When the Washington Capitals drafted Evgeny Kuznetsov with the 26th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, they knew exactly what they were getting: a highly-skilled, high-octane, goalscoring forward who wanted to spend two more seasons in the KHL to bulk up and honor his contract with his hometown Traktor Chelyabinsk.
Zhenya has more than exceeded the Caps' expectations.
Kuznetsov has exploded onto the world hockey scene since his drafting. His 32 points from 44 games bested Evgeny Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and 2007 New York Rangers draft pick Alexei Cherepanov (who tragically passed away on October 13th, 2008), in terms of post-draft year point production. With 36 goals and 37 assists in 93 games over the past two seasons, Kuzya has emerged as one of the league's very best players.
Now, the whole Capitals organization has been dealt a devastating blow with news emerging that Evgeny Kuznetsov may stay in the KHL for the immediate future.
Undoubtedly one of the NHL's most promising youngsters, Kuznetsov was recently voted as the league's top prospect by the prestigious Hockey News. It was expected that he would emerge as a North American hockey star upon joining the Caps, but that dream may now never become a reality.
Kuznetsov's decision was reported by Russian newspaper Sport Express.
I've made a decision to pursue my career in the KHL. At the same time, it is not completely clear yet with which hockey club I will continue my career.
It is hard to fault Kuzya's decision. In moving to the NHL, he would be making $900,000 a year for the next three seasons. Staying in the much more lucrative Kontinental Hockey League could mean an eight-figure salary (in dollars) for Kuznetsov, a number a 19-year-old will find hard to resist.
We also need to take into account that Kuznetsov will be looking to raise a family with his wife, Anastasia. With the money and the comfort of his own home country, Russia is surely a better place to do that than Washington.
Indeed, while Kuznetsov's Traktor Chelyabinsk have led the league this year and are currently favorites in the Gagarin Cup playoffs, he has been heavily courted by big-time club Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Salavat have money to burn, and no doubt they will be willing to spend it on the rising star.
Granted, a TV interview in March is not exactly a confirmation, and Caps fans should not give up hope. This isn't the first time Kuznetsov has flopped regarding his decision, and given the NHL dream he raved about after being drafted, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him change his mind again.
Evgeny Kuznetsov has 100-point potential at the NHL level, and the Capitals are unlikely to give in too easily.
For all the latest news on all Washington Capitals prospects, follow Caps Prospects on Twitter at @CapsProspects