Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Nikita Kucherov is making an early statement in his first professional season with the Bolts’ AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch. Just two games into this year’s campaign, Kucherov has already recorded four points, including a hat trick in his most recent contest Sunday at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse.
After being credited with an assist during the Crunch’s first goal on J.T. Brown’s tally, Kucherov went to work on the man-advantage, scoring two of Syracuse’s four power-play goals versus their intrastate rival, the Rochester Americans. His final marker, which completed the hat trick, came at even strength and brought the final score to 5-1 against the Amerks, to round out Kucherov’s four-point performance.
The second-round draft pick (58th overall) during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Lightning, spent nearly a month with Tampa Bay in September for the Lightning’s prospect and training camp, before joining Syracuse at the end of September.
The Crunch raised the 2012-13 East Division and Eastern Conference championship banners prior to Saturday's home opener.
Kucherov played in all three of the Lightning’s games during the annual Prospect Tournament in Coral Springs and had a standout performance that caught the eye of the Crunch’s head coach, Rob Zettler. The 20-year-old forward led all skaters with seven points (four goals, three assists) in three games.
"Kucherov was kind of magical out there a few times too," Zettler said after the final game of the tournament. "He had some really nice chances and an unbelievable goal."
He also suited up for five games this preseason and contributed one goal and two assists.
Spending his first pro season with the Lightning organization, Kucherov will benefit by adjusting to the North American-style of play. Kucherov has said a number of times the pace of the game, which is often faster than in Europe due to the smaller ice surfaces, is a major area of focus for him as he continues to progress
Last season Kucherov was one of just 11 Russian-born players to appear in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QJMHL), showing his commitment to transitioning to the NHL. He posted 53 points (26 goals, 27 assists) in 27 games played. In eight games for Russia’s World Junior team, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Kucherov, also recorded five goals and three assists.