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World Cup Q&A: Kuznetsov in play for Team Russia

by Vassili Ossipov

Evgeny Kuznetsov is having a career season, leading the Washington Capitals in scoring with eight goals and 26 points in 25 games.

The 23-year-old scored 37 points in his first full season last season and is almost certain to surpass that number.

He also has put himself in the discussion for a spot on Team Russia for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.

Kuznetsov talked to about the World Cup of Hockey and the possibility of representing Team Russia, his transition to the North American style of hockey, and how he gotten off to a fast start this season. What were your thoughts when the World Cup of Hockey 2016 was announced?

Evgeni Kuznetsov: I was very excited about this tournament, I was very pleased to hear that the World Cup was re-established. It is a great honor for me to put on my national-team jersey. I am sure that all Russians who are currently playing in the NHL would love to make the team, and those who don't make it are going to be upset, because it will turn out to be a world-class tournament. The World Cup will take place in Canada, where hockey is the No. 1 sport. I know that the atmosphere around the World Cup of Hockey will be simply unforgettable. Do you see the World Cup matching the popularity of the Olympic hockey tournament?

EK: I am not sure because I have not had the experience of participating in the Olympics just yet. But I know that Olympic teams are representative of the best players and every game brings tons of excitement and competitiveness. The World Cup will have all the best players as well. Therefore the level of competition in Toronto is going to be on the highest level. Every team will want to prove that it is the best in the world. What were the major differences for you transitioning to the NHL?

EK: Hockey in this league is much more physical and players are much bigger and stronger. The game here is based on strong forechecking and winning 1-on-1 battles on both sides of the ice. It wasn't easy for me to adjust to this style because nobody taught me about it before. I grew up playing a totally different style of hockey. At first, I didn't quite understand why I should be doing this but, little by little, I got a grip on it. Constant pressure and forechecking weaken the other team and, sooner or later, you will get scoring chances. Often, I feel it myself as well. When your opponents play physical hockey, by the third period you get extremely winded and can barely move your feet. That's when good conditioning comes into play. Earlier this year, you received your first NHL Star of the Week title; what does that mean to you?

EK: It was my first major recognition in the NHL so it meant a lot to me. My parents were very excited as well. I think, first and foremost, we all play for our family and friends. Their support means a lot to me. When my parents came over to watch me play in the beginning of the season and I couldn't score, they were pretty upset and dwelled on it a lot. They ended up going back to Russia without witnessing me score a goal. Now they are very happy with my achievements. But I wouldn't be able to do this without my teammates. Have you changed anything about your preparation for the season this past summer?

EK: The birth of my daughter six months ago changed my whole offseason. But on a serious note, I tried to do as much strength and conditioning training as I could. I ran a lot in the summer. My first priority was to shed some weight, but not lose any strength. I think I achieved this goal. I lost 10 pounds and now I am feeling fresher and stronger (he is listed at 192 pounds). It also helps me to recuperate faster, which is very important during the grueling regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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