Kucherov Set Free, Traded to Huskies

Patrick Roy knows how to make headlines.

This summer, the NHL Hall of Famer and Quebec Remparts coach/general manager made news when he chose Lightning 2010 second rounder and scoring star Nikita Kucherov out of the CSKA program in Russia during the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. Few thought Kucherov was even an option to come to North America, but Roy obviously knew better, and he had an ace up his sleeve by the name of Mikhail Grigorenko.

A Sabres first rounder in 2012, Grigorenko is a friend and former international linemate of Kucherov, and the flashy center helped get Kucherov to Quebec City to start his North American hockey career.

Now, five months after making headlines by importing Kucherov from Russia, Patrick Roy sent the winger packing from his Remparts.

Kucherov was traded on Wednesday to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies for Denis Kamaev and a second round QMJHL pick. Roy then sent Kamaev to Sherbrooke for a first round Import Draft pick and a fifth round QMJHL pick.

A big talking point around Roy’s Kucherov pick was he already had two import players on his roster – Grigorenko and Nick Sorensen from Denmark. CHL teams are only allowed to dress two import players in a game. At the time of the pick, the NHL lockout wasn’t a sure thing and many projected Grigorenko to make the Sabres out of training camp. That would get Quebec from three import players to two, or so it was thought. And even if Grigorenko didn’t make the Sabres, Roy would find a way to deal Sorensen, who is eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray, however.

When Lightning doctors cleared Kucherov to play after shoulder surgery, Roy established a rotation of sorts, alternating Sorensen and Kucherov in and out of the Remparts’ lineup. Sorensen later suffered a minor injury, which allowed Kucherov to stay in the lineup and hit the 10-point mark in just six games. But when Sorensen was healthy enough to return, Kucherov was scratched and told he wasn’t going to be re-inserted into the lineup. Reports surfaced that Kucherov – not Sorensen – was on the trading block. Some reports referred to Kucherov as a lazy player, and Kucherov told local papers he was frustrated.

If Kucherov is going to disprove that lazy tag, and show Roy he made a wrong decision, he’ll be doing it for the upstart Huskies. There is no import controversy in Rouyn-Noranda and Kucherov may be placed on the same line as Jean-Sebastien Dea (2013), who is among QMJHL scoring leaders with 20 goals and 38 points in 23 games.

For a small market QMJHL club, Rouyn-Noranda has set itself up nicely to be a formidable force in the second half of the season. Kamaev had just three goals and 15 points in 23 games, about one-third of Kucherov’s per-game production.

There is a possible wrench to throw here, though.

Kucherov, who played 18 games in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia last year, can return home. There aren’t as many spots available in the KHL due to NHLers playing in that league, but the option still exists.

So far Kucherov hasn’t said he plans on leaving North America, which is good news for the Lightning. The “Russian factor” that goes into drafting a prospect from Russia usually stems from the anticipated difficulty to get them to North America. It’s part of the reason Kucherov fell to the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

The Lightning want their prospects playing, and Kucherov will get plenty of playing time in Rouyn-Noranda, starting Friday night.

He is free from Roy’s circus and can now make headlines of his own.