Continued from page 1

At the time, Kuznetsov was the only player on Russia’s roster younger than 19. Now, he’s grown to 6-foot-1 and has 24 points in 32 games for his hometown Traktor Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League.

There was a common belief that Kuznetsov could have fit in with the Caps this year, but instead he’s honing his game in Russia at least until the end of this KHL season.

“When we interviewed for the draft, he said he wanted to play two years in the KHL to get strong enough — and he wasn’t wrong in that regard,” McPhee said. “He needed to get stronger. From a talent standpoint he’s probably got enough talent to play here, but physically you have to be strong enough.”

Kuznetsov’s KHL contract expires after this season, and he has yet to officially comment on his status for next year. The option is open for him to play for Hershey (AHL) later this season if he agrees to an entry-level deal with the Caps in time, though McPhee pointed out Kuznetsov could be a candidate for Russia’s world championship team this spring as well.

The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement precludes Kuznetsov from joining Washington this year, so the waiting game will continue. But his dominant offensive performance wherever he seems to play is likely to mean an added dose of firepower to a potent but inconsistent Caps offense in the near future.

And though the team has shied away from the run-and-gun style of years past, Kuznetsov’s deft hands and electrifying playmaking skills would surely be a welcome addition.

Washington Times staff writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.