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2015-16 Rink Wrap: Evgeny Kuznetsov

From Alzner to Winnik, we're taking a look at and grading the 2015-16 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2016-17. Next up, Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Japers' Rink Player Card (click for a hi-res version, and a glossary of terms used in this post can be found here; data via NHL.comwar-on-ice.comGeneral Fanager and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com):

Kuznetsov Card

Kuznetsov's Season, Game-by-Game (via HockeyViz, explained here):

Kuznetsov game-by-game

Kuznetsov's HERO Chart (via Own The Puck):

Kuznetsov HERO

Kuznetsov and His Linemates:

Kuznetsov linemates

Kuznetsov's 5v5 Teammates and Competition (via HockeyViz, explained here):

Kuznetsov QoCT

Kuznetsov's 5v5 Usage:

Kuznetsov's With-or-Without You (via HockeyViz, explained here):

Kuznetsov WOWY

Kuznetsov's Rolling Shot-Attempt (Corsi) -For Percentage:

Kuznetsov rolling CF%

Kuznetsov's Two Qualifying Seasons (via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com):

Kuznetsov HA

Key Stat: Kuznetsov's 77 points led the team; for the first time in Alex Ovechkin's career, another Washington Capital out-scored him.

Interesting Stat: Kuznetsov led the league in primary assists at even strength with 28, providing the Caps with another scoring option and decreasing reliance on the power play.

The Good: Kuznetsov picked up the 2015-16 season right where he left off the season before. A strong close to last season had Caps fans wondering if he hit a hot streak late in the year or whether he had finally turned the NHL corner and acclimated to the smaller ice and more aggressive style. For most of the season, the answer appeared to be a resounding yes.

Given a choice assignment to start the year centering Ovechkin due to Nicklas Backstrom's injury, Kuznetsov made the most of it. After posting 13 points in 10 October games, Kuznetsov barely slowed down scoring double-digit points in all but one month (December) until March. No doubt many of those double-digit months were the product of his feast-or-famine potential - he was tied for the league lead in three-assist games and had the first four-assist game by a Capital since 2013 (and the second that wasn't Nick Backstrom in the Ovi Era).

Kuznetsov oozes skill and it'll be equal parts shocking and disappointing if he isn't gracing Washington Capitals highlight reels for many years to come, and he may already be the most dangerous NHL player with the puck on his stick below the goal line.

A final qualitative note, one of the biggest surprises of his highlight reel, however, was how competent he can be defensively (see below). Defensive quality is defined by consistency as much as anything else, and it will take time for Kuznetsov to learn more of the defensive nuances and develop the consistency to be trusted with difficult assignments, but with his hand-eye coordination, savvy, and coaching from Barry Trotz it seems reasonable to forecast a player that can handle power versus power matchups in the not-too-distant future.

The production was obviously great, and his flare invigorating, but there was more than the eye candy to get excited about. The improvement in his underlying metrics was clear. He increased all facets of his five-on-five point production, individual shot/Fenwick/Corsi rates, and on-ice possession rates. He became a positive Corsi-Relative player around his 150th NHL game (~mid-February) and opened a healthy margin over the team when he was off-ice. His impact on his teammates was generally positive, and he was by no means hidden by Trotz.

All in all, it would have been tough to expect more from Kuznetsov during the first five months of the season.

The Bad: The season is longer than five months, of course, and continued long past February. After scoring 64 points from October through February, Kuznetsov came through with 13 points  to close out the regular season during March and April (only one goal) and only two points (one goal) in the two playoffs rounds. All that good talk about providing the long-sought secondary scoring? It's still just talk. Kuznetsov scored a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 1st (because timing), and after that he was a fluke bounce and a Steve Mason misplay away from going goalless for the rest of the way.

There was at least a plausible argument that the second line was creating chances but snakebit against the Flyers, but the whole second line was an absolute non-factor against the Penguins. And in a series where the opposition's third line stole the show, it's difficult to watch the Caps' second line get completely manhandled and nullified during a bitterly close six-game series.

We've seen this movie before, and moments of serendipity over the course of a regular season only to wilt in the playoffs has been as much a calling card of the Alex Ovechkin Capitals as criticism of Alex Ovechkin has been. If the Capitals ever got the kind of depth performance the Penguins have gotten from Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino (or that Troy Brouwer finally came through with for the St. Louis Blues...), the Capitals likely wouldn't be wondering yet again what it is about the second round of the playoffs they can't solve (hint: secondary scoring).

So whether it's Alex Semin or Evgeny Kuznetsov (and it has nothing to do with passport because we could be just as tough on Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams), the Capitals have a knack for finding sublime talents that can't solve the second round. You can hang your hat on the scoring chances and favorable underlying numbers if you want to, but lots of shots and no finish won't help you anymore on the ice rink than it will on the golf course.

The GIF/Video:

The Vote: Rate Kuznetsov below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.

The Discussion: What is the ideal usage for Kuznetsov, can he realistically handle difficult two-way assignments and continue to produce offense? Given his upcoming RFA status, and the going market for top-six talent, what kind of financial commitment should the Capitals consider, and what kind of performance would Kuznetsov need to justify that commitment? Is the late-season and playoff dry spell cause for concern, and should it give the Capitals pause when negotiating the next contract? Can Kuznetsov supplant Backstrom as the top center on the team, and if so, how long until that swap is realized? What would it take for you to give him a "10" next year?