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Ovechkin says Capitals must stand by Kuznetsov after failed drug test

Center suspended by IIHF, must meet with NHL Commissioner before training camp

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Alex Ovechkin said he believes it is important for the Washington Capitals to support Evgeny Kuznetsov after the 27-year-old center was suspended from international competition for four years by the International Ice Hockey Federation for testing positive for cocaine.

Kuznetsov voluntarily entered the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (SABH), run by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association, and has not been suspended by the NHL but must meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss the situation before the Capitals open training camp Sept. 13.

"Obviously he made a mistake and he realized it," Ovechkin said at the 2019 NHL Player Media Tour on Friday. "I think he apologized and we just have to be on his side and try to do what we can to bring him back on track."

Kuznetsov was tested May 26 at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia, where he was playing for Russia. He issued a statement through the Capitals after the IIHF suspension was announced Aug. 23.

"I have made the decision to accept this penalty," Kuznetsov said in the statement. "Representing my country has always been so close to my heart and something I take so much pride in. Not being able to put that sweater on for four years is very hard to take. I have disappointed so many people that are important to me, including my family, teammates and friends.

"From the first day I took the ice in D.C., the Washington Capitals organization and our fans have been nothing but great to me and my family. I feel absolutely terrible for letting you down. I realize that the only way I can win you back is to take ownership of my situation and my actions from this point forward."

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly also released a statement, which in part said, "Mr. Kuznetsov has also agreed to an in-person meeting with Commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss his situation and review his conduct prior to the start of training camp preceding the 2019-20 season. We intend to reserve further comment on any additional actions that may or may not be taken with respect to today's announcement (disciplinary or otherwise) pending the completion of the Commissioner's meeting with Mr. Kuznetsov."

Ovechkin, who also played for Russia at the World Championship, said he hasn't had a chance to speak with Kuznetsov about the suspension since returning to the Washington area from Moscow last week. Kuznetsov spent most of the summer training at MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia.

Ovechkin said he expects Kuznetsov to have a rebound season after an inconsistent 2018-19 when he had 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) in 76 regular-season games and six points (one goal, five assists) in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games. That came after Kuznetsov led the playoffs with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 24 games and helped Washington win the Stanley Cup in 2018.

"He's going to be better," Ovechkin said. "Because, again, when you make mistakes, you try to bounce back right away, and I look at him and he's in great shape. He's going to be good this year."

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