|Kuznetsov drives to the net in the WJC Gold Medal game.|
This week, I start off with Evgeny Kuznetsov, one of the Capitals' best young prospects who is currently playing in Russia for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, which is their top professional hockey league. The young Russian was drafted in the first round, 26th overall, by the Capitals in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Kuznetsov was initially expected to be drafted much higher than that, as he was ranked best among non North American skaters in the draft by skill. However, questions about his signability with an NHL franchise surfaced, so he dropped to late until the first round for the Capitals to scoop up. It appears right now that the fifteen teams that passed on him outside the top 10 may have made a mistake, as the 18-year old forward is lighting up the Russian league to the tune of 16 goals and 28 points in 41 games, including three short handed goals and two game winners.
Profile: Kuznetsov possesses a skill set not unlike Alexander Semin: he is a gifted offensive player with elite speed, soft hands, and an exceptional shot. However, it is his hockey sense and vision that have him pegged as such an elite prospect. Kuznetsov is a pure forward who can play any position on an attacking line, although he has been used primarily as a right winger for Traktor this season. Despite his many offensive tools, however, Kuznetsov is thin and wiry, and will need to bulk up to successfully adapt to the more physical North American brand of hockey. He also is not a particularly strong positional player as he tends to wander in both zones, but both of these problems can be fixed quickly by a fitness regimen and good coaching.
Career Notes: Kuznetsov broke into the KHL last season with Traktor, his hometown team, and totaled 9 points in 35 games for them before he was drafted by the Capitals. He has represented his country in international play four times: twice at the World U18 Championships and twice at the World Junior Championships (U20). He won a silver medal with the Red Army at the 2009 U18 tournament, and then won the gold medal at the 2011 World Juniors, where he almost single-handedly kept Russia's tournament alive in their final round robin game by scoring a goal and setting up another within the final two minutes. He finished tournament play tied for second in scoring, tallying 4 goals and 11 points in 7 games. This season, in addition to his scoring prowess in the KHL, he was selected to the All-Star game.
ETA: 2012. There are still questions about where Kuznetsov will play next season, as even though his contract with Traktor is up, his stock is rising fast with KHL executives because of how good he is and how well he has played at the last two World Juniors. It will take a lot of money to get him to leave Russia, but he will be with the Caps when he wants to come to America. He is that good.
Information from WashingtonCaps.com and The Scouting Report was used in this post.