Prospect of the Week: October 16, 2013

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.

The Prospect of the Week for October 16, 2013 is … Nikita Kucherov, W (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).

Thank you, Patrick Roy.

One of the most underrated pieces of Lightning news in the past 15 months is Patrick Roy, then general manager of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, drafting young Nikita Kucherov out of Russia in the CHL Import Draft.

Immensely skilled, Kucherov fell in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft to 58th overall because of character concerns and “the Russian factor.” No one questioned Kucherov’s skill, they just wondered about the motivation behind it and would he ever show his skill on North American ice.

The Lightning were hopeful, so they scooped him up in the second round.

Kucherov had 24 goals and 43 points in 23 games in Russian juniors following that draft, which didn’t raise too many eyebrows. Kucherov was coming off an Under-18 World Championship tournament where he set records for his offensive output: 11 goals and 21 points in seven games.

Roy nabbed Kucherov in the 2012 Import Draft – which was a surprise. Kucherov wasn’t on anyone’s radar to come to North America, and to the shock of everyone not named Patrick Roy, Kucherov came over.

It wasn’t a storybook ending, however, as Kucherov asked to be traded a few weeks into the season because he wasn’t playing every game due to an import player rule limiting two import players playing per game. Quebec had three.

Kucherov finished his first year in North America by averaging nearly two points per game (33 GP, 29-34-63).

Wanting to play is not a character issue, and Kucherov has shown nothing but passion for his all-around game since being drafted. There are zero concerns about his mental approach.

Last week the Syracuse Crunch were the beneficiaries of Kucherov’s journey to North American professional hockey when the rookie posted a hat trick in his second career AHL game. He was named First Star in the Crunch’s 5-1 win over Rochester. He also earned our Prospect of the Week.

The idea that Kucherov isn’t interested in North American hockey – as once was the prevailing thought – is preposterous now. At the Lightning’s training camp in September, rumors were circling that the KHL would come hard after Kucherov should he fail to make the NHL out of camp.

I asked Kucherov about the possibility and he made sure I knew he was not interested: “No. No KHL. No.”

With that speculation over, we can get on to more important things like the next “planking” or “Tebowing” craze, called “Kucheroving” (pictured).

Kucherov projects as a skilled scoring liner at the NHL level capable of points in bunches. He has an NHL shot, vision, hockey I.Q., and playmaking (maybe the most underrated of his skills). He just needs to bulk up and get experience.

In the meantime, Syracuse fans will enjoy the show.

2013-2014 Prospect of the Week winners:

October 9: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 1: Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, (Salavat Yulaev, KHL, Russia).
September 24: Adam Erne, W, Tampa Bay (NHL) and Quebec (QMJHL)