The Washington Capitals were left with a large void in offensive production after their loss of Mike Ribeiro and his point per game production to the Phoenix Coyotes through free agency this offseason. Since then, it would appear on the surface that the Capitals have ignored the fact Ribeiro left by not acquiring anyone with a real offensive presence, leaving many to wonder if General Manager George McPhee and company have gone mad.
Upon further investigation, though, it seems that management may be looking within the organization at Evgeny Kuznetsov to fill the void left by Ribeiro and become the face of the franchise moving forward.
Kuznetsov is a 21-year-old that is supremely skilled both with the puck and as a skater, and is under Capitals control after the team drafted him in 2010. He can play either center or wingman, and has been playing in the KHL for Chelyabinsk Traktor since being drafted. During this time in the KHL, he has earned plaudits as one of the best players not in the NHL by posting 116 points in 144 games, and helping lead the Russian National team to Gold medals at the 2011 World Junior Championship and 2012 Senior World Championship.
More than just being supremely talented, what makes Kuznetsov the perfect fit for the Capitals’ situation is the fact that his KHL contract expires at the end of the season and he has expressed interest in a move to the NHL in the past.
“I promised to play for Washington after the (2014) Olympics,” Kuznetsov told Tomas Kmec in February of 2013. “ I want to play in (Washington), but I’m playing for Traktor right now. I have a contract, and I will continue to fight with sweat and blood playing for such a great club.”
With a contract that is set to expire and is seemingly intent on moving to Washington afterwards, Kuznetsov is set to provide the Capitals with one of the best bargains in the game of hockey today. He will be playing on an entry-level deal and it would be no surprise to see a rookie showing similar to that of Evgeni Malkin or Alexander Ovechkin, who became two of the best players in the NHL immediately after arriving in the league.
If the Capitals are able get production anywhere near the level of these two players, then fans will immediately forget about ever wanting Ribeiro to return, and be rewarded with the opportunity to watch another great talent at the Verizon Center.