When Mattias Sjogren left to go home to Sweden last fall, George McPhee’s attitude was that if the big forward wanted to go, he wouldn’t stop him.
The tact is a little bit different for the Washington Capitals with top prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, who announced recently that he would spend the next two seasons with Traktor Chelyabinsk of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League rather than jump to the NHL.
McPhee confirmed Monday that it looks like Kuznetsov indeed won’t be a part of the Caps’ immediate future, a tough blow given that he could have stepped into a top-six role right away.
“We’ve talked to the agent. It doesn’t appear that he’s going to make it over for next season. He’s a young guy, he’s only 20-years-old so we understand why he might not want to leave yet,” McPhee said. “But at some point he’ll want to come to this league. It’s the best league in the world. He’s a heck of a player so when he’s ready to come we’ll be ready for him.”
Kuznetsov has not officially signed the two-year deal with Traktor, though the 20-year-old made it clear that he’s staying in the KHL because he wants to represent his country in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
McPhee has on numerous occasions said Kuznetsov needs to come to North America to shed some bad habits that aren’t filtered out in the KHL.
“We like him a lot as a player. We think he’s a terrific player. But at the right time, as I said, he’s only 20. I think he can take the bad habits out of the game,” the Caps’ GM reiterated. “On the other hand, he’s usually bigger and stronger if they come a little bit later.”
McPhee said he did not know about Kuznetsov being in Russia two more years but sounded certain about needing to do without him in 2012-13. He did not reveal what effect, if any, Kuznetsov’s decision will have on the team’s efforts to re-sign Alexander Semin.
Without Kuznetsov, and with Semin set to be an unrestricted free agent July 1, the Caps will be in need of another top-six forward who can fill the net. Options could include P.A. Parenteau of the New York Islanders (18 goals) and Jiri Hudler of the Detroit Red Wings (25 goals).