Evgeny Kuznetsov celebrates a goal against the Penguins on Tuesday night. (Evan Vucci/AP)

How lucky can Washington be? Now Evgeny Kuznetsov, 23, has reached stardom, too.

In a city that has Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kirk Cousins and Ryan Kerrigan — all of them drafted and developed by Washington franchises — it’s easy to overlook the blazing arrival of the Capitals’ all-star center as one of the most dazzling players in the NHL.

But don’t do it. Six years after he was drafted by the Caps, in his second full year in the NHL, the brilliantly skilled, long-awaited Kuznetsov has emerged as the Caps’ leading scorer — the top scorer on the top team. He’s also fourth in the NHL in points per game and first in plus/minus rating (plus-30). Perhaps most of all, he is simply magical, creating plays others can’t imagine.

Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals. “When I shoot, I can see my puck,” Kuznetsov says. “When Ovi shoots . . . Oh, come on. Where’s the puck?” Also, Holtby, who has risen a whole level as a goalie this season, is a prime candidate for NHL MVP. Coach Barry Trotz calls all-star center Backstrom “the complete, all-around, 200-foot player.” All three may stand ahead of the modest and respectful Kuznetsov, who defers in rank. But Kuznetsov has been a team-changer. In a year, he has doubled his production from 37 points in 80 games to 66 points in 63 games.

So far this week, the all-star scored his 20th goal Tuesday and celebrated with an Ovi-like fist pump. “Emotion, happiness, you can’t control it,” he says. On Wednesday, he was named to the Russian World Cup team. “It means so much to me. Hockey is a religion in my country,” he said. “Where I grew up, it was the only sport.” He can sum up his entire youth simply: “All day, every day, skate, skate, skate. Skill, skill, skill.”

Also on Wednesday, Kuznetsov was surprised and delighted to hear himself described by analyst Doug MacLean on “Hockey Night in Canada” as “the best passer in the NHL.” A Russian-born player gets such praise in Canada, eh? Kuzy instantly shot off a text of thanks to MacLean.

And the week isn’t even over yet.

In a blink, since roughly this time last season, Kuznetsov has become one of the half-dozen brightest stars in Washington, a town now loaded with brilliant individual attractions. Ironically, just as Robert Griffin III (drafted but not, in hindsight, developed or protected properly) leaves Washington, Kuznetsov, who was drafted in 2010, becomes an elite star.

D.C. has never approached a moment like this when so many athletes in so many pro sports have reached or are approaching the highest levels of their games. Of the 10 best, only $210 million Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer was a free agent or grabbed in trade. All the rest are home-grown draft picks. Washington hasn’t had a major pro title since 1992, but players such as these allow such dreams.

“Kuznetsov gets overlooked because Ovi and Backy have been top guys in the league for years. But he’s not underappreciated in here,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “His skating ability looks so effortless — like Sergei Fedorov. And his head is never down [looking at the puck]. It’s like a basketball player with a great ‘handle’ on his dribble. So he sees everything on the ice.”

Kuznetsov’s amazing skills have never been in doubt. His skating, for both fluid speed and shiftiness, as well as his “amazing hands” (in Trotz’s words), have few equals. At 6 feet, 190 pounds, little of it obvious muscle, Kuznetsov in a T-shirt and shorts in summer would blend unnoticed on Wisconsin Avenue. Yet he has coped well with the NHL’s physical play. He leads all Caps centers in hits (63) — 23 more than Backstrom while playing fewer minutes.

What has clicked since just 14 months ago? Then Kuznetsov was still a low-impact, perhaps even slightly disappointing player who, in Orpik’s words, “lacked confidence” and still “hadn’t fully adapted to the NHL game.” Kuznetsov recalls that time vividly, shakes his head in disgust and says, “Big paycheck — not playing well.”

Essentially, what happened was a meeting of the minds between Trotz and Kuznetsov. Both acknowledge it. But context is needed to understand it.

Russian — and all international — hockey is played on a bigger ice surface, which creates a game with less hitting, more space and more time to pass-pass-pass to create beautiful scoring chances and much less danger of having the puck poked away for a turnover. The idea of dumping-and-chasing the puck to the other end, then forechecking and battling on the boards to get it back was an unspeakable sin in Russia. Just give away the precious puck?!

“In my team in [the Kontinental Hockey League, where he was a pro for four seasons], if you dump the puck, Coach might put you on bench and you never go out and play hockey again,” Kuznetsov wrote in a piece under his byline in the Players’ Tribune. “My first 10 games in NHL, I don’t understand. Even Ovi. I see him dump it. I’m looking at him like, What?! At first, I’m so confused.”

That confusion extended to other basic parts of the NHL game.

“Kuzy had kind of a one-and-done game,” Trotz said Wednesday of his prodigy’s one-gorgeous-play-or-nothing approach. “In this league on the smaller ice, guys are into you all the time, poking the puck away. You have to keep pucks alive” with second, third and fourth effort.

One night, Detroit Red Wings star and fellow Russian Pavel Datsyuk asked Trotz, “What is that young Kuznetsov like?”

“He needs to be more like that Pavel Datsyuk in keeping pucks alive,” Trotz says he answered. Quickly, a dinner in Detroit was set up among Kuznetsov and his father and Datsyuk, one of Evgeny’s heros, to discuss adapting to the NHL’s style of play. The main course: “Dogging the puck.”

“Kuznetsov has an extremely high hockey IQ. He loves to study film. He sees what others don’t,” Trotz said. “And he has done everything that Datsyuk said.”

Suddenly, a candid bond was born between player and coach.

“You need honesty and bluntness in some situations,” Trotz says now, recalling that time.

“My parents taught me always respect those who are older but speak for yourself. Always say truth to face, never to back,” Kuznetsov said. “If you are not good person, [it] is hard ever to be piece of good team. I accept that. It is all about team — that is how Russians feel.”

Midway through last season, “I feel more trust from [Trotz]. You have to have a special relationship with your coach — but all players different,” Kuznetsov said Wednesdaay. “After you have trust — both ways — then you can play your best.”

Trotz let Kuznetsov’s creativity flow freely, which is sometimes terrifying to a structured coach, as long as there was reciprocity in dogging the puck and dumping-and-chasing as needed.

Trust and communication skills are linked in hockey’s multilingual world. Kuznetsov’s English is now very impressive for someone who, at his first Caps introduction two years ago, said his hands were sweating with fear that “half my words were wrong.”

“My son teaches English in Russia,” Trotz said, “so I know how much can get lost in translation.”

Not anymore. Barry, Evgeny and the Caps speak the same language now: fluent Kuznetsov.

For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.