Much to the chagrin of Phil Esposito, Nikita Kucherov has always been a pass-first, shoot-second player for the Tampa Bay Lightning. When he amassed 113 points last season, he still only netted 30 goals of his own.
Currently, on a 138-point pace for the 2023-24 season, Kucherov is one of the early leaders for the Hart Trophy partly because he is scoring goals at a rate he never has before.
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When Kucherov won the Hart Trophy in 2019 as the MVP of the NHL, he had 128 points. Along with his 87 assists, his 41 goals that year are one of only two seasons he has had at least 40.
13 games into the 2023-24 season, Kucherov now has ten goals after collecting one last night against Montreal just 22 seconds into the game.
His 22 points lead the NHL, and his ten goals are second in the league, only behind Toronto’s Auston Matthews.
Kucherov is on pace for a 63-goal season. It seems outlandish to think he will top his career-best mark by 22 goals, but the deeper metrics suggest it’s not that crazy. His shooting percentage is 16.95%, which would be a career-high, but he has topped 16% thrice.
The most significant difference is that he is shooting the puck at a clip he has never been at for an entire season. His career high for a full season is 279 shots.
Even though Kucherov is now north of 30 years old, he appears to be ascending towards a peak rather than descending. Last season was the first time he averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, and this season, he is garnering even more time with 21 minutes per game.
If he can maintain his pace for the entire season, there is a good chance Kucherov can become a two-time winner of the Hart Trophy by the end of the season.