With less than a fortnight separating we, the general plebeian populous, from the annual descent of the gods from Mt. Olympus that we deign to call the return of the NHL season, a fan’s fancy turns to thoughts of vulcanized rubber and stats. Mmm, can you smell it?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we might see from three of the biggest young names on the Capitals roster.
Look, let’s all look right into the camera and be honest here: we expect big things from Kuznetsov. BIG. большой. Yes, some of that avalanche of expectation is due to just how darn long it took the kid to come ashore to these ol’ United States – Yeehaw, amen. – but darn if Kuzy didn’t dazzle in those tantalizing teases we saw of him.
We call him Baby Ovi in my household. After a slow start and even – gasp – being a healthy scratch, which in this case involves no bears and no stumps, Kuznetsov adjusted to the pace and violence of the North American game. He began to understand the beats and million little victories it takes to win a game. Like the second act of a Bond movie, the Russian caught on.
He scored highlight reel goals in the playoffs, stepping up in big moments like a superstar in the making. If he can survive the grind of an 82-game season and continue trending upward like tech stocks, Kuznetsov is a player who could score 40 goals in a season, some season. Will it be this one? I-…I just don’t know. I hope like hot hell it is.
EXPECTATION LEVEL: 4 MEGAEMRICKS
Tom Wilson is everyone’s favorite young brawler, social media funnyboy, and heartthrob. BUT. People forget two things about Tommy Two Fists: he plays forward, and he was a first-round pick. A team does not spend a first-round draft pick, more coveted than a neighbor’s wife, on an enforcer, no matter how charmingly boyish his Instagram feed is.
In his final two seasons with the Plymouth Whalers of the major-junior Ontario Hockey League, Wilson scored a combined 32 goals and 85 points over 97 games. Adjusted for the 82 games of an NHL season, that becomes 27 goals and 72 points. Now, I’m not saying that Tom Wilson is going to be a 27-goal scorer in the NHL. But I am saying: “Eh, howzabout 20?”
Wilson was brought on to be David Backes, not Donald Brashear. Big, strong, fast, intimidating – and good. Wilson should be a top-six forward when all is said and done. I don’t think he’s going to see much time on the second line this season, but he just might. And often times the only difference between a Stanley Cup champion and a loser – like the difference between Tuck and Fuck – is that devastating second line.
EXPECTATION LEVEL: 3 MEGAEMRICKS
“HOW DO YA LIKE THAT??”
The 24 year-old Swede from Slappenshotten (that’s not real don’t quote that) was the only Capitals contract hold out this offseason to require an arbitration decision, which is basically when an adult says “you two play nice” and tries to King Solomon their money baby by cutting their dispute in half. In Johansson’s case, he was awarded $3.75 million for one year, or exactly what everyone knew he was worth. He was coming off his first 20-goal season, and finally hinted at what he could be.
In both dollars and years, it’s time to put up or håll käften for Johansson. His ceiling is playing on the first line of the Washington Capitals with Backstrom and Ovechkin. Many believe him to be that kind of player. If he develops as much this year as I saw him develop during last season and the playoffs – into a player who is smart, tough, quick, and accurate – the Capitals will offer him lots of money for a long time, the American Dream in a contract. But if he stagnates or Thor-forbid, gets worse, we may see another tough choice staring down the Capitals and Ted Leonsis’ pocketbook.
EXPECTATION LEVEL: 2 MEGAEMRICKS
“Shuffleboards it along…”
So mark your calendars and make nice with your pagan deities, because the 2015-2016 Capitals season is almost upon us, and it’s going to be wild.