WASHINGTON — Evgeny Kuznetsov’s gifts as an offensive playmaker include a spooky ability to envision scoring chances for players before they have realized they are dangerous.
“He finds me even when I don’t think I’m open,” said Washington Capitals linemate Justin Williams. “Option A is always getting him the puck because usually something good is going to happen. I work my butt off just so I can keep playing with him.”
Russian-born Kuzneztov generated a goal and an assist Monday in a 3-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes to give him 19 multi-point games this season. He has 25 points in his past 17 games. He also leads the NHL with a plus-31 rating.
Between-the-leg passes. Seeing-eye set-ups. Thread-the-needle assists. Kuznetsov is the complete circus act as an NHL set-up artist. He leads the NHL with 35 primary assists.
“Speaking of seeing the ice, he’s probably one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Capitals center Mike Richards “Just pushing the pucks to open areas and skating to them, and the position that he has on the ice to make some of the plays he does is impressive.”
Goalie Braden Holtby is probably Washington’s MVP. Alex Ovechkin is the Capitals’ most important player. But Kuznetsov is the player with the magic in his game, and the strides he has made is playing a major role in helping the Capitals put together what appears to be the best season in franchise history.
“He knows he can produce at a real high level,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s skating with authority all of the time. Last year, at this time, he was just coming into that.”
The confidence that Kuznetsov now possesses is visible every time he passes the puck. There’s a poise and calmness that only occurs when a player feels as if he is in total command of what’s about to happen when the puck is on his stick.
How dominant has Kuznetsov been? He leads the NHL in assists per 60 minutes (2.57), and is second in points per 60 minutes (3.59), third in assists (44) and fifth in points (62).
Kuznetsov is on a pace for 50 primary assists this season, which would be the highest single-season total since Sidney Crosby led the NHL with 51 primary assists in in 2008-09.
“He has a creative brain that makes it real fun to watch and a skill level that is off the charts,” Trotz said.
Kuznetsov is doing more, and getting less attention for it, than anyone in the NHL this season.
Contributing: Lila Bromberg
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