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World Cup

Nikita Kucherov won't back out of World Cup

Restricted free agent forward eager to represent Team Russia despite lack of contract with Lightning

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- For Nikita Kucherov, it was a no-brainer.

Although the Tampa Bay Lightning right wing remains a restricted free agent, he never thought of backing out of the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

"I have a chance to play for Team Russia against the best players in the world and I'm not going to lose it," Kucherov said Monday following the opening World Cup training camp practice, at Yubileyny Sports Palace.

Kucherov, 23, is one of three unsigned restricted free agents on Team Russia's roster, along with Lightning defenseman Nikita Nesterov and Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov. They are covered by insurance provided by the NHL and NHL Players' Association, but their contract negotiations could be impacted if they remain unsigned and are injured during the tournament, which Team Russia opens against Team Sweden at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sept. 18 (3 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports).

Nesterov, 23, quickly replied "no" when asked if he had any hesitation about playing in the World Cup without a contract, but Orlov, 25, admitted it was at least a small concern.

"I think everybody wants to have a contract before the World Cup begins," Orlov said. "Right now, I'm trying not to think too much about that. We'll see how it goes. Everybody wants to be signed quicker, but right now I'm getting ready for this tournament and we'll see how it goes."

Video: Alex Ovechkin looks ahead to the World Cup of Hockey

Capitals coach Barry Trotz talked last week about expanding Orlov's role and having him play "more prime minutes" this season after he had eight goals and 21 assists, and averaged 16:02 of ice time per game last season. Orlov is excited about that possibility, but said only "we'll see" when asked if he thought there was a chance of him signing before the World Cup ends.

"It's always nice to hear the coach say he wants to see me [play a bigger role], but right now it's hard to say what's going to happen," he said. "So we'll see."

Kucherov, who led the Lightning with 66 points last season, would not discuss the status of his contract talks with the Lightning. When told that coach Jon Cooper told the Tampa Bay Times last week, "I'm confident [Kucherov] is going to sign back," Kucherov responded, "We'll see."

Nesterov gave a similar answer when asked about his contract.

MUFFIN MAN: There was a brief injury scare midway through Team Russia's practice when Orlov's wrist shot from the point struck Alex Ovechkin in the left hand. Ovechkin immediately shook his hand in pain, took his left glove off and skated to the bench to receive treatment.

Fortunately, Ovechkin returned to the ice in time to begin the next drill, completed the practice and said he was fine afterward. Although Orlov initially showed some concern for his Capitals teammate, he said he wasn't that worried Ovechkin was injured because his shot was not hard.

"It was a muffin," Orlov said, laughing. "The practice was hard, and the ice was a little bit bad today. It was a bad shot by me. Next practice, I will try to shoot lower."

THEME OF THE DAY: Team Russia practiced for more than 70 minutes with some breaks for water before finishing the session with some conditioning skating in a relay format. The players, who were divided into three groups by their lines and defense pairs, skated two laps before passing their sticks to the next player on their team with the cycle repeating multiple times.

"First of all, we need to work on physical conditioning," coach Oleg Znarok said. "I like [the conditioning] most players have at the moment."

Znarok's concern about conditioning was understandable considering it was the NHL players' first practice since last season. Znarok, who coaches SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontiental Hockey League, gave the four KHL players on Team Russia's roster -- Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeny Dadonov, Ivan Telegin and Vadim Shipachev -- off from practice after they played in games this weekend. They are expected to practice on Tuesday.

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