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With contract, Capitals' Kuznetsov seeks improvement

by Katie Brown /

WASHINGTON -- It's been an eventful year for Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, who capped it by signing a two-year, $6 million contract Monday.

"I'm very happy to be here two more years," Kuznetsov said Tuesday. "Just looking forward right now. It's always a motivation for you, one or two years. Maybe a long contract is good too, but I've never been in that situation."

In his first full season with Washington, Kuznetsov scored 37 points and secured his spot as its second-line center. He scored seven points in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games and became the third Capitals rookie to score three points in a playoff game (Sergei Gonchar, 1995; and Richard Zednik, 1998).

A long-term contract may happen eventually, but for Kuznetsov, that's something to look forward to. The 23-year-old, who was a restricted free agent, has a lot he wants to prove before that happens.

"Last year we played good hockey and we have to play better," Kuznetsov said. "I have to be better too. I try to focus on my job. If everybody does their job, then probably something good happens. I try to focus on the team game, how many points we get, not by myself."

The Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Second Round by the New York Rangers, a series Washington led 3-1.

Kuznetsov is working with Washington strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish, mostly off-ice exercises that build strength. Kuznetsov said he also worked with Nemish before the beginning of last season, when he played 17 games in his NHL debut.

"I don't know when I [will] skate on the ice, but I have a lot already I have to practice," Kuznetsov said. "He's a very good coach and I really like him [personally]. I live in this locker room [for the] most time in my life right now, and I really enjoy it."

Making Washington his home is a priority for Kuznetsov, especially now that he and his wife Nastia welcomed a daughter, Ecenia, at the end of May. He had to start over when he moved to the United States and he'd like to make the most of the experience with his new family.

"I've been in that situation playing the KHL and I want to stay here," Kuznetsov said. "I don't know how many more years, but my life and my family feel comfortable right now here."

Kuznetsov said he hasn't met new teammates Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie yet, but said he's heard good things about them and is happy to have them as part of the team. Williams signed as a free agent last week, and Oshie was acquired in a trade that sent Troy Brower to the St. Louis Blues.

"I'm always very excited when my teams have new guys and guys who have lots of experience, but it's always hard to lose the guys," Kuznetsov said. "But this is hockey life right now; you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow."

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