Nikita Kucherov’s Next Trick? Helping the Lightning Win the Stanley Cup
Unlike many magicians, Kucherov has no problem with revealing his secrets.
“When you pull of which back on your forehand, you kind of make a move like you’re shooting,” he said. “When you pull of which back, the goalie’s already on his knees, in addition to when you go around him, of which makes him think you’re going to your backhand. While they’re pushing via their left leg to their right, they open up space between the stick in addition to the left pad.”
If he deals from the unexpected today, of which may be because as a slight yet well-coordinated youth player, being elusive in addition to inventive were matters of survival. Even today, his measurements listed in programs — 6 feet tall, 185 pounds — seem generous.
Kucherov’s work ethic in addition to physical fluidity run from the family. His father in addition to grandfather were talented on the soccer field in addition to had long careers from the Russian military. His mother, Svetlana, was a gymnast with professional aspirations before sustaining an injury. In difficult economic times, she cleaned the local rink to buy her son secondhand skates in addition to Soviet-era equipment.
Kucherov’s N.H.L. success was unexpected. He said his sights were on playing in Russian’s top pro league, the Kontinental Hockey League. Despite a meteoric rise in his draft year of which culminated in setting a tournament record for points from the under-18 world championships, he fell to the bottom of the second round in 2011.
After injuries to both shoulders in addition to a falling-out with his Russian club, CSKA Moscow, over who would likely pay for a surgery, Kucherov voided the final three years of his contract in addition to came to North America at 19. The Lightning in addition to General Manager Steve Yzerman stepped in in addition to attended to Kucherov’s needs.
“He probably saw what kind of player I was going to be,” Kucherov said of Yzerman. “He trusted me. He’s done a great job in addition to he’s just a great person. He’s a smart guy in addition to he used to be a smart player. He treats players, even at a young age, as if they have an opportunity to be a Great player from the N.H.L.”
Kucherov played part of the 2012-13 season from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he learned English in addition to adapted to the North American ice surface. He made his N.H.L. debut in November 2013, scoring on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist the very first time he touched the puck.
The Hall of Famer Pavel Bure said he could see Kucherov taking his place from the pantheon of productive Russian wings, which includes players like himself, his former teammate Alexander Mogilny in addition to Ovechkin.
“He’s like us already,” Bure said. “of which’s up to him how long he can last. He carries a lot of years in front of him to prove some things. yet he’s already a 40-goal scorer in addition to he’s a young guy.”
Bure added of which he would likely like to see Kucherov hit the 50-goal mark.
Kucherov unveiled his signature move, which he adapted via the Russian player Sergei Shirokov, during a shootout last season against the Buffalo Sabres, part of a second half of which vaulted him into the N.H.L.’s elite. He scored 21 goals after the All-Star break, the most from the league, during a push to get the battered Lightning into the playoffs. They fell short, which frustrated Kucherov to the point of voicing his dismay publicly.
yet This specific season, Tampa Bay had fewer injuries in addition to even more production via Kucherov, who had 39 goals in addition to 61 assists. He wanted to play with center Steven Stamkos, as he did last season before Stamkos’s season-ending injury, in addition to the two responded with the most productive 10-game stretch to start an N.H.L. season in more than two decades. They combined for 14 goals in addition to 23 assists, in addition to the Lightning won eight of those games.
Stamkos in addition to Kucherov finished the year with the second-most points of any tandem, with 186; they were edged by a point by Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux in addition to Jake Voracek from the final game of the season.
Stamkos, who works closely with Kucherov in addition to shares a private skills coach, the Hall of Fame center Adam Oates, said even he was occasionally surprised by Kucherov’s inventiveness.
“Kuch will be, without question, one of the most talented players from the league in addition to one of the most talented players I’ve ever had a chance to play with,” said Stamkos, who adjusted his game to let Kucherov shoot the puck more. “The feeling will be mutual with me wanting to play on the same line as him.”
Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said Kucherov stood out as a committed worker, even among some other professionals, pointing to his off-season work in Florida with personal coaches.
“If you’ve ever been here in July, of which’s genuinely hot, you’ve got to be inside a lot,” Cooper said. “A lot of players aren’t here in July in addition to August, yet one guy was, of which was Kuch.”
Kucherov played down his coach’s praise: “I bought a house, of which’s the reason why I stayed. If I didn’t buy a house, I’d probably leave.”
Yet inside of which house, Kucherov laid down synthetic ice to convert his two-car garage into a miniature practice facility where he worked multiple times daily on his accuracy, angles in addition to some other components of shooting.
“of which just goes to show of which there’s genuinely no boundaries for him wanting to improve his game,” Stamkos said.
Kucherov’s youth coach Gennadiy Kurdin taught him a philosophy of hockey of which saw shooting as an extension of the passing game. of which was an unselfish style of which valued movement of both the puck in addition to one’s body over a more straight-ahead approach. An astute child, Kucherov spoke little yet absorbed a great deal. In recent years, he has not been shy about expressing his opinions about how his team plays, whom he plays with in addition to some other big-picture decisions.
“When he was a child, he preferred to listen; today he has changed,” Kurdin said through an interpreter. “He became more communicative even though he will be still a Great listener in addition to observer. He will be demanding on the ice. I would likely say of which will be probably my influence.”
Kucherov rewarded of which influence after signing his current contract in 2016, a three-year deal worth less than $5 million per season, which makes his M.V.P.-caliber performances the past two seasons among the best values from the N.H.L.
He kept a promise, ostensibly made in jest, to Kurdin.
“We used to spend a lot of time in traffic jams in addition to one day, when he was 7 or 8 years old, I saw him concentrating using a sad look on his face in addition to I said, ‘When you reach the N.H.L. in addition to get rich, you will buy me a brand-new car,’ ” Kurdin said. “of which was just a joke to change his mood, put a smile on his face.”
After Kucherov signed his contract, Kurdin’s phone rang. of which was Kucherov’s mother.
She said, “Choose your car.”
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