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Tom Wilson on Kuznetsov’s suspension: ‘We’re going to have his back’

TORONTO – As Evgeny Kuznetsov faces a four-year ban from international play and an in-person meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as a result of testing positive for cocaine, fellow members of his 2018 Stanley Cup–winning team are throwing their support behind him.

"We’re going to have his back," Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson told Sportsnet at BioSteel Camp in Toronto Tuesday.

"Hopefully he can get through it. It’s never something you like to see in the media, but I’m sure he’ll learn. He’ll grow as a person and a player. We’re focused on Capitals. Whatever happens with the international stuff, it’s none of our business.

"I know he takes a lot of pride in playing for his country."

Kuznetsov, 27, failed a doping test at the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia after a sample was taken on May 26, the day the Russians defeated the Czech Republic to take bronze. The IIHF handed down the four-year ban — which would prohibit Kuznetsov from participating in the 2022 Winter Games — last week.

Because the NHL does not consider cocaine a performance-enhancing substance, the dynamic centreman has not been banned from league play but rather enrolled in the NHL/NHLPA’s substance-abuse education and counselling program and has agreed to undergo regular testing.

Brett Connolly, who signed as a free agent this summer with Florida, enjoyed a career season in 2018-19 skating as Kuznetsov’s winger on Washington’s effective second line.

"I love Kuzy," Connolly told Sportsnet. "He’s going to handle that in his own way. It’s definitely disappointing for him.

"He’ll deal with it. He’s a good person, a good family man. He’s got a little girl and they had another baby [a boy, Fedor, in June]. He’ll get through it.

"That’s life: You make mistakes, and you own up to them. He owned up to it. He knows. I love Kuzy. He’s an amazing player and really fun to be around. He really helped me the last two years, and he’ll be fine."

Kuznetsov accepted his penalty and took responsibility for his actions in a statement released by the Capitals.

Russia’s sports minister, Pavel Kolobkov, suggested the U.S. assume some responsibility for Kuznetsov’s drug use. Bettman is reserving further league comment on the situation until he sits down with the player.

"We don’t know what’s going to happen," said Wilson, who has yet to speak with his teammate since the news broke. "It’s kind of a sticky situation, but I’m sure it’ll all be handled.

"If he’s in a Caps uniform Game 1, he’ll play. If not, we’ll deal with it."