Hockey’s Future Prospect of the Month, December 2011

By Glen Erickson
Photo: Yevgeni Kuznetsov (WAS) is Hockey’s Future’s Prospect of the Month for December. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

There is a Russian aircraft carrier called the Admiral Kusnetsov, which accommodates planes built in part for speed and direct fire assault. Coincidentally, Yevgeni Kuznetsov provides both of these attributes, in addition to a proven ability to perform at his best on the world’s biggest junior hockey stage.

While he collected nine points in one game against Latvia, he was not an overly dominant contributor during preliminary round play at the 2012 WJC. However, come the playoff round, he chipped in with a hat-trick and an assist in Russia‘s 6-5 semi-final win over Canada. It was a big-game performance by a big-game player who was also a key contributor a year ago at the 2011 WJC in Russia‘s monstrous comeback victory over Canada in the gold medal game.

Canadian media sources, in perhaps an unfortunate self-serving display of sour grapes, have widely panned Kuznetsov’s behavior at the 2012 WJC, suggesting his on-ice antics were inappropriate. Kuznetsov was the team’s only returnee from the gold-medalists at the 2011 WJC, and arrived in Alberta at this year’s event without additional leadership support due in part to the tragic loss of the entire Lokomotiv team in a much publicized plane crash.

Kuznetsov was named the 2012 WJC’s MVP, was the tournament’s top scorer with 13 points and was named to the tournament all-star team.

An elite skater, the Washington Capitals selected Kuznetsov in the first round, 26th overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He is playing in his third full season for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL, a team that includes former NHLers Deron Quint, Stanislav Chistov, and Jan Bulis. This season, he has posted 12 goals and 12 assists in 32 games, and appears on track to setting career highs in each category.

Honorable Mentions

Petr Mrazek (DET)
Ottawa 67’s, Ontario Hockey League

On a thin Czech Republic roster at the 2012 WJC, Mrazek emerged as the team’s spark plug and a big-game netminder. Recognized as the tournament’s Top Goaltender and named to the all-star game, Mrazek also captured the imagination of hockey fans with his inspired play and colorful displays of emotion. The Czech Republic defeated Slovakia 5-2 to finish in fifth place at the WJC.

Mrazek is playing in his third full season with the 67’s, appearing in 30 games so far this year. He has a 17-7-5 record, a 2.91 goals against average, and a .912 save percentage. During the 2009-10 season, he posted the best goals against average (3.00) among rookie goalies. He was selected by the Red Wings in the fifth round, 141st overall, at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He will celebrate his 20th birthday on Valentine’s Day.

Zack Phillips (MIN)
St. John Sea Dogs, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

The 19-year-old Phillips was selected in the first round, 28th overall, by the Minnesota Wild at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft after compiling a 95-point regular season last year and a plus-48 rating. He also chipped in with 24 points in 17 playoff games as a member of the eventual 2011 Memorial Cup champions.

This season, Phillips has been an important player up front in St. John, especially during the absence of high-octane forward Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA). Huberdeau has appeared in only 14 games due to an injury and a stint at the 2012 WJC. Through December, Phillips was been held pointless in only three games this season, scoring 20 times and adding 35 assists. The Sea Dogs are near the top of the QMJHL standings and have been among the top ranked teams in the CHL for much of the first half of the current campaign.