“Kucherov…to Point…Brayden shoots…it ricochets off the top of the goal, Kucherov on the rebound, he shoots….THEY SCORE! NIKITA KUCHEROVVVV!”
As I sit in my Florida home, 128 times this year I heard a phrase similar to that from Lightning play-by-play guru Rick Peckham over the course of an 82-game regular season roller coaster that saw the Tampa Bay Lightning tie the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings at 62 wins—most in a single season in NHL history. The Lightning as a team were great partly due to due the dominance of Nikita Kucherov,; and I chose a specific situation within Peckham’s normal call to put emphasis on what Kucherov truly offers to the Bolts: a rare-breed killer sniper from the left side who’s potent in every offensive facet of hockey.
Loaded with an incredible presence on the ice, phenomenal hockey IQ and a mesmerizing trick shot, Kucherov immediately strikes fear into any opposing goalie in the unenviable situation of him skating at you. He’ll tell you exactly how and where he’s going to shoot it and you still won’t block it. Braden Holtby, one of the NHLs premiere goalies, I’m sure still has nightmares about Kucherov’s “no shot” shot that makes him look like an absolute fool any time he shoots it. Just take one peek at the first goal and try to look away. Spoiler: you cannot.
Nikita Kucherov’s shots have a deception on them that very few, if any, hockey players have. This makes him absolutely deadly when faking you out. But can he shoot a missile? Check this out for yourself:
Kucherov’s so powerful that when feed to him at the right angle, it’s almost an automatic goal when he muscles it up. It’s there until it’s not there. With beautiful fake outs, his ability to break away from a defense to go head on with a goalie and and muscle it by him and knowing where he is on the ice at all times makes him an elite wing.
So, how does this translate to the numbers? The first season after signing the largest deal in Lightning history (8 years/$76M), I had the privilege of documenting his brilliance this past February. In 2019, Nikita Kucherov tallied 128 total points. Breaking Vinny LeCavalier’s franchise record for points scored in a season, “Kuch” was the first player in over 2 decades (Jaromir Jagr, 127, 1998) to score more than 125 points in a single season. He was the first since Joe Thornton in 2006. He had the most assists since Thornton in the NHL.
Yes, you read that correctly. The sniper who scored over 40 goals is a multi-dimensional threat. When you look at the goal column and see Brayden Point (41) and Steven Stamkos (45) at the top of leaderboard, somebody has to be feeding them that puck. Kucherov does it to where it’s almost an exact science and I find that very enthralling about him. He knows where everybody is on the ice, and isn’t afraid to feed it to them. If they just miss, he’s always backing it up and taking a monstrous shot to keep the keeper on his toes. This poetically paints the picture of the paraphrased Peckham quotation I used at the beginning of the entry.
A lot of teams also need depth for their roster in case of an injury. Kucherov, however, played in 82 games this past season. He simply doesn’t take a day off and grinds out every game. It’s incredible. The team for years was built around Steven Stamkos who has a medical history that’s very well documented. Kucherov is a security blanket that comes in and destroys like a trained assassin; all the while playing with his heart on his sleeve.
Unfortunately for the Bolts, the heart has seemed to get the better of Kucherov in the past. Kucherov set many records in the regular season, such as the most goals for a Russian born player in NHL history (single-season). But, he did take a lot of bad penalties and it ended up biting Tampa this postseason in the first round when he smashed Markus Nutivaara of the Columbus Blue Jackets into the boards and got himself suspended. Tampa Bay then got swept out of the first round after winning a record-62 games.
This, however, shows me just how much Kucherov means to this club. They’re a solid team that couldn’t beat the lowest seed without him. But with him, they go from solid to record-setting great. This year, he led the league in goals per game (1.56), goals created per game (.55) and OPS (12.3). When he was on ice, the team scored more than any other team in the league (155 TGF). That’s just his 2018-2019 season.
In 2015, he was unstoppable in the postseason, scoring 10 goals and 12 assists as he led the Bolts to their first Stanley Cup appearance since 2004. Since the start of the 2015 postseason, he has more postseason goals than any other player in hockey (28). The depth Nikita Kucherov adds to this Bolts roster is irreplaceable because of the amount of damage he does in many different ways.
This is why he is the NHLs Most Valuable Player, despite being on their best team. He does look to bring home his first Hart Trophy later this month as he competes with Connor McDavid (Oilers) and Sydney Crosby (Penguins).
Nikita Kucherov is putting up gaudy numbers, and has broken out as the NHLs biggest young superstar. He is already the best player in the history of the Lightning organization, and that’s coming from a guy whose favorite player of all-time is Martin St. Louis (who won the Hart Trophy in the 2003-2004 season). For us Lightning fans, we’re just enjoying the next 8-years.
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(Photo Credit: USAToday)