Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov is not only one of the top NHL goalscorers, but also a very open person who has no fear in voicing his opinion, as you may remember from the interview he gave last May, where he didn’t hide his frustration for the Lightning missing the playoffs. In this translated interview, originally appearing on the popular Russian website Sport-Express, Nikita Kucherov expressed his joy while playing with other Russian players, shared his opinion on Ovechkin and the Olympics, and talked about the upcoming 2017-18 season.
* You can enjoy the original Russian language article by Igor Eronko here *
Nikita Kucherov and Russian Players
Igor Eronko: If Nikita Gusev will report to Tampa Bay, then he should do it as a UFA. While Igor Ozhiganov is reportedly chased by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Nikita Kucherov: I hope that Gusev, should he play in the NHL in the end, will join me in Tampa. It’s not important as what kind of agent. I would also like to see Ozhiganov. I wish both would play for us.
IE: You should try and invite them.
NK: I can’t force other people to do things. But when we talk, I tell them what’s new in Tampa, what’s good, what’s not good. But for now they like playing in the KHL, they want to play at home. If they want to stay there, I support their decision. We are friends since childhood. But of course, if they will play in the NHL, I hope that they will play in Tampa.
IE: Is it true that during the World Cup Alex Ovechkin decided with whom to play?
NK: Nothing like that. I am not sure where did you take all this, like Alex could actually decide anything on his own. We had a training staff. I frankly don’t think that Ovechkin would ever behave that way, even if he had the chance, considering what kind of team-first guy he is. I played with him on the same team for the first time and it was very pleasant to see what kind of emotions he had. He doesn’t care who scores, who has assists, he cares only for the win.
I don’t really think that he wanted to choose himself with whom to play and with whom he didn’t play. I think that he’d be ready to play with anyone just to represent Team Russia and to wear the jersey of the national team.
IE: Did you take something from Ovechkin?
NK: You can take a lot of things from him. Starting from his attitude on the ice. It’s hard to develop a good nose for the net, and he’s got an incredible one. He’s always there, where the puck is going to be. This is hard to teach and learn.
IE: Some blamed him for lack of patriotism. Allegedly, he promised to play in the Olympics, but in the end he will not.
NK: He was the only one who tried to fight the NHL on Olympics. He didn’t succeed, but he tried doing everything he could. It’s kind of stupid to blame him because he won’t play. If the NHL had these rules, you need to accept it. It’s a pity, of course. Everyone wants to play at the Olympics. But blaming Ovechkin is not correct. It’s not like he created those rules himself.
IE: Will Mikhail Sergachev play for the Lightning?
NK: Considering what he is showing during practices, his speed, size, and reading of the game, he has a good chance to play for us this year and be a leading defenseman. He’s got a big potential, but right now everything depends on how he will follow the coach’s commands. Of course, I do hope that he will play for us. To have more Russian guys. It’s an honor for Russia, and it will be better for Tampa as well.
IE: You would get another guy with whom you can talk.
NK: I have no problems with the language. In five years I managed to learn a lot. I can’t say that I have an ideal English. If you take, for example, TV shows, then it’s hard for me to understand. Or when you have a lot of slang. But generally speaking, I have no problems.
IE: Do you miss Jonathan Drouin?
NK: Too bad that he was traded. I wish him good luck. But we got Sergachev.
IE: Did you have any play on your playbook with Ben Bishop playing the puck himself? He’s great when he plays the puck.
NK: Yes, we had some of these plays in our books. He could organize the exit from the zone, so that a defenseman wouldn’t have to play the puck, but Bishop himself.
IE: And nothing similar with Vasilevsky?
NK: He’s working a lot on his stickhandling. I think that in the future he could become as good as Bishop. Although, for now we don’t have similar plays.
IE: John Cooper gave a very good impression at the latest World Championship.
NK: He’s a good person and a good coach. He can always find a common language with anyone. He never has a problem with anyone and he always speaks directly. That’s why everyone likes him. Even the fans. He’s really loved and respected.
IE: He almost didn’t play hockey himself.
NK: If he understands what’s going on better than the ones who play, then what’s the problem? We reached the Stanley Cup Finals with him, and that doesn’t happen just because.
IE: Cooper played you with Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov, but also told that he can’t promise that you’ll spend the whole season together.
NK: I hope to play with them, because it’s easy and we have a good chemistry. But if he wants to split us, no problem. We have many good players.
IE: Stamkos said that he remembers every goal he scored at the professional level.
NK: So do I. If I remember with whom and when we played, then I also remember the way I scored. When you score a goal, you get it imprinted in your memory. I think that it’s like that for any hockey player. When you think about the game after it, it’s interesting to check what happened. Who got open, who passed the puck, the way the goalie played. After each of my games, I watch all of my shifts, then I discuss with the coaches and I try to understand what I can do better. We talk a lot with my teammates about many different details. How to play better, what to change, in which moments we needed to pass the puck faster, and generally to correct mistakes. And also, everyone has some habits that should get rid of. I’m trying all the time to improve my game.
IE: Do you study other players?
NK: When I have some time, I turn YouTube on to study our Russian players: Panarin, Malkin, Datsyuk, Kuznetsov. I try to learn from them. I also like watching Patrick Kane. Often I watch the highlights and try to get to my game all the best that I don’t have yet. I try to learn new fake moves, and if I manage to do them, I try in games too. If you can repeat what you learned from Kane or Kuznetsov, that’s great. You can add something to your game, become a better player. This really helps you a lot.
IE: Do you think that other players try to copy you?
NK: I don’t really know (laughs).
IE: How do you practice your shot?
NK: Everything depends on the technique. If you have a good technique, you can do a good shot. After each practice I stay there to shoot 100-200 times. It only takes you 5 to 10 minutes, but it really helps. You need to get used to. I try to work on everything during the summer, when I have time. I shoot a lot in my garage, where I have artificial ice.
IE: Did you change anything regarding your shot in Tampa?
NK: No. I simply have more time to work on myself. When I was younger, we had practices of 90 minutes, and you couldn’t stay more, because another team had to practice. When I got to Tampa, in the arena we practice in, we are the lone team. You can practice whenever you want, and work on yourself.
IE: Jagr always practices on nights.
NK: Well, on nights I try to rest. You need to get ready to the next day, no matter if you have a game or another practice. You need to sleep to stay in good shape and feel good.
IE: Phil Esposito said that you were going to score 40 goals, and he was right even if many were skeptic. What’s up next, scoring 50 or 60?
NK: I don’t want to miss the playoffs again. I don’t really want to miss the playoffs a single time in my career. I don’t want to watch from the side when other teams fight for the Stanley Cup. I’m ready to score less than 40 if this will mean that we will win the Stanley Cup. I will play for the team. I want to be a true team player, not a lone wolf who’s there only for his goals.
IE: Don’t you want to win the Hart Trophy or the Richard Trophy?
NK: Of course you have to set your personal goals too. But in the first place, there must be your team. If I had a chance to win those trophies, and winning them wouldn’t be a liability for my team, then I’d be honored to win them.
A professional hockey writer and translator. Loves Russian culture, language, and hockey. Reachable on twitter @AlexSerenRosso