The Tampa Bay Lightning have a lot of Russian hockey players that have come through the system lately. They have promising young Russian players at nearly every position. The team is a very diverse one for sure.
If you look at their top 7 players in points this season they are represented by 6 different countries. Tyler Johnson (45 pts- USA), Nikita Kucherov (41 pts- RUS), Steven Stamkos (40 pts- CAN), Ondrej Palat (32 pts- CZE), Ryan Callahan (31 pts- USA), Valtteri Filppula (29pts- FIN), and Victor Hedman (20 pts- SWE). While the team is very diverse, there seems to be a lot of Russian prospects and players on the team. Today we are going to look at the 5 Russians that have had the biggest impact in Tampa Bay this season.
5) Evgeni Nabokov
The 39 year old Russian goalie was actually born in Kazakhstan. Nabokov had his best years in San Jose and was the goalie there for 10 seasons. He then played three seasons with the New York Islanders before signing with Tampa Bay.
This season he is 3-5-2 with a .892 GAA and 2.82 save %. Poor numbers for the veteran goalie, however every point matters and he did help earn 8 points for the Lightning this year. That could be very important at the end of the hockey season. Especially with Ben Bishop’s health concerns, Nabokov could be relied on to win some games late in the year.Nabokov will get the start tonight in Philadelphia.
Evgeni Nabokov will start in goal tonight for #TBLightning vs. Philly. Nabokov is making his 1st appearances since Jan. 2 (at PIT).
— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) January 12, 2015
4) Nikita Nesterov
No, not the point per game Nikita, the defenseman Nikita. Nikita Nesterov was ironically also chosen, as was Kucherov, in the 2011 NHL draft. Nesterov is from Chelyabinsk, Russia. He was a 5th round pick and was having a very productive season in the American Hockey League this year before being called up to the Lightning recently.
Nesterov has scored 4 goals, 12 assists, and 16 points this season in 54 games with the Syracuse Crunch. He was recently named an AHL All-Star.
At 21 years old, Nesterov is going to have an opportunity to be the Lightning’s 6th defenseman because of the possible season-ending injury to Radko Gudas. Coach Cooper really likes what he sees so far out of Nesterov. He will be competing with Mark Barberio for playing time.
3) Andrei Vasilevskiy
All Bolts fans know about Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy is arguably the top goalie prospect in all of hockey. The 20-year-old from Tyumen, Russia was the Lightning’s 1st round pick (19th overall) in the 2012 NHL draft He is a big goaltender at 6’3 and 210 lbs.
Vasilevskiy is extremely quick side to side in the net and has the potential to be great in the NHL. This season Vasilevskiy is 11-3-2 with a 2.25 GAA and a .923 save % in 19 games played in the AHL. The video below shows his first AHL shutout this season in a 2-0 win where the next player on this list, Vladdy Namestnikov, scored both goals.
This season in the NHL he is 3-1 in four starts with a 1.76 GAA and .937 save %. The one loss was a 45 save effort on 47 shots against the New York Islanders. Remember the name Andrei Vasilevskiy.
2) Vladislav Namestnikov
The 22-year-old from Zhukovskiy, Russia was a first round pick by the Lightning (27th overall) in the 2011 NHL draft. This season the talented young center has split time between the Lightning and the Crunch.
With the Lightning he had 7 points in 23 games while predominantly centering the 3rd line. He had shown developing chemistry with Nikita Kucherov before Kucherov was moved to the 2nd line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) January 6, 2015
Namestnikov has put up the points in the American Hockey League and was selected as an All-Star. He has 17 points in 16 games with the Crunch this season. Namestnikov can be a productive NHLer because of his playmaking ability. Expect to see him in the league soon and possibly on the wing. The Lightning are a bit crowded at the center position at the moment.
1) Nikita Kucherov
The final piece to the puzzle of the most dominant line in hockey this season is a 21-year-old from Moscow, Russia. Interestingly enough he is the 3rd player on this list chosen in the same draft year (2011). Kucherov was the Lightning’s 2nd round pick (58th) overall in the 2011 draft.
Kucherov has simply been unreal this season and has found instant chemistry with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat since being moved to the 2nd line in Winnipeg earlier in the season. The chemistry was seen instantly as he scored his first NHL hat-trick only a few days after the line was put together.
Kucherov has been spectacular this season and in 41 games he has 17 goals, 24 assists, 41 points, and is tied for the league lead in the NHL in plus/minus (with Tyler Johnson) at +26. He has only taken 3 penalties on the season as well.
The interesting thing about Kucherov is that he went the Canadian Junior Route in the 2012-2013 season and played in QMJHL for a year. That definitely helped him adapt to the smaller ice surface and North American style game.
In 2013-2014 he played mostly in the NHL and had to learn how to play away from the puck. Jon Cooper said that Kucherov had to figure it out last year, and this year he has put everything together. ‘The Triplets Line’ think the game the same way according to their coach. The chemistry on the ice is obvious and noticeable every shift. It is fun to watch, and Kucherov will be a big part of the Lightning’s success for the next several years.