WASHINGTON, D.C. – Evgeny Kuznetsov was all smiles as he took the podium for media day. His classic, happy-go-lucky “Kuzy” personality, jokes and laughs and all, was on full display. But there was a more serious side of him that emerged as he reflected on last season, one that was far from easy-going.
“I don’t want to look for excuses,” Kuznetsov put it simply.
The 29-year-old is coming off one of the most difficult years of his career. He tested positive for COVID-19 twice and was also benched due to disciplinary reasons down the stretch. And, after putting up just nine goals and a career-low 29 points, trade speculation surrounded Kuznetsov. That all calmed down when GM Brian MacLellan walked back on the trade talks later in the offseason.
Regardless, Kuznetsov is happy to be back in D.C., where he fully expected to be to start training camp.
“Just remember it is a business, right? It is not whatever guy wants to do or people or fans, it’s a business and we have to adjust to that. I am happy that I am here and I’m mentally here,” Kuznetsov said. “That is what is more important to me. It’s not just that I’m here to get paid or I’m to play hockey and go home and enjoy my life. For me, it was very important to mentally be here.”
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Coming off a rough year, the Russian said he’s ready to put it all in the rearview. However, it is something that he wants to be reminded of and keep in mind as he looks to move forward.
“It was one of the years you want to forget, but at the same time, you want to remember,” Kuznetsov explained. “It is like when you lose the game in the playoffs or any Game 7, you sit in the locker room and feel that pain. And next year, you don’t want to feel that pain again, so you can use that as motivation, you can use that as a target, as a goal. For me, that wasn’t nice.
“When everything good in your life, you are not moving. you are not growing, you are not getting better,” Kuznetsov added. “It is fun to see everything and I hope in 10 years when I enjoy my life, I will enjoy this time and remember it.”
Kuznetsov faces hefty expectations this season. Not only will he have to show significant improvement from last season, but he may have to help fill Nicklas Backstrom’s void with the Swedish center sidelined and listed as week-to-week.
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Coming into camp, though, the 6-1, 205-pound pivot says he’s in good physical shape and had a strong offseason of training.
“It’s nice to wake up every day and be able to breathe nice and be able to push yourself in the practice 100 percent… physically, I am in very good shape right now and you can judge my game right now for sure.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette agreed, saying he had a heart-to-heart with No. 92 about expectations and where his game is at this season. He liked what he saw in skate tests and the team’s on-ice session, and hopes that he continues to display that going forward.
“Evgeny and I have had as honest as a conversation you can have since I’ve been here. He’s in a really good spot right now, he looks extremely fit, healthy and ready to play,” Laviolette said. “I think his mind, based on the conversations that I’ve had with him, is in a really good spot. He’s really going to get an opportunity to show what he can do.”
Overall, Kuznetsov said he’s ready to turn the page while getting back to his top level of play. The key to that: optimism.
“The goal is for me to get my smile back in the game, and if I don’t smile in the game, that means something bad, we don’t play good. For me, it was always important to see guys happy, to see smiles during the game. Even you lose the game, you come back in the locker room and see [we] did everything we could. Come back next day be happy with the work… if you not happy, it does not make you better, does not make it easier to compete.”