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Jon Cooper not worried about Nikita Kucherov: report

Coach 'confident' 23-year-old restricted free agent forward will re-sign with Lightning @NHL

Nikita Kucherov remains a restricted free agent, but Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper isn't worried he may have to start this season without the 23-year-old forward.

"I'm confident [Kucherov] is going to sign back," Cooper told the Tampa Bay Times for a report published Friday.

Kucherov led the Lightning in scoring last season with 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists) in 77 games and in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in 17 games. His 30 goals were an NHL career-high.

Cooper echoed what general manager Steve Yzerman told the newspaper on July 27.

"We continue to communicate with his representation," Yzerman said at the time. "And we expect to have him under contract to start the season. ... Every negotiation is different and some take longer than others. Sometimes they get done when they get done. You can't force it."

Kucherov is on the Team Russia roster for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which will be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1. He will report to Team Russia training camp in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Sunday, with practices to begin Monday.

The Lightning are $6.6 million under the $73 million NHL salary cap for the 2016-17 season, according to General Fanager. Tampa Bay re-signed forward Steven Stamkos to an eight-year contract reportedly worth $68 million (average annual value $8.5 million) on June 29 and defenseman Victor Hedman to an eight-year, $63 million contract extension (AAV $7.875 million) on July 1.

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