 14-0 win over Latvia. There’s no doubt that Kuznetsov stands above the fray at the junior level and he has also recorded 24 points in 32 games with the KHL’s Chelyabinsk Traktor this season. But neither level compares to what he will face in the NHL.

McPhee said he has not begun talks with Kuznetsov’s representatives for an entry-level deal for the 2010 first-round draft pick. While McPhee said he will go to the world junior tournament on Sunday, he doesn’t believe any serious negotiations for Kuznetsov’s contract will occur there.

“I usually leave the players alone at that tournament but if I happen to see him I’ll say hi,” McPhee said. “But I don’t expect a lot of negotiating to happen — probably later on in the season.”

McPhee reiterated that Kuznetsov will not play with the Capitals this season because it is not permitted by the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement. If Kuznetsov’s KHL season ends early, McPhee said they would give him the option of joining Hershey late in the season, like Dmitry Orlov did last year, but it’s possible the forward would participate in the IIHF World Championships instead.