Nikita Kucherov was drafted in the 2nd round and 58th overall in 2011 by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 5’11, 184 lb, 21-year-old emerging star from Moscow, Russia has taken a significant step forward in his second NHL season. Kucherov is one of many reasons why the Lightning feature the highest scoring offense in the National Hockey League this season. After a rookie season with 18 points in 52 games, the highly competitive and talented Kucherov has put up 27 goals, 32 assists, 59 points, and a +34 in 76 games.
Kucherov Learned to Play Two-Way Game
Nikita Kucherov in his rookie season was still adapting to North America style hockey and struggled in his own end of the ice. He was a healthy scratch on many nights in his rookie year and found himself watching from the press box. Kucherov went through an up and down season last year as he adapted to life in North America and learned the English language. It is amazing what the kid accomplished this offseason and returned to training camp and dominated right from the preseason.
“I had some good games, some bad games, and got scratched a couple times,” Kucherov said. “It was my first year; I was young and didn’t know. It was just a good experience.”
Coach Jon Cooper noticed right away the difference in Kucherov this season right from the preseason. Kucherov has been playing at a high level since training camp and Coach Cooper immediately noticed the improvement to his game. Even the captain Steven Stamkos had nothing but extremely high praise for Nikita Kucherov.
“Last year was a big learning curve for Kuch,” said superstar captain Steven Stamkos. “He was getting scratched but he stuck with it. He’s an unbelievable kid. A lot of guys don’t know him off the ice because he’s still learning English. But he wants to get better every practice and every game. You can see it, he has the confidence now, that’s something that’s tough to come by in this league.
The Triplets Line
When Kucherov was put on a line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat in a game in Winnipeg, the chemistry on the ice was noticeable and instant. After the game Tyler Johnson talked about the nice fit and even said that hopefully they can get better. Wishful thinking from Johnson on that night turned into a serious reality as the trio have been the best line in the NHL this season. What exactly did Kucherov bring to the line to make it work so well? For one, Nikita Kucherov has well above average speed and skill and playing with players of similar attributes it was just the perfect combination. Coach Cooper back in early November called it the perfect combination of speed and skill.
“They sort of have that perfect mix of speed and skill,” coach Jon Cooper said. “And it’s weird because they all seem to be on the same wavelength; it’s like they’re triplets. It seems those three guys are almost thinking for each other, and it’s pretty sweet to watch.”
The Bolts Roll 4 Scoring Lines Consistently
Kucherov has dominated this season for the Bolts. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Nikita Kucherov know that the road to the Stanley Cup Finals will not be an easy one. The Lightning can score with the best of them, but critics will say that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about how you defend. Can the Lightning defend well enough to make a deep run? That is yet to be seen, but this year’s Lightning are so dynamic and deep at forward, that I believe even when the checking gets tighter the Bolts will be a tough task for anyone to stop. Tampa Bay consistently rolls out 4 lines that can score. So even if their defense is not as strong as a Montreal Canadiens or New York Rangers, they make up for it with their speed game and offensive prowess that teams simply have no answer for on some nights. The New York Rangers are referred to as the fastest team in the East, but having watched both teams this year I believe they are a close second to Tampa Bay in team speed. For Tampa to continue to excel Kucherov will have to continue to be an offensive X-Factor and catalyst for the best 2nd line in the National Hockey League.
I am a 2015 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have coached ice hockey at the high school level for two seasons here in NJ. I will be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward for The Hockey Writers.