Evgeny Kuznetsov CAR practice

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Halfway through the Carolina Hurricanes' practice on Friday, Evgeny Kuznetsov stepped onto the ice and immediately caused some double takes.

Just two hours earlier, the longtime Washington Capitals forward had been traded to the Hurricanes for a third-round pick at the 2025 NHL Draft. He heard the news in Charlotte with the Hershey Bears, preparing for an American Hockey League game. After a quick flight on a private plane, he showed up at the Hurricanes practice.

“I was at the morning skate in Charlotte,” Kuznetsov said. “I haven’t had the chance to talk to my ex-teammates. It was a quick flight here. It’s all emotions and stuff like that.”

The 31-year-old center is expected to be in the lineup when the Hurricanes play at the New Jersey Devils on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+).

Kuznetsov was waived by the Capitals on March 2 and reported to Hershey after going unclaimed. He has not played since Jan. 27 and entered the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program on Feb. 5. He was cleared to resume practicing and entered the follow-up care phase of the player assistance program on March 2.

The whirlwind of activity on Friday morning left him focused on an opportunity that caught him by surprise.

“There is high expectation, high standards,” Kuznetsov said. “I haven’t been playing the way I have to play lately. I accept that. I’m working on that. That’s not something I’m happy about. I know how this team plays and how I need to play. You have to make decisions on what’s the moment to make plays and what’s the moment to play a simple game. I feel like I can play both games.”

The Hurricanes are hoping Kuznetsov can reclaim the form that helped him score at least 72 points in four of his 11 NHL seasons, all with the Capitals, often centering a line with Alex Ovechkin. In 43 games with Washington this season, he had 17 points (six goals, 11 assists).

“We know the talent. It’s there,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “A motivated player, sometimes that’s what you need. That’s what we’re banking on, is that he comes with that kind of attitude and he’s willing to do what we ask of him.”

Before the trade, the Hurricanes did their part to ensure a good fit. Management spoke with retired Carolina forward Justin Williams, who played two seasons (2015-2017) with Kuznetsov.

“We talked to doctors, we interviewed the player himself, teammates, ex-coaches,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said. “I’m not sure there’s anything we didn’t do to make sure we had all the facts if we wanted to move forward. There’s always some risk, but we felt this was a good risk to take.”

Kuznetsov made it clear that he is taking accountability for his situation.

“I was never running away from the mistakes I made in the past,” he said. “I think it's an amazing life learning point. I learned a lot. This is my last opportunity. This is my last chance. Everything is in my power right now. I’m pretty sure the guys are going to be supportive and helpful, but I need to perform on the ice.”

Waddell heard the same message when he spoke with Kuznetsov.

“There’s no denial, there’s no pointing fingers,” Waddell said. “He takes it all upon himself. He made a mistake here recently. He said to us that this potentially is his last chance. Sometimes it takes a pretty strong wakeup call. His attitude and his makeup right now, coming here is really going to help him. I’m pretty positive this is all going to work out for both of us.”

Kuznetsov was greeted enthusiastically at practice Friday. After a round of fist bumps in the early moments, the players gave him a round of stick taps while they stretched. That was just a first step.

“I need to get back,” he said. “I haven’t played in a long time. Like I said, I made a lot of mistakes in my life before. The best way to say [I’m' sorry is to play and make a big impact on the game.”