The Washington Capitals agreed to terms with forward Evgeny Kuznetsov on an entry-level contract Saturday, signaling the end of a nearly four-year wait for the highly touted prospect.
Per the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, Kuznetsov will sign a two-year deal that is believed to have an annual worth of $900,000 -- the maximum base salary for a player drafted in 2010. He will skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Sunday morning and will reportedly make his debut on Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kuznetsov, selected 26th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, scored eight goals and earned 21 points in 31 games for Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Kontinental Hockey League this season as he missed considerable time following shoulder surgery and knee surgery. In five KHL seasons, Kuznetsov scored at least 17 goals three times.
The 21-year-old, whose arrival stateside has been anxiously awaited by the Capitals fan base, possesses high-end skill that should bolster Washington's forward depth. Expectations, however, should be tempered as he becomes accustomed to the North American style of play and culture.
“I think you’ve got to be realistic about it," coach Adam Oates said last week. "It’s tough. Anything’s a bonus. It will be nice life for the guys, I’m sure, but in fairness to him he’ll have to go slow. I saw him play this summer, get some latest video if we could and obviously his reputation is very good. Still you’re going to the NHL, he’s never played over here. I don’t want to get everybody too pumped up before he has a chance to get acclimated to the league.”
If and when Kuznetsov does join the Capitals' lineup (likely in a top-six role at left wing or center), he will be thrust into a postseason chase; Washington entered play Saturday three points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I think when you 21 years old you have to understand especially right now when we fight for playoffs and every points counts,” forward Alex Ovechkin said recently. “He just have to play his game and help us.”
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