There's lucky bounces, and then there's how Nikita Kucherov got into hockey.
Born in the southern Russian town of Maikop, near the Black Sea, Nikita and his family moved to Moscow at an early age. Nikita's mother took him on a search for a job, and it just so happened she ended up getting a job at a hockey rink.
The ice turned into the perfect daycare center for young Nikita, whose skills have blossomed enough for him to be regarded as a top prospect for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
"It was like an accident," Kucherov told NHL.com via a translator. "We moved to Moscow and my mother went to look for a job and we were passing a hockey rink and she went there and got work and decided to bring me to play hockey."
It's a good thing Mrs. Kucherov didn't end up at a bakery.
Kucherov had 25 goals and 28 points for CSKA's minor-league team, but it wasn't until his stellar performance at the World Under-18 Championship that scouts started paying attention.
"He came up from nowhere," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "I saw him in August, saw him in November, saw him in February, and in August and November you could hardly notice him. In February he was the star on the team and in April he was the star of the tournament."
His February performance earned him the No. 17 spot on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of European skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft, and he cemented that with a performance for the ages at a U-18 tournament in Germany.
He had at least 2 points in six of the seven games, had at least 2 goals in a game four times, and had three games with at least 4 points. His 21 points broke the previous single-tournament high of 19 set by Oilers prospect Toni Rajala in 2009, and his 11 goals tied him with Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk for the second-most in a single tournament. His 10 assists are tied for the third-most in one tournament.
"I really wanted to win this tournament, really wanted to play well," said Kucherov. "I had really good partners on the team."
Kucherov said despite the scouts missing him early, he didn't put any extra pressure on himself to play well at the tournament.
"For sure the scouts now are more interested in me because I had a great tournament," he said. "But I never see the scouts. I just want to play well."
The question scouts must ask themselves is which the real Kucherov is: The one who scouts easily overlooked in the first half of the season? Or the one who developed into a scoring dynamo in the second half?
Stubb seems to think the second half player could be the one teams get at this year's draft.
"He's a very good passer and playmaker," said Stubb. "Perhaps he didn't have confidence in himself in the beginning of the season. But in February and April, when I saw him in tournaments, international competition, he was filled with confidence and did a lot of things with the puck that he didn't do before."
Kucherov said he plans on staying at least two more seasons in Russia to further develop his skills and build on his 5-foot-10, 163-pound frame.
"He needs a lot of strength, because a little push and he's down on the ice," said Stubb. "But he's a talented player."Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer