Evgeny Kuznetsov leads European and NCAA prospect pool for Washington Capitals

By Patrick Harbolick
Photo: Selected 26th overall in 2010, Evgeny Kuznetsov is the seventh European-trained player the Capitals have drafted out of the first round in ten years. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Washington Capitals have their share of prospects playing at the college level and in Europe. Some of them might prove to just be depth players, but a couple of bright stars in Patrick Wey and Evgeny Kuznetsov shine for the Capitals. Some college prospects might not get NHL contracts and a few European players may never continue playing in North America, but Capitals’ brass has to be excited for the young talent developing outside of the minor league level.

NCAA

Patrick Wey, D, 20
Acquired: 4th round, 115th overall, 2009


After an up-and-down season in 2009-10, Wey responded well in his sophomore season for Boston College, playing in 37 out of 39 of the team’s regular and postseason games. In those 37 games, he posted one goal and seven assists, to go along with 45 penalty minutes. He missed those two games while playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championship (WJC), in which he was held pointless. Not one of USA’s highly-touted players, Wey found himself in a checking role for the team with some time on the penalty kill. By many accounts, he acquitted himself well and seemed to get better as the tournament went on. Boston College was looking to repeat as NCAA Champion, but came up short against Colorado College in the semifinals of the NCAA West Regional.

Coming into the NCAA, he was lauded for his offensive game, but it hasn’t really translated to the NCAA level yet as evidenced by his low scoring totals. However, he’s evolved into one of Boston’s most dependable blueliners. He proved at the WJC that he could compete with some of the best players in the world in his age group and will only get better as he develops his all-around game. Long-term, he projects to be a solid, two-way defender with good speed who could find a place on the Capitals’ back end. He’ll return to Boston for his junior season next year and is a few years away from plying his trade at the pro level.

Phil DeSimone, C, 24
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2007

DeSimone followed up a solid junior season in 2009-10 for the University of New Hampshire with a remarkable senior season in 2010-11. Playing on New Hampshire’s top line, he posted an impressive 41 points (10 goals, 31 assists) in 39 games, finishing second on the team in assists and third in scoring. UNH ultimately lost to Notre Dame in the NCAA Regional final, ending his season in 2010-11.

His collegiate career completed, DeSimone may soon sign a try-out contract and get into some AHL games with the Bears. For now, he remains unsigned, casting some doubt on his future in the NHL. A true playmaker with speed to burn, DeSimone needs some seasoning in the minors to continue to develop his overall game before he’s ready to play for the Capitals. Assuming he signs a contract with Washington, look for him to start next season in Hershey. It’ll be a few more years before he’ll be ready for the Show.


Greg Burke, LW, 20
Acquired: 6th round, 174th overall, 2008

Another college kid playing for New Hampshire, Burke didn’t have the fortune DeSimone had this season. Burke missed serious time with a shoulder injury and a bout of mononucleosis, suiting up for only 18 games. He registered three points in those games, as he struggled to come back from all the missed time. With New Hampshire’s season completed, Burke will have time off to return to full health and has another season to look forward to.

Only a sophomore, Burke still has two seasons of NCAA eligibility left and will most likely use both of them. A big rig with speed and a bit of offensive touch, he’ll need the extra time to develop his game and two-way abilities. He’s still several years away from the NHL, but a future with the Bears in a few years is certainly not out of the question, contingent upon his continued development.


Dan Dunn, G, 22
Acquired: 6th round, 154th overall, 2007

After splitting time with Mike Lee (PHX) in his junior season in 2009-10, Dunn was expected to compete for the starting role in his final collegiate season. Lee won the competition and started a majority of the games for St. Cloud State. Dunn appeared in 10 games, posting a 3-4-1 record, a bloated 3.24 goals against average, and a pedestrian 886 save percentage. St. Cloud had a less-than-stellar campaign, compiling a record of 15-18-5 for 2010-11. In the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Huskies lost two games to Minnesota-Duluth, including a 3-2 triple-overtime heart-breaker, and were knocked out of the playoffs.

With a fairly unspectacular team in front of him, Dunn didn’t play all that well and couldn’t claim the starting job from Lee. With an imposing frame, Dunn has shown flashes of promise in net but needs to get more playing time if he’s going to develop into a player in the Capitals’ organization. With crowded creases throughout the organization, it remains to be seen if Dunn will ever play for the Capitals, let alone the Bears.


Andrew Glass, LW, 21
Acquired: 7th round, 199th overall, 2007

As a junior, Glass was expected to be a role-player for Boston University, but after playing just 15 games, he was dismissed from the team reportedly for "missing meetings and being late." In three seasons with the Terriers, he only posted 10 points, frustrating coaches and fans after being so highly touted. Boston lost in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East tournament to Northeastern, ending their chances at the national title.

After a disappointing career at Boston, Glass will have to move on if he ever hopes to play professionally. For now, it’s uncertain where he’ll play next season. For a good skater with offensive abilities, Glass never really shined, perhaps due to conflicts with Head Coach Jack Parker. It’s unlikely he’ll sign a try-out contract and it looks as if his future with Capitals is done.

Nick Larson, C, 22
Acquired: 7th round, 185th overall, 2007

Larson played well in a limited role for the University of Minnesota in his junior season. In 30 games, he potted five goals and added six assists. His Golden Gophers lost in the first round of the WCHA playoffs to the University of Alaska Anchorage.

In high school, he showed great finish and offensive potential, but it hasn’t translated to the college level. His skating and hockey IQ need some work, but he’s carved out a niche with Minnesota as a checking-line forward. However, his slow development means he likely won’t be playing for the Capitals any time soon. Next season, he’ll return for his senior season with the Golden Gophers.


Europe

Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, 18
Acquired: 1st round, 26th overall, 2010

Kuznetsov had a great year in 2010-11, posting 32 points in 44 KHL games, playing against older, stronger competition. He was named to the KHL All-Star Team and won the KHL Breakaway Challenge. At the WJC, he dominated, registering 11 points in seven games, en route to a gold medal and being named to the tournament All-Star team. Traktor missed the playoffs and he was sent down to the junior circuit, the MHL, to play more. In seven games with Belye Medvedi, he scored seven goals and added four assists, but they were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs.

Kuznetsov oozes offensive talent, with sublime stick-handling and natural play-making abilities. He can also shoot the puck and has good speed. He still needs time to develop his all-around game but he projects to be a second- or first-liner in the NHL. He recently had surgery this offseason to repair some nagging shoulder problems. He should be ready to go at the beginning of next season, once again playing for Traktor. It’s not certain where he’ll play in 2012-13, but he could cross the pond to try his hand in North America then.


Viktor Dovgan, D, 24
Acquired: 7th round, 209th overall, 2005

After leaving for Russia for the 2009-10, Dovgan is still playing there this season. Currently, he’s playing for HK Sarov of the VHL, the second-highest pro level in Russia behind the KHL. In 25 games, he’s put up seven points. Currently, Sarov is near the top of the Western Conference of the VHL.

He was drafted for his size, energy, and mean streak but a few seasons in North America were enough for him and he’s back in Russia, most likely permanently. He has no future in the Capitals’ organization.

Anton Gustafsson, C, 21
Acquired: 1st round, 21st overall, 2008

Upon being assigned to South Carolina to start 2010-11, Gustafsson told the Capitals he was tired of playing hockey in North America. He bolted for his home country of Sweden, saying he felt homesick. Eventually, he signed with the SCL Tigers of the Swiss-A league, the top-tier hockey league in Switzerland. In 11 games with the Tigers, he registered an assist. Currently, the SCL Tigers sit in the middle of the pack through 50 games played.

Gustafsson once had a bright future with the Capitals. A skilled, two-way center not afraid to play the body, he seemed to be the perfect fit for the Capitals’ second or third-line center position down the road. Now, after struggling through injuries, including a concussion, he’s left North America to be closer to home. It remains to be seen if he’ll ever return, but his contract was suspended by the Capitals and he may never play a game in the NHL.

Mikhail Yunkov, C, 25
Acquired: 2nd round, 62nd overall, 2004

After battling in different hockey circuits in Russia, Yunkov was hoping to make the move to North America last season. However, the Capitals didn’t appear very interested in his services so he signed with Ak Bars Kazan. For 2010-11, he signed with Spartak Moscow. In 47 games played, he posted 13 points. Spartak was swept in the first round of the KHL Playoffs by SKA St. Petersburg.

Yunkov was drafted in the famous 2004 NHL Entry Draft that saw the Capitals land the first overall pick, superstar Alexander Ovechkin. While not as highly touted as his Russian countryman, Yunkov was no offensive slouch either. He was considered one of the best Russian playmakers in the draft, but he needed time to round out his all-around game. Apparently the Capitals have been unimpressed with his progress and aren’t likely to give him a shot anytime soon. More than likely, he’ll continue plying his trade in the KHL and not cross the pond to play in the Capitals organization.