On a team loaded with high-level talent, it seems almost unfair that another one of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s skaters has been recently added to the team’s growing list of scoring threats. After putting up a miniscule 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) over the course of 52 games during the 2013-2014 season, sophomore Nikita Kucherov is turning heads across the NHL and not just for his first career hat trick on October 28.
Did You Know: Kucherov is only the 4th player in Lightning history to score a hat trick before his 22nd birthday? Stamkos did it 5 times…
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) October 29, 2014
Kucherov’s first year in the league was not exactly spectacular, especially with Ondrej Palat (59 points) and Tyler Johnson (50 points) stealing the headlines and receiving Calder Trophy nods. The right winger was 12th on the team in points; however he was inconsistent throughout the 2013-2014 season and was held pointless in the final seven games of the season.
While the NHL is a different beast, the Moscow native had performed excellently elsewhere, including 24 points in 17 games with the Syracuse Crunch last season. He was spectacular for Team Russia in the 2013 World Juniors as well, potting five goals and three assists in only seven games, while helping Russia to a bronze medal finish after defeating Canada.
Kucherov’s transformation began in the 2014-2015 preseason, when he led the Bolts in scoring with seven points (six goals, one assist) in six preseason games. Even better was his consistency: he scored in all but one game. His dominance in the regular season, however, was not a quick transition and his inconsistently crept back into the picture.
At the start of the 2014-2015 season, Kucherov was held pointless in his first two outings, against Florida and Ottawa. He managed to help Victor Hedman and Vladislav Namestnikov get two goals past Montreal’s Price and Tokarski, but after earning those two assists, Kucherov was invisible for the next four games.
Cue the metaphorical flood gates.
On October 24, he put up three assists for three points on the night, which was his highest point total in his NHL career (he had two assists during the December 23 2013 game against Florida). He then scored his first goal of the season the next night against a normally stingy Minnesota team. The Lightning’s next game was three nights later, when Kucherov scored the first hat trick of his career.
His developing chemistry with linemates Palat and Johnson as well as an increase in ice time, from around ten minutes to 15 or 16 minutes in the past three games, certainly helped turn him into a scoring threat. He now ranks third on the Lightning with nine points in ten games, behind Johnson and Steven Stamkos.
Good luck facing the Lightning, NHL goalies.