The Key Stat: 78. Kuznetsov recorded 78 points (24G, 54A) this season, just five points shy of the career high he set in the 2017-2018 season. He was second on the team in scoring, behind Alex Ovechkin’s 90 points, and tied with John Carlson for first in assists.
The Good: This was an incredible offensive season for Evgeny Kuznetsov. He averaged 0.99 points per game through 79 games, just shy of the 1.06 points/game marker he set in 2017-2018. Kuznetsov was producing offense at a star level this season, doing exactly what the team and fans hoped he would: returning to his Stanley Cup year form. With Backstrom missing 35 games this year, Kuznetsov stepping up and showing out as Washington’s top-line center was vital to the team’s success. He came through in a huge way.
In addition to his high-powered offense, Kuznetsov also played some solid minutes on the Capitals’ penalty kill. The increased responsibility seemed to sit well with him. Despite his history as a defensive liability on the ice, he was a very effective part of the PK. Perhaps the “pure defense” mindset of a penalty kill had something to do with that? Of course, he managed to score three shorthanded goals as well, the most on the team.
Kuznetsov also recorded the second hat trick of his career this season, on March 12 in Vancouver. The first goal was a little fluky, sure, but puck don’t lie.
The Bad: Kuznetsov once again struggled at the faceoff dot this season. He won 504 faceoffs and lost 662 for a percentage of just 43.22%. Among Washington’s regular centers, this was the lowest of the four by 3.16% (Nicklas Backstrom was third with 46.38%). His reliability at the dot was so bad that Coach Laviolette sometimes started Nic Dowd in overtime just to take the opening faceoff and swap places with Kuznetsov. Faceoffs are such an important part of a center’s game, and Kuznetsov continues to let that skill fall by the wayside. His playmaking has improved so much, but he is still very much lacking at the dot.
Kuznetsov also continues to have a penalty problem. He was tied for third (Orlov, Dowd) on the team in PIMs this season with 44, behind Tom Wilson and Garnet Hathaway. It is important to note that Kuznetsov only took 18 penalties, 17 minors plus 1 misconduct after a scrum with Travis Konecny in Washington’s 9-2 rout of the Flyers on April 12. 17 minor penalties is sixth-most on the team, which is better but still not great. Kuznetsov’s discipline has had its ups and downs over the years, so that lack of consistency is part of the equation too. Has he improved overall? Yes, but this season was a step in the wrong direction.
The Discussion: What steps does Kuznetsov need to take to push his offense to the next level? Should he continue to play on the penalty kill next season? How important do you think Kuznetsov improving his faceoff percentage is? And finally, what would it take for you to give Kuznetsov a 10 next season?
The Vote: Rate Evgeny 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.