In today's issue of Sport-Express, Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov speaks with Mikhail Zislis and shares his feelings about being selected for the Russian national Euro Hockey Tour team and the KHL All-Star team (aka Team Jagr, where he will be on the third line with former Cap Sergei Fedorov ). He also shares some thoughts on where he might find himself next year.
Last fall Valery Belousov, head coach for Chelyabinsk Traktor, compared his 18 year old forward Evgeny Kuznetsov to Evgeni Malkin. From an observer's standpoint, the compliment seemed quite premature at the time. However, Kuznetsov is now blooming like a white mushroom under the August rain.
At the beginning of January he became one of the heroes of the WJC when he and the rest of Team Russia won gold medals in the tournament, the first in eight years. Following his return from Buffalo, all the teams in the KHL have suffered at the hands of Kuznetsov. In ten games since the first of the year he has scored 14 (7+7) points, and has six goals in a five game scoring streak. Not surprisingly, this forward is a hot commodity.
He was selected for the Russian National Team during the Swedish stage of the Euro Hockey Tour, and then was invited to Jaromir Jagr's team representing the Eastern Conference in the (KHL) All Star Game, becoming the youngest ever participant in the history of the games.
"The invitation to the All Star Game in St. Petersburg was a surprise for me" admitted Kuznetsov. "First my agent called and congratulated me. I wondered ‘what is he congratulating me about?' Then I went on the internet for myself and learned all the details."
Did you know that up until now, no 18-year old has ever been invited to this game?
"Yeah, it's really great; especially since it turns out I'll be on the same team as some great masters of the game. Several of them are twice as old as I am. I think I might even be a little nervous about that. I don't know any of them personally, but they are regular guys, so everything should work out just fine."
During practices at the World Juniors you performed some small sketches, such as your portrayal of the "entrance of the injured hockey player". Are you ready for a "one-man show" in St. Petersburg?
"No, there won't be anything like that (smiles). After all, the All Star Game is a serious event. But if they give me the chance, I will try to astonish the fans purely by my hockey techniques."
A few days ago you made a gorgeous penalty shot in a game against Dynamo, when you held the stick in one hand. Could you say that you will repeat that shot in the All Star Game?
"If I am allowed to make a penalty shot in St. Petersburg, then I already know how I'm going to do it. But I'm not going to repeat what I did in the game against Dynamo. I have a different variation in mind."
What did head coach Valery Belousov say after the penalty shot?
"He basically asked me to do it differently-more simply. But I disobeyed him again. I couldn't help myself."
The KHL All Star Game has never before been run in an East vs. West format. Will it be essential for you to beat the team of Alexei Yashin?
"It's difficult for me to say, because this will be my first time participating in a game like this. Right now I don't know what can happen, but I want to win in any case."
Following your victory at the WJC, you've been playing an unbelievable game. What's the reason for this big surge?
"Probably it speaks to the fact that I've trained a lot and worked a lot. And my emotional base following victory at the WJC is on another, much higher, level, and that helps. And I'm luckier now than before."
Is your head spinning after being selected for an adult national team and an invitation to the All Star Game?
"Nothing like that. I don't have my head up in the clouds. I calmly accept everything that happens to me. I've been given a chance. This means that I need to take advantage of it and continue working on myself, so that I'll even be chosen for the national team next time."
Right before the last day of the trade deadline, there were a lot of rumors going around the KHL that you might turn up in SKA, Salavat Yulaev or Magnitogorsk. How do you respond to that?
"I stayed calm and didn't worry. Whatever happens, happens. Because after all, in this situation I don't have any say in the matter."
Does it bother you that you won't be able to play in the KHL playoffs?
"Since that's the way it turned out, then why worry about it now? I'll try to win the remaining games in the season with Traktor."
After the end of the regular season you might be sent to the MHL (Minor Hockey League- T.H.). Wouldn't you consider this transfer a step backwards?
"No. It would also be interesting to play for the White Bears. Because if the role of leader has fallen on my shoulders, then I need to lead the team. And of course I still want to win."
When will you make a decision on where you will continue your career next season?
"Nobody has called me yet from Washington, who drafted me. I'll determine my future in the summer, when the discussions and negotiations begin. At this moment I don't have a clear answer to the question of where I'll be playing next season. I'll also be communicating with the management of Traktor. First you need to weigh everything and then make a final decision."
What would need to happen to make you stay and play in Russia as long as possible?
"I personally think that I'm not totally prepared to perform in the NHL. On the other hand, I really want to try my hand playing at a higher level."
So if the KHL and the NHL were on the same level then you wouldn't go abroad?
"Yeah, if Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk were playing here, I wouldn't even think about going to the NHL."
You said that at the end of the season you would be going in for an operation to repair problems with your shoulder...
"I was told that I don't require surgery. I can get it ready through a special program with a trainer."