Alex Ovechkin was the Washington Capitals’ No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, but it wasn’t that easy to bring him over following the lockout. General manager George McPhee and Co. had a three-day window to get a deal done before he’d be unable to play in the NHL.
“So we got on the phone, talked to him. He was already in a training camp with a club, made the commitment there and he was prepared to stay,” McPhee recalled Thursday. “And there was a long discussion, we had translators in there, and at the end of the hour he just said ‘I’m coming. I want to go to the NHL.’ He was ready.”
Stud prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Caps’ first-round pick in 2010, reiterated with a new two-year contract to stay in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League that he wasn’t ready. It’s a concern he voiced when he was drafted and something the team recognizes.
“It wasn’t much of a surprise. We would have liked to have had him. But if he’s not ready to come over then it’s probably not a good thing for him to come over because he’s not going to play the way he needs to play,” McPhee said. “But they all come over eventually and if he comes over in a season or two he’ll be more mature, bigger, stronger. … He’s a terrific prospect and at some point he’ll play for us.”
This situation with Kuznetsov, 20, apparently hasn’t changed the organizational philosophy with drafting Russian players, taking them even as others avoid them over worries about signing them.
“Good,” McPhee said. “Let them avoid them.”
Patience is a valuable virtue for the Caps with Kuznetsov, given the flashes of brilliance he has shown in the KHL and world junior championship.
“He’s going to come over at some point and he’s going to be a heck of a player here. Obviously we were prepared to wait when we made the pick,” McPhee said. “We’d like to have [him], but he’ll be here at some point and he’ll be worth it.”
As for the possibility of trading his rights, McPhee seemed more than reluctant.
“That would be a hard thing to do,” he said. “He’s a real talent. We’ll see.”