Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin supports Evgeny Kuznetsov after IIHF suspension for cocaine: ‘He made a mistake’

CHICAGO — Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin believes teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov will overcome his recent international hockey suspension due to a positive cocaine test to become a more productive NHL player.

“He’s going to be better,” Ovechkin said during the NHL media tour. “When you make a mistake you try to bounce back right away. I’ve been with him and he’s in great shape.

Last month, the International Ice Hockey Federation suspended Kuznetsov, 27, from international competition, including the Olympics in 2022 should the NHL permit its players to go, for four years because he tested positive for cocaine during the world championships in May.

This was the first time Ovechkin has spoken publicly about the incident.

“It’s hard,” Ovechkin said. “He made a mistake. What we have to do is support him and be on his side. You don’t throw him under the bus or something like that.”

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Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin had 89 points last season. (Photo: Jeff Curry, USA TODAY Sports)

Immediately after being suspended Aug. 23, Kuznetsov said in a statement he felt “absolutely terrible” for letting down his teammates, the Capitals’ organization and fans. He voluntary entered the NHL/NHL Players Association's education and counseling program.

Cocaine is not considered a performance-enhancing drug and is not prohibited in the NHL, so Kuznetsov faces no punishment. "Instead, it is considered a drug of abuse that is tested for and for which intervention, evaluation and mandatory treatment can occur in appropriate cases," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in August.

In a separate incident that became public in May, a video, which has since been taken down, appeared on Twitter showing Kuznetsov in a room that had a table with two lines of white powder on it. Kuznetsov told Russian media that it occurred in Las Vegas in 2018, and when he saw what was going on he left. He said he didn't take drugs.

Kuznetsov will meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before the start of the 2019-20 training camp.

“Our job right now is to be close to him,” Ovechkin said.

Kuznetsov was a key performer for the Capitals when they won the Stanley Cup in 2018. He registered 83 points in 2017-18 and 72 points last season. During the 2018 playoff run, Kuznetsov was a force with 12 goals and 32 points in 24 playoff games. In the 2019 playoffs, he registered one goal and five assists as the Capitals were knocked out in seven games in their first-round series.

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