Would Kuznetsov pull a Kovalchuk?

Would Kuznetsov pull a Kovalchuk?
July 28, 2013, 9:30 am
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When 30-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk walked away from the final 12 years and $77 million remaining on his contract with the New Jersey Devils for the opportunity to play in the KHL, many wondered if Alex Ovechkin might consider doing the same.

Ovechkin, who has eight years and $79 million remaining on his 13-year, $124 million contract with the Capitals, turns 28 in September.

But this is not about Ovechkin, who during last year’s NHL lockout said he would consider staying in Russia. Ovechkin wants to win a Stanley Cup to solidify his status as one of the best players to ever lace ‘em up.

This is about No. 1 Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, who on Friday told SovSport.ru that he would consider returning to Russia when he turns 30 and is still in “perfect physical condition.”

Kuznetsov, 21, remains one of the best hockey players not playing in the NHL. He would have – or at least could have – been the Caps’ answer at second-line center.

But since being taken by the Caps with the 26th pick of the 2010 NHL draft, Kuznetsov has spent the past three seasons playing for his hometown Chelyabinsk Traktor, recording 116 points in 144 games.

He’s been invited to participate in Team Russia’s Olympic orientation camp, a testament to his vast potential.

But instead of coming to the NHL at the start of last season, something the Caps had anticipated when they drafted him, Kuznetsov signed a two-year contract extension with Chelyabinsk that, including signing bonuses, totals in the stratosphere of $10 million.

That’s far more than the Caps could have paid him under CBA guidelines.

To their credit, the Caps have been incredibly patient with Kuznetsov, refusing to trade his rights while waiting for him to fulfill his contractual obligations in the KHL, which end at the conclusion of the KHL’s 2013-14 season.

But if Kuznetsov is serious about spending just eight seasons in the NHL before bolting back to Russia, it raises an interesting question.

Should NHL teams be more wary of drafting – or in the case of the Devils, acquiring – top Russian talent if there is an underlying concern they will take the money and run? Your thoughts?