NHL Trade Grades: Evgeny Kuznetsov is an off-brand fit but a worthwhile risk for Hurricanes


Carolina hurricanes happen: Yevgeny Kuznetsov Center. The Capitals keep 50 percent of the salary.

Washington Capitals: A third-round pick in 2025.

Dom Luszczyszyn: When Karolina does something that goes against the grain, the best reaction is usually to think, “What am I missing?”

On the surface, Evgeny Kuznetsov seems like a shadow of his former self. In the last two seasons, his expected goals percentage has reached new lows – even for him. The Capitals were 0.75 goals per 60 worse with Kuznetsov on the ice, the worst mark of any average forward. With Kuznetsov, this is to be expected; It does things that expected generic goal models don't capture, and usually leads to actual results.

This has been the case for at least most of his career, but over the past couple of years, even his relative impact on goals has been negative. Washington has not overcome its problems with Kuznetsov on the ice, problems that Kuznetsov often causes. This season, the Capitals have had just 34 percent of their goals with Kuznetsov on the ice and just 1.5 goals per 60. His points per 60 of 1.07 is the lowest of his career by a wide margin, and he's also been poor on the power play. .

Even with salary retention, this doesn't seem like a very logical move, especially for a Carolina team with such a structured system. Kuznetsov looks like an abuser of the system, in a bad way.

But again: This is Carolina we're talking about. When the Hurricanes make moves like this, their track record gives them the benefit of the doubt. They believe Kuznetsov's game can bounce back within their structure and that his dynamic offensive talent can provide some much-needed pop. The Hurricanes' offense is often predictable which gives them problems come playoff time. Kuznetsov's game offers a bit of chaos which can serve them well.

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What they want is for him to be closer to the guy he was last season. Based on data tracked by Corey Snajder, Kuznetsov was still above the 90th percentile for scoring decisive chances, controlled entry percentage, and in the 85th percentile for controlled exit percentage. This speaks of a player who still performs well with the puck despite his poor results on the ice. It's a skill set that most of the team's offensive group lacks.

These numbers have also declined this year, and therein lies the danger. But if Kuznetsov can get back on track, there's potential for a big payout in the near future for Carolina.

Washington has done well to acquire positive value assets for even half a decade, but the fact that Carolina was interested should give a lot of people pause about what Kuznetsov can bring to the table. I'm a skeptic, but if one of the smartest teams in the league thinks they still have the ability to play, I'm inclined to take their word for it.

Hurricane degree: B-
Degree of capitals: a

Sean Gentile: It wasn't the first question that should have come to my mind after the Hurricanes acquired Jake Guentzel on Thursday night, but perhaps it should have been the second or third: Who will be his center? Sebastian Aho already has Andrei Svechnikov playing on his left, and Jack Drury, Jordan Staal and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are not in ideal shape.

We got what could be our answer on Friday morning, and it's interesting. Kuznetsov — most recently a member of the Hershey Bears, and most recently the NHL's leading scorer in the playoffs — is headed to Carolina. It's a move that, like the Guentzel deal, carries an unusual level of risk for the Hurricanes. It was good to see Kuznetsov back on the ice with Hershey following his time with the Player Assistance Program. Before that, his on-ice performance was completely putrid.

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Obviously, Carolina's hope is that he rebounds enough to bring a reliable amount of skill to the center depth chart. Kuznetsov, at the height of his glory, achieved this in a big way. Guentzel saw it himself; When Kuznetsov scored in Pittsburgh's elimination in the 2018 playoffs, Guentzel was on the ice. He was actually falling behind Kuznetsov.

But Carolina doesn't need Kuznetsov to reach that level. They don't need the guy who scored 32 points during the Capitals' Stanley Cup run and probably should have won the Conn Smythe Award. They settled for the version Washington saw last year, when he scored 55 points and created a ton of scoring chances. The fit is strange and unusual, especially for a team that plays such an iconic brand of hockey, but it's a risk worth taking. We've been begging Carolina to add some recklessness to the mix for years.

Kuznetsov, as a player, certainly ticks that box — and the idea of ​​setting up Guentzel for a few big goals in the playoffs is as bizarre as it is fun. None are in the top six on the trade board. Might as well roll the dice on a guy who wasn't one not long ago.

Regarding capitals? I did well. The relationship, wonderful as it was at times, had come to an end. Acquiring assets for Kuznetsov, coming up on less than 50 percent of his contract, seemed impossible, but Brian McLellan found the right fit.

Hurricane degree: B
capital Cities: a

(Photo: Scott Teach/Getty Images)

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