Tampa Bay Lightning F Nikita Kucherov: From Zero To Hero

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov got off to a rather slow start this season, but has suddenly skyrocketed to first place on the team.

The future of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov was incredible uncertain heading into the 2016-17 season. Kucherov was set to become an unrestricted free agent, and the Bolts would have to do quite a bit of work to get their leading point scorer signed to a new deal.

Tampa Bay Lightning fans were hopeful the team would be able to re-sign Kucherov as soon as the off-season started. Unfortunately, as the days pressed on, Lightning fans started to contemplate whether or not the 23-year-old Lightning sniper would still be in Lightning blue this season.

The fears of the fans only escalated when the 2016 World Cup of Hockey kicked off in Toronto and a deal had not been signed. Things would be put on hold as Kucherov joined his native Russia in the international competition.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

While Kucherov was away, Tampa Bay Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman told Lightning fans he hoped to have Nikita Kucherov signed to a new deal as soon as he returned home from the World Cup of Hockey. Unfortunately, that did not come to pass either.

Finally, on October 11th, just two days before the first game of the 2016-17 season, Steve Yzerman would announce the team had come to terms with Nikita Kucherov on a three-year contract worth $13.98 million. This means the Lightning would, in fact, have their 2015-16 leading point scorer in time for the first game of the season.

Unfortunately, the delay in Kucherov’ signing caused him to miss the whole of Training Camp. Believe it or not, this is a vital part of the team’s season. This is when the team finally gets back together on the ice and begin to build the chemistry that can make or break the team’s season.

Nikita Kucherov had plenty of assists to start off the season, but the Russian sniper simply couldn’t seem to find the back of the net. Many would contribute Kucherov’ slow start to missing training camp.

It wasn’t until six games into the season, as the Lightning took on the Toronto Maple Leafs when Kucherov would really break out; and boy did he break out. Nikita Kucherov would pick up a goal and three assists in the Lightning’s 7-3 rout of the Maple Leafs.

Kucherov’ four point night was merely a preview of the things to come for one of the Lightning’s leading goal scorers. Since then, Nikita Kucherov has had five multi-point outings, including two multi-goal outings.

Kucherov’ best night this season came on November 1st as the Lightning took on the New York Islanders. Nikita Kucherov came up with two goals and two assists for a total of four points. The Lightning would go on to defeat the Islanders 6-1 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

In the 22 games he’s played so far this season, Kucherov has brought home 11 goals and 15 assists for a total of 26 points. These numbers put Kucherov in first place on the team in all manners of scoring. The numbers also place him in second place in the league and points and third place in the league in assists.

Now that Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has been sidelined until sometime in late March with a torn meniscus, having someone like Nikita Kucherov in the lineup has become that much more vital.

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At the end of the day, Kucherov may have gotten off to a slow start this season, but the importance is in how a player finishes and not how they got their start. Judging by the way he has been playing through the first quarter of the season, we can expect great things from Nikita Kucherov by the end of the season.