Ovechkin might score more goals, but Kuznetsov has been a greater driving force for the Caps this season.
In his second full NHL season, Evgeny Kuznetsov has quickly become not only one of the best players on the Washington Capitals, but also in the Metropolitan Division. Although it would be easy for Kuznetsov to be eclipsed by Alexander Ovechkin, he has instead emerged as the team’s greatest offensive contributor.
First and foremost, Braden Holtby has been arguably the best goaltender in the NHL this year. His 43 wins lead all goalies, and his goals against average (2.26) ranks in the top 10. He will be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and is one of the major reasons the Capitals are the best team in the league right now.
With that being said, a majority of the Caps’ success can be attributed to a certain Russian forward. But, that forward is surprisingly not superstar Alex Ovechkin. It’s Evgeny Kuznetsov. If you’re not a Caps fan, you probably know a lot more about Ovechkin than Kuznetsov, or at least that was the case until this season. Now, Kuznetsov has skyrocketed to the top of the scoring charts.
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Last year, during his first full season in the NHL, Kuznetsov played in 81 games and tallied just 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists), scoring only 0.46 point per game. He had a plus-minus rating of +10 and an 8.7 shot percentage. This year, however, everything has changed.
In 71 games this season, Kuznetsov has already scored 20 goals and tallied 53 assists for a total of 73 points, all career-highs. He sits at +29 and even has a slightly better shooting percentage than Ovechkin (12.8% compared to 12.0%). Right now, Kuznetsov is currently scoring 1.03 points per game. Thus, his scoring has increased by approximately 124% (0.46 points per game in 2014-15 vs. 1.03 points per game in 2015-16), an incredible feat.
Ovechkin’s greatest influence comes in the form of goal scoring. He is tied with T.J. Oshie for the team-lead in game-winning goals with seven. Ovechkin’s presence is best observed on the power play, in which he has scored 16 goals. The Caps have scored a total of 51 goals on the man advantage so far this season, meaning that Ovechkin has scored approximately 31% of the team’s total. They have the second-best power play in the league (23.0%), and Ovechkin is the biggest reason for that success rate.
Any hockey fan knows that Ovechkin is an indisputably elite player. He has received numerous awards, including the Hart Trophy three times, and his presence on the team cannot be overstated. He’s the captain of the team. He clearly has the talent to be the MVP of the entire NHL. He scored his 500th NHL goal this season at age 30. But despite all these things and despite the fact that Ovechkin will most likely win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, an award he has won five times throughout his career, for scoring the most goals in the league, he still has had less of an impact on the Capitals this season than Kuznetsov.
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After comparing their statistics, it is obvious that Kuznetsov has outperformed Ovechkin in a variety of areas. He leads the team in points and has 10 more than Ovechkin. His plus-minus rating is also better than that of Ovechkin and is the best rating on the Caps. In the NHL, Kuznetsov ranks third in plus-minus rating, fourth in points, and second in assists. The numbers objectively show that Kuznetsov has risen to the top of the sport, where Ovechkin has spent most of his career.
Other than simple stats, the best indicators of Kuznetsov’s budding leadership and growing influence are his recent comments about his offensive production. He said that he would “gladly trade [all of his individual points] for a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Final.” If all of the players on the Caps have a similar philosophy, they will need both Kuznetsov and Ovechkin to continue their great play because a long postseason run seems imminent.
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