If it wasn’t already apparent the Washington Capitals love to draft talented and goofy Russians in the NHL Entry Draft, it is now. With the 26th overall pick, the Capitals selected Evgeny Kuznetsov, a pick General Manager George McPhee said was “unanimous” once the time came.
Kuznetsov is still under contract for Chelyabinsk of the KHL, though McPhee said he may get the chance to play as early as next year for the Capitals. McPhee had been scouting Kuznetsov since the world junior championships and considered trading up as high as 10 picks to take the Russian. Kuznetsov compares his game to that of fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin while others have compared him to the Capital’s own Alexander Semin.
The Capitals already boast three Russian first-round picks on the roster and in a few years, the 18-year-old center could be the fourth. While other teams look to amateur league ranks and prospects from Canada, McPhee has picked from a pool of Russian players other GMs shy away from.
“People are concerned about signing and drafting Russian players, but we just feel that what we’re doing in Ovechkin that he’ll play in Washington,” McPhee said. “We can do some things that other teams are afraid to do.”
The Russian influence has been undeniable for the Capitals, especially with Alex Ovechkin, Semyon Varlamoz and Semin playing great hockey in the district. The pipeline to talented young Russian players is wide open and McPhee has done a great job to facilitate their development to the top level of play in the Verizon Center.
The question is, why would any Russian prospect not want to play in the district?