On Monday evening, Evgeny Kuznetsov made his North American debut for the Washington Capitals. The 21 year old was one of the world’s top prospects before making his debut and is expected to infuse some vitality in a Washington team who currently sits outside of the playoff picture and is looking to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It’s understandable for fans to be excited that their team’s top prospect is finally in the nation’s capital. Two years ago, he spurned the organization to play two more years in the Kontinental Hockey League in order to put himself on the inside track to make the Russian Olympic team. The wait was long, and the hope is that Kuznetsov meets and exceeds the expectations placed on him.
Having said that, it’s important for fans to keep some perspective here.
As much as you want this kid to step in and lead this team to the playoffs and ultimately the Stanley Cup, it’s not going to happen this year. It’s probably not going to happen next year. The macro view of the Capitals is that they are just a flat-out bad team. They give up way too many shots and lack solid defensemen to help with their team possession numbers.
At a micro level, can fans let Kuznetsov get some game minutes in the National Hockey League before anointing him a savior? As the line rushes were tweeted by Capitals beat writers, many fans took to Twitter to voice their displeasure about Kuznetsov starting on the fourth line. My question to those fans is, “Why?” For a guy who hasn’t stepped on the ice for any professional competition on this continent (sans development camp), where else did you expect him to play? Just as much as this period of time right now is a playoff push for the Capitals it is development for Kuznetsov. Automatically putting him on the first or second lines and making him face top competition right off the bat (to note, the Capitals are facing the Penguins on Monday evening, so we’re talking about facing Kunitz, Crosby, Malkin, etc.) could potentially hurt his confidence and stunt his development. Just like when you start a new job you’re trained and not thrown to the wolves, Kuznetsov needs to be eased into the North American style of play and get his legs underneath him.
I wouldn’t expect Kuznetsov to do much this season. He may score a goal or two, but that’s it. The most important thing for Capitals fans to understand is that he will be a work in progress. He’s not going to be an overnight sensation. He may spend some time down in the minors to further his development. Fans must give him time to come into his own and find his game here. As a Caps fan myself, I know hearing the term “give some time” is hard to do, especially when the franchise has never won the Stanley Cup. In order for Kuznetsov to be what the Capitals hope he will be, time will be a valuable commodity. Just don’t complain when he’s not playing in the top-six. Don’t complain when he gets demoted to the AHL (it probably won’t happen this year, but it’ll happen at some point). And don’t start complaining if you think the Capitals are ruining Kuznetsov’s development because they aren’t doing what you would do if you worked in the front office.
Just as much as you’ve been waiting for his arrival, the Capitals organization has, too.