One of the great advantages the Capitals have had in recent NHL drafts is their willingness to select top Russian prospects. Taking Alex Ovechkin No. 1 overall in 2004 was a no-brainer. But they were willing to take Alexander Semin at No. 13 in 2002 and -- because of his immense talent -- deal with the headache of bringing him to North America. Semin spent the first year after the NHL lockout in 2004-05 playing in Russia, and there was a question about whether he would come back to the Caps.
For that exact reason many NHL teams will bypass a Russian player. They always have the option of remaining home and earning good money in a top league -- even if it's one still behind the NHL and American Hockey League in overall level of play. But Washington general manager George McPhee has kept going back to the well. Eight times since 2002 the Caps have drafted a Russian in the first three rounds. The latest example was somehow getting forward Evgeny Kuznetsov -- one of the world's top prospects -- at No. 26 in last June's draft.
"Many teams bypass the player because they worry about whether he'll report," McPhee said. "That was really to our benefit. [Kuznetsov] is an outstanding prospect and as good as any player that was selected in that draft."
So how did that happen? Luck plays a factor, too. Atlanta took a Russian at No. 8, and Alexander Burmistrov was a 19-year-old ready to play in the NHL. He appeared in 74 games and scored six goals as a rookie. Meanwhile, St. Louis took forward Vladimir Tarasenko at No. 16. Those teams were fine with taking a Russian player. But they may have selected the wrong one.