Evgeny Kuznetsov understood the need for patience when he migrated from Russia, bound for a new country, new league and new language, and here Thursday morning came the latest challenge. When Coach Barry Trotz rejiggered his lines for practice, the 22-year-old Kuznetsov found himself outside the fray, penciled in for the first healthy scratch of his career.
“It’s my first time,” Kuznetsov said. “In KHL [the top-tier Russian league], play like 24, 25 minutes, but it’s different league and like new life for me. I understand before I come into NHL, I know what happens here. It was the league here. It’s hard for me. I want to do this. Why not? Like, second life.”
The second life has not yet unfolded like his first, when he earned first-line minutes in Russia. Instead, Trotz has bounced Kuznetsov around the lineup, playing everywhere but the first line. In fact, only two Capitals forwards have not skated beside another forward for more than 50 percent of their even-strength ice time: Jay Beagle and Kuznetsov. Only the position – center – stayed the same.
“This is hockey life,” Kuznetsov said. “Today you don’t play, tomorrow you play. You need to be ready every day. This is the life. I’m ready for this. You know, last game was not my best game, I understand this, and I ready to work. Hard work. If this good for team, it’s good for me too.”
If Kuznetsov indeed sits Friday in Chicago, as the Capitals look to snap a five-game losing streak, forward Brooks Laich would return from a left shoulder injury suffered Oct. 18 vs. Florida. At practice, Laich centered a line with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, reuniting the group that began the regular season together.
“He took some draws and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Trotz said. “We’ll put him in the middle tomorrow, if he plays.”
After watching the Capitals drop six of seven since he went down, Laich said he intends to play Friday in Chicago and Saturday at home vs. Carolina. The shoulder, he said, has strengthened each day.
“No, I plan on playing both,” Laich said. “I plan on playing the rest of the year. It’s not a feel-your-way-around kind of thing. We’re starting to fall back from the pack a little bit. It’s time to win some hockey games. I’m only looking at tomorrow’s game, but certainly feel good enough to keep going.”
That would leave Kuznetsov sitting in the press box, without much cause other than the Capitals’ surplus of forwards. Forward Eric Fehr skated beside Kuznetsov and Aaron Volpatti (neck) on Washington’s fifth forward line at practice, and would appear to also be headed for another scratch.
Asked whether he wanted to see anything more from Kuznetsov, Trotz said the forward, who had registered three points over the past four games, understood the “process and patience” as his NHL development and acclimation progress. Still, Trotz said he hadn’t yet decided whether Kuznetsov would get scratched Friday.
“He’s got a great attitude,” Trotz said. “I don’t really have any reservation. I think Kuzy’s going to be a good player … He understands that we’ve got some guys, for a situational type thing, we might go in a little different direction for a game or two games.”