For the first time after seeing the Rangers in every playoff game for almost 2 calendar years and 17 total games, the Pittsburgh Penguins finally get to play a fresh playoff opponent. So let's dust off this old feature to kill time and preview the Washington Capitals.
Name: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Weight: 192 lbs
Born: May 19th, 1992 (23 years old)
Drafted: WSH 1st Round 2010, 26th Overall (six picks after the Penguins took Beau Bennett, if you're keeping track)
2015-16 stat line: 82 games played, 20 goals, 57 assists, 32 penalty minutes
2014-15 playoff stat line: 14 GP, 5G, 2A (goals, tied-most on team, tied-3rd in points)
2015-16 stats vs Penguins: 5 GP, 2G, 1A
2015-16 5v5 Advanced Stats: 52.4 CF%, +1.4% Corsi Relative, 101.2 PDO
Player detail (via The Hockey News Player Page)
2015-16 Washington Capitals player usage, via War on Ice
HERO Chart (via Domenic Galamini):
Analysis After a breakout playoff last season, Kuznetsov continued an ascent into super-stardom finishing 4th league-wide in assists and 9th in points this season, giving Washington a double-line power down the middle past Nicklas Backstrom. Kuz's assist numbers, even as he's broken into the league have really been off the charts. He's dangerous and capable of creating offensive magic any time he gets the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. Kuznetsov's ES P/60 at 2.54 this season was really good, and best on the Caps.
He becomes all the more important of a player due to the Capitals/Penguins tendencies. Both Caps and Pens coaches are traditionally happy to play the Sidney Crosby/Patric Hornqvist line head-to-head against the Backstrom /Alex Ovechkin line. We don't know yet if the Pens will put Evgeni Malkin or Nick Bonino against Kuz, but either way, that second line battle will be very crucial.
Most common linemates: Kuznetsov has settled in as 2nd line center with Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams on his right. He also spent some time this season as the 1st line center with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie as his wingers while the Caps experimented with breaking up Ovi and Backstrom at even-strength. The Caps have plenty of skill to surround him with, and even though Kuznetsov's line didn't produce much against Philly, they will require attention and pre-scouting to hopefully keep that going.
Why you should know who he is: Anyone who finishes top 10 in the league in scoring is worth knowing, and it's not a news bulletin to anyone that this is a really good player and potential difference maker. Anyone who sees Kuznetsov learns very quickly how talented he is, and how he demands very careful attention defensively from his opponents. He's one of the top, young offensive centers in the game, and since top defensive pairs naturally have to turn to Ovechkin's line, it opens up more time and space for Kuzy.
How the Pens can stop him: Study what (if anything) the Flyers did and copy that. Kuz only had 1g +0a in the 6 playoff games, and has been in a bit of a rut lately with that 1 goal being his only goal in the last 26 games. Pittsburgh's defense isn't built to be physical and keep players to the outside, but EK92 will see plenty of Kris Letang and Trevor Daley and those two have enough of and edge to body up the talented forward and make sure he knows he won't be able to drive to the net. And if he stays to the perimeter, the Pens probably have a better chance of limiting and breaking up the chances he can create from long, wide cross-ice passes or outside shots.