WASHINGTON – The Capitals had only one prospect at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships, but Russia’s Evgeny Kuznetsov proved to be the tournament’s best.
Kuznetsov captained Russia to a silver medal and led the tournament in scoring with six goals and 13 points in seven games. He was also named to the tournament’s all-star team for the second straight year, and was recognized as the tournament’s most valuable player.
“The level of skill he has is eye-catching,” TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro told WTOP. “The first thing I noticed is just the way that he skates – – he’s got a real wide posture so when he’s going up the ice it’s such a powerful stride. When he gets into the open ice, that’s where he’s at his best.”
Ferraro appeared in 1,258 NHL games spread over 18 seasons and covered the World Junior Championships — held this year in Alberta, Canada — for the first time in his broadcast career.
“He hangs on to the puck like [Penguins forward Evgeni] Malkin does,” Ferraro said. “He’s at the very high-end of talent in regard to his ability to skate with the puck. He’s a transporter of the puck is the best way to put it.”
Kuznetsov was the Capitals first round pick — 26th overall — in the 2010 entry draft, and is now in his third professional season in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. The Capitals expect Kuznetsov in North America full-time beginning next season.
“He should be here next year,” Capitals General Manager George McPhee said midway through the tournament. “He’s ready to play here and he needs to play in a better league” and not form bad habits.
“We don’t want that stuff to become engrained, so get him to the best league you can and get working with him,” McPhee added.
Ferraro does not anticipate Kuznetsov needing very much seasoning, if any at all, in the American Hockey League next season, but he notes that some of the bad habits McPhee may be concerned with may have already started to creep into Kuznetsov’s game.
“I look at a player like Kuznetsov and I think he’s just so good and so skilled, but the next level is about managing the puck and managing your time on the ice,” Ferraro says. “He took some shifts that were two minutes long and of course that doesn’t work at the next level.”
According to Ferraro, as strong as Kuznetsov looked against the other teenagers at the World Juniors, the 6-foot, 172-pound right winger still has some maturing to do on the ice.
“Like most high-end skilled teenagers,” Ferraro explained, “the work for him is going to be without the puck because you have it less in the NHL. There’s just less room and less opportunity to get into the open ice and skate it.”
The next phase for Kuznetsov is learning the “give-and-go game a bit more,” says Ferraro. “Oftentimes the young guys don’t give up [the puck] because they’re not sure if they’re going to get it back.”
Kuznetsov finished second in scoring at the 2011 World Junior Championships. In 19 tournament games spread over the past three years, Kuznetsov has collected 12 goals and 26 points.
Like Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin also represented Russia at three World Junior Championships, captaining the team to a silver medal in 2005. In 18 tournament games from 2003 to 2005, Ovechkin racked up 18 goals and 25 points.
Kuznetsov’s numbers may look similar to Ovechkin’s, but so, too, are their personalities. Kuznetsov became public enemy No.1 in Canada not only because of his three-goal, four-point effort in the semi-finals against the host Canadians, but also for the way he carried himself on and off the ice.
“When he scores he’s very exuberant,” Ferraro said. “He’s the most noticeable guy on the Russian team and when they won he was not scared to whoop it up.”
This is not necessarily surprising given that he is just 19 years old, says Ferraro.
“I think it’s a measure of having some guts — he doesn’t mind the spotlight,” Ferraro says.
Catch the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday at 7:40 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7 p.m. on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online www.wfed.com.