ARLINGTON, Va. -- When the Capitals start the 2019-20 season, Evgeny Kuznetsov will not be on the ice. He will not play in the season opener against the St. Louis Blues, he will not play former coach Barry Trotz when the team travels to play the New York Islanders and he will not play in the home opener against the team that eliminated Washington from the playoffs last season.
Tom Wilson knows how Kuznetsov feels.
"It's not easy to watch your team go into battle and you be on the sidelines," Wilson told NBC Sports Washington. "You definitely want to be out there with them, but can't do anything about it now and you've just got to make sure that you're ready to go once you're back out there."
Wilson missed the first 16 games of the 2018-19 season when he was suspended for a preseason hit to St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. Like Kuznetsov, Wilson was also forced to miss the start of the season.
When Kuznetsov spoke to the media on Saturday regarding his suspension, he expressed his appreciation to the fans for their support. With his suspension, however, Kuznetsov will be forced to miss the home opener on Oct. 5 and will not be able to play in front of those fans when the city celebrates the return of hockey.
That was even tougher for Wilson last year as he was not able to play in the home opener when the team raised its Stanley Cup banner to the rafters.
"It is tough," he said. "It's a cool moment for the fans, it's a cool moment for the players. Stuff happens and you have to deal with it, but you never want to miss a game whether it's the first game or the 50th or whatever. You want to be on the ice every night. That's what we love to do.
"It'll be alright. I'm sure he'll be around to take it in, he just won't be out and playing."
But the suspension to Kuznetsov will not just be hard on him, it will be hard on the team as well.
Washington faces a brutal schedule and, though Kuznetsov will only miss the first three games, the schedule and matchups in those three games were going to be difficult even before the team knew it would be without one of its top two centers.
The Caps open the season in St, Louis on the night the Blues celebrate their Stanley Cup victory and unfurl their championship banner. Two days later, the team will be in New York for the Islanders' home-opener. The first game in Washington will come the next day on the back-end of a back-to-back and it will pit the Caps against the Carolina Hurricanes who eliminated them from the playoffs last season.
That's a tough stretch and if the team struggles, that could make the suspension even harder for Kuznetsov, according to Wilson.
"When you're watching those games, you just have that motivation that when you come back, just to try to make up for lost time and be the best player that you can be in order to make it up to your teammates," Wilson said.
There is a silver-lining to glean from Wilson's suspension last year and that is what happened when he returned.
When Wilson's suspension finally ended in 2018, the team got back a motivated winger who was dominant in his return. Wilson recorded eight goals and six assists in his first 10 games back including a goal in his very first game. After a lackluster season, perhaps the suspension can jolt Kuznetsov back into the 2018 playoff form that allowed him to dominate the league.
"I expect him to come back flying and playing his best hockey," Wilson said. "We'll appreciate having him back in the lineup and a little spark in Game 4 for sure."
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