TAMPA – Before Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov could enjoy the success he has had during his second season in the NHL, he had to go through the growing pains of being a rookie.
After scoring his first career NHL goal on his first shot, Kucherov's rookie season featured everything someone might expect a 20-year-old from Russia to go through. He had scoring droughts, he was the target of physical play and he dealt with the natural culture shock of being in a new place.
On the surface Kucherov's rookie season was a slight disappointment. He had nine goals and nine assists in 52 games. His struggles were magnified when he became a healthy scratch for two games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it was a valuable learning experience that he needed.
"He dealt with a lot of adversity as a rookie," Cooper said. "He took a lot of lumps and he learned some important lessons. He came out strong and I think he felt like he was going to score all the time, and that's the mentality of most scorers. But it didn't happen and he had to learn how to create opportunities for himself and a big part of that was improving his play without the puck."