The NHL Network released its list of top-20 centers heading into the 2022-23 campaign, with Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid taking the top spot. And, despite multiple teams seeing their top players make the cut, the Washington Capitals saw one of their biggest stars and top-line center snubbed: Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov, who finished 16th in scoring among centers in 2021-22, didn’t make the cut. He is coming off an outstanding bounceback season, where he dished 24 goals and 54 assists for 78 points in 79 games. His 54 assists were also tied for eighth among pivots with Joe Pavelski. Not only that, but Kuznetsov also returned to All-Star status and impressed at the 2022 NHL All-Star Weekend.
Despite the numbers and stats, he didn’t make the cut. Here’s who did:
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) August 14, 2022
The last few seaosns haven’t by no means been easy for the Russian. Kuznetsov had just nine goals and 20 assists in 41 games and experienced inconsistency that he’d never seen before in his career. He also tested positive for COVID-19 twice and was also benched late in the season for disciplinary reasons. Taking that, and a suspension to start 2019-20 following a positive cocaine test, trade speculation and critiques started to follow No. 92.
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Following an offseason of rumors, most of which Kuznetsov said were untrue, he went on the ultimate revenge tour in 2021-22. He came to camp with a new attitude and a rekindled joy for the game. That flashy creativity and classic “Kuzy” personally shined through as he stunned with highlight-reel plays and fun shootout goals. Kuznetsov also took on more responsibility, including time on the penalty kill and more responsibility with Nicklas Backstrom missing a major chunk of the season.
“This year was a big opportunity and big challenge for me. You know, we all play for each other. It’s always easy to be successful individually when the team plays well,” Kuznetsov said. “I just want to enjoy the game, you know? We play a lot, we train a lot. You always on the ice, you always with the puck. And if you enjoy what you do, it’s [not] hard to come back the next day.”
Looking at the list, there are several top names on there and perhaps other names snubbed as well. Nicklas Backstrom was missing from the list, but he appears unlikely to return this year following hip resurfacing surgery this summer.
Still, given Kuznetsov’s numbers and improvement, the 30-year-old is likely to come back even stronger in 2022-23. And, given how he was motivated last time around, this could just inspire him more.