Dec 12, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (56) shoots and scores against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Nikita Kucherov: The Russian Rifle

As a player in the NHL, when you get a nickname like The Russian Rifle, it says a lot about the type of shot you possess.  Nikita Kucherov has that kind of shot.  The 21 year old Russian has a wrist shot that has impressed since 2011.  That year, Nikita Kucherov played for Russia in the World Juniors 18 and Under Championships.  All he did in seven games was score 11 goals and 10 assists.

There is no doubt that kind of performance not only will get you a cool nickname, but it also got Nikita Kucherov noticed by the NHL.  Thank goodness for Bolts Nation, Al Murray and his team of scouts for the Tampa Bay Lightning—they were paying attention.  Nikita Kucherov was drafted in the second round, 58th overall in the 2011 NHL draft.

Since being selected by the Lightning, Kucherov has played one season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and a portion of a season in the AHL.  Mind you, he was 19 and 20 years old but he played 33 games in the QMJHL and scored 29 goals and had 34 assists for a total of 63 points.  That’s right!  Almost two points a game, as a 19 year old.

The next season, which was last season, Nikita Kucherov started the year at Syracuse and in 17 games, scored 13 goals and added 11 assists for 24 points.  Again, keep in mind that he was 20 years old.  Less than two years removed from Russia.

He completed last season with the big team here in Tampa.  Kucherov scored nine goals and added nine assists in 52 games.  I know what some will say, what happened to his scoring touch?  I say, the Russian Rifle is completely intact.

I realize I continue to bring up his age but let’s not forget that this kid just turned 21 a couple of months ago.  He played three fourths of an NHL season when he was 20 years old.  It is a vast understatement to say he is still learning.  If his past is any indication of his future, Nikita Kucherov will be a sniper in the NHL for years to come.

In the playoff loss to the Montreal Canadians in April, does anyone remember who scored the first goal in the first game for the Bolts?  The Russian Rifle did.  Again, 20 years old.  High pressure, NHL playoffs and the kid let go his wicked wrist shot past Carey Price for a short lived Tampa lead.

I saw flashes of his shooting arsenal in those nine goals he scored.  This kid is only going to get better with age, wisdom, and experience.  Ask Henrik Lundqvist.   On his first shift in the NHL, Nikita Kucherov took his first shot in the NHL against arguably the best goalie in the world.  Wrist shot and top shelf.   The kind of first NHL goal that is hard to forget.

Nikita Kucherov is locked and loaded.  Ready to show this season what scouts have seen from him since he was 17 years old.  Oh yeah, he’s only 21 right now.  He has so much hockey in front of him.  As the season approaches, keep your eyes on Nikita Kucherov.  He has an excellent wrist shot and fantastic one-timer.

Don’t blink or risk missing the shot and goals from The Russian Rifle.

Tags: Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay Lightning

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