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7 2014 .

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Kuznetsov: 'It's hard for me. I want to do this'  // csnwashington.com

With center Brooks Laich returning to the Capitals lineup for the first time since injuring his left shoulder on Oct. 18, head coach Barry Trotz appears to be leaning toward making Evgeny Kuznetsov a healthy scratch for the first time in his professional career when the Caps visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.

This is no small thing when you consider the Caps and their fans waited nearly four years to get Kuznetsov, taken 26th overall in the 2010 NHL draft, into an NHL jersey.

Maybe I played bad the last couple games, so I not play tomorrow, Kuznetsov said after Thursdays practice. Its not bad, I want to practice more, keep working hard and wait for my chance.

Kuznetsov said hes never been a healthy scratch before and was accustomed to playing up to 25 minutes a game when he played for his hometown of Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League.

But its a different league, he said. This is a new life for me. I understand before I come to the NHL what happens here. Its hard for me. I want to do this. This is like a second life.

Kuznetsov signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Caps on March 8 and recorded three goals and six assists in 17 games. With his future in the NHL riding on his success this season, many projected Kuznetsov as a Rookie of the Year candidate.

In 12 games for the Caps this season the 22-year-old center has one goal, five assists, four penalty minutes and is a plus-2 while averaging 12:36 of ice time. [For what its worth, Kuznetsov actually averaged 19:02 of ice time last year with Chelyabinsk and 20:38 the year before].

Asked if there was an area of Kuznetsovs game that needs improving, Trotz said, No, not really. Just getting better at everything hes dong, Hes doing a pretty good job. There are still nuances in the D zone, but other than that hes doing a good job in other areas. Im actually quite happy with him.

Hes got a great attitude. I think Kuzzy is going to be a really good player. He understands theres a process and a patience and an understanding if we go in a different direction for a game or two games.

Laich practiced on a third line with left wing Jason Chimera and right wing Joel Ward, while rookie Andre Burakovsky was moved up onto a second line with left wing Marcus Johansson and right wing Troy Brouwer.

Laich said that even though the Caps play on both Friday and Saturday nights he plans on playing both games.

I plan on playing the rest of the season, he said. Its not a feel-your-way-around kind of thing. Were starting to fall back from the pack a little bit and its time to win some hockey games.

Trotz said when it comes between Burakovsky and Kuznetsov, he believes the 19-year-old Swede is a a little bit ahead when it comes to playing a North America style of game.

But Kuzzys curve of learning is really good, Trotz said. There are some guys that cant evaluate themselves and the game very well. Kuzzys not one of them. He gets a good grasp. With everything were doing with Kuzzy, I think hes going to be a top player for our organization for a long time.

Kuznetsov says that while he wants to play, he respects the process of becoming an NHL player.

This is hockey life, he said. Today you dont play, tomorrow you play. This is the life. Im ready for this. Last game was not my best game and Im ready to work hard for it. Whats good for the team is good for me, too.

As for defense pairings, Trotz said he anticipates going back to the ones he used at the start of Tuesday nights game against the Calgary Flames.

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