Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov plays on the top line of the best team in hockey and has a very reasonable shot of sweeping the top NHL awards at the end of the season
The Tampa Bay Lightning could wind up having a busy night at the NHL Awards in June. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the Vezina Trophy favorite. Victor Hedman finds himself in a familiar position as a Norris Trophy contender. Head coach Jon Cooper is in the Jack Adams discussion. And then there’s the guy who could win four NHL awards this season – Nikita Kucherov.
Since the Russian forward is leading the league in points halfway into the season and has seven more than the guy in second place, it’s not exactly bold to predict him as the eventual Art Ross winner this year. However, it is bold to predict him winning the Art Ross, Hart Memorial, Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup.
More from Puck Prose
- Detroit Red Wings 2023 Rookie Camp Has Plenty of Ups and Downs
- This Columbus Blue Jackets rookie doesn’t want to be forgotten
- 2 trades the Boston Bruins must make to secure the Stanley Cup
- 3 reasons the Avalanche won’t win the Stanley Cup in 2024
- This is a big year for Alex Turcotte and the Los Angeles Kings
Would it be hard? Absolutely. But it’s also entirely possible. It might even be likely. How could such an underrated and under-the-radar player have a legitimate chance of sweeping the coveted hardware of hockey? Well, it’s quite simple really.
Best player, best team
The Lightning are far and away the best team in hockey. They currently have 63 points and a +52 goal differential. In the process of scoring 155 goals, more than any other team, they’ve also only given up just 103 goals. Only the Los Angeles Kings have allowed fewer.
This is the house Steve Yzerman built and his Bolts are clear favorites to win it all. After missing out on the playoffs last year, Tampa is deservedly taking the Eastern Conference by storm. Yzerman was one of hockey’s greatest centers, and after churning out a couple of Canadian gold medals when he was at the helm of that project, the Lightning are his latest project who have a date with history. He might be an even better general manager than he was a center.
Yzerman also has the best right wing in the league. Over the last season and a half, Kucherov actually might be the best forward in the league. Yes, you read that right, and no, I didn’t forget about Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid when I wrote this.
How does Kucherov stack up among NHL elite?
It’s pretty widely agreed upon that Crosby still sits upon the hockey throne with McDavid as the clear heir. However, Kucherov is very much in that conversation since the start of last season. If that seems like a reach, let’s see what the stats think about all this.
Before reading this article, if you were asked who has the most overall goals and even~strength goals from last season until now, I seriously doubt your answer would be Nikita Kucherov. Even until a couple of weeks ago, neither would mine.
Other than leading scorer, he ranks second in points and in power play goals. Alex Ovechkin, a goal scoring diety, is the only other player with as many even-strength goals.
Kucherov plays on the best line in the league. Namestnikov and Stamkos round out the scariest forward grouping of all 31 teams. Neither Crosby or McDavid have the luxury of such excellence on the ice. Nor do they have the luxury of the defensive support Kucherov does in blue-liners like Hedman, Anton Stralman, and rookie sensation Mikhail Sergachev. Not to mention Vasilevskiy.
Is he worthy of the sweep?
Regardless of who he plays with, it’s pretty difficult to say that he’s not. Kucherov and fellow countryman Vladimir Taresenko play the same type of game and are the finest of Russian snipers.
However, if you watch Kucherov play, you might agree that he is even better than the Blues forward. He’s insanely quick, picks corners all day, and might be the best in the league at getting around big burly defenseman deep in the offensive zone. Kucherov’s even-strength record is more than enough to prove his acumen as a forechecker.
All that being said, January is still too early to pencil in an MVP winner and an Art Ross (overall points leader) winner. It’s also WAY too early to make a Stanley Cup/Stanley Cup MVP pick, although Tampa Bay’s dominance this season makes it easier and easier by the day.
Currently, no one is playing better hockey than number 86. The 24-year-old Russian is still vastly underrated, but that might all change in June when he goes home with a Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, Art Ross and MVP trophy.