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Prospect of the Week: November 5, 2012

This week we continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

This week’s winner has only been on the ice for a couple of weeks, but is quickly making his mark.

The Prospect of the Week for November 5 is … Nikita Kucherov, winger, Quebec (QMJHL – Canada)

When Nikita Kucherov fell to the second round of the 2011 NHL draft because of the “Russian factor,” Lightning General Manger Steve Yzerman quickly pounced on the immensely skilled forward. Yzerman was willing to take a chance that the sniper, coming off of a record-breaking performance in the World U-18 tournament (11-10-21 in 7 games), would eventually come to North America to play hockey.

Little did he know that he’d be over just one year later. And had other NHL general managers known this fact, it’s highly unlikely Kucherov would have fallen out of the first round.

Nevertheless, Yzerman and the Lightning organization are patting themselves on their collective backs now that Kucherov is in Quebec City playing for Patrick Roy’s Remparts. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Kucherov’s good friend and former World Junior Championships teammate, Mikhail Grigorenko (Sabres), is with the club and frequently on his line.

Kucherov is off to a torrid start with the Remparts, scoring seven points in his first four games. He has earned at least a point in every game so far this year, and this past week he had his first 3-point game when he had a goal and two assists against Acadie-Bathurst. He followed that up with an assist Saturday against Rimouski, which actually lowered his point-per-game average to under two (1.75). That average is behind only Grigorenko (1.95) on the club.

We rank Kucherov as the Lightning’s 12th-best prospect, though on pure skill and upside he’s a top-3 player. The key for Kucherov’s development will be to learn how to succeed in the smaller rinks of North America, stay healthy (he's coming off of shoulder surgery) and to develop his 2-way game. That will be the difference between Kucherov being just a power play weapon or a 5-on-5 star.

Previous 2012-2013 Prospect of the Week winners:

October 30, Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough, OHL-Canada
October 23, Dustin Tokarski, G, Syracuse, AHL-USA
October 15, Cory Conacher, W, Syracuse, AHL-USA
October 9, Cedric Paquette, C, Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL-Canada
October 2, Andrei Vasilevski, G, Ufa Jr, MHL-Russia
September 25, Andrei Vasilevski, G, Ufa Jr, MHL-Russia