The Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves deep into the playoffs once again, led by their core group of players and their ability to elevate their play once the games really matter. It hasn’t mattered how the Lightning have gotten themselves into the playoffs, only that they make the most of their opportunity once they are there.
Our focus today is how Nikita Kucherov, the most prolific scorer for the Lightning, has the potential to become a top-five all-time playoff scorer when it’s all said and done.
Kucherov’s Playoff Dominance Year After Year
Kucherov has played in the NHL for nine years, entering the league in 2013-14 where he got his first taste of playoff action. He started to pop off in his sophomore season when he broke out for 29 goals and 65 points in 82 games. He followed that with 10 goals and 22 points in 26 playoff games in what was the beginning for this playoff beast.
Since Kucherov has come into the NHL, the Lightning have qualified for the playoffs in eight of the nine seasons. The only season they missed was 2016-17 when the team finished with 94 points. Missing the playoffs that season was by no means Kucherov’s fault as he finished with 40 goals and 85 points, also ranking eighth in Hart Trophy voting.
At just 28 years old, Kucherov has already played 124 playoff games and counting. Realistically, fans could even see 14 more this postseason. He has had five playoff runs where he’s suited up for 17 games or more while his playoff production couldn’t be better. He has scored 48 goals and 142 points in the playoffs. That ranks 37th all-time in points and he also ranks ninth in playoff points per game (1.15) by players who have played more than 40 games in the postseason. Assuming the Lightning make the Stanley Cup Final for a third consecutive season, that would move Kucherov up the list to around 27th in playoff points. He looks much closer now, doesn’t he?
The Lightning Continue to Have a Complete & Dominant Team
We are witnessing a dynasty in the Lightning as they have made the conference finals in three consecutive seasons and for the sixth time in the past eight. It’s not enough to just be a dominant player, a player must have the right teams around them in order to achieve greatness in the postseason. The longer the Lightning have their core together, the more seasons they should have deep runs, which in turn runs up the games played and individual points.
Kucherov is 59 points away from cracking the top-five in playoff points already and only one player in the top-13 all-time is active. That would be Sidney Crosby who happens to hold the fifth spot in a tie with Jaromir Jagr with 201 points. That number should rise even though the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t made it out of the first round since 2017-18. If Crosby can reach fourth place, which shouldn’t be too difficult, Kucherov will have to get another 13 points on top of the 59 to solidify the top-five spot.
At the rate the Lightning are going, Kucherov could even realistically enter the conversation within the next two seasons. He recorded 34 points in the Lightning’s 2019-20 Cup run while recording 32 last season. The Lightning may not make the Stanley Cup Final every year, but with the core like Andrei Vasilevskiy, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, and Kucherov, they will surely win rounds and be competitive every season.
Kucherov is without a Conn Smythe Trophy despite leading the playoffs in scoring each of the past two seasons. That award was given to Hedman and Vasilevskiy. As Stamkos said about their chances to win, the Lightning have Vasilevskiy who is absolutely lights out in series-clinching games and typically completely shuts opponents down.
The Lightning have also been able to continually replenish their bottom six when players leave. They’ve gone through and gotten players such as Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, Corey Perry, Ross Colton, Nick Paul, Brandon Hagel, and Pat Maroon for cheap. Their system works and is beneficial to any player who comes through and buys in.
Kucherov and the Lightning have a long way to go before they are done as he is still signed for five more seasons. There is more than enough time to reach great heights for him and the team.
Latest News & Highlights
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.