Nikita Kucherov is set to make his NHL debut tonight. Photo: Frederick Breedon (Getty)
Amidst a rash of injuries and a scoring drought, the Tampa Bay Lightning have called up highly-touted forward prospect Nikita Kucherov from their American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, and the 20-year-old Russian winger will likely make his NHL debut tonight as Tampa Bay host the New York Rangers.
Kucherov, a second-round choice of the Lightning from the 2011 draft, has been on a tear so far this year in the AHL.
Through 17 games, Kucherov has notched 13 goals and 11 points. His 24 points are second among all AHL players, and he’s lived up to ESPN’s billing of him as the top AHL prospect. Of course, that kind of scoring prowess is why Tampa Bay used a second-round draft choice on him. Last year, he coasted through the QMJHL, posting a nearly two-points-per-game pace with 53 points (26 goals, 27 assists) in 27 games. For all intents and purposes, Kucherov is a classic Russian prospect- great hands, great speed and he can score in bunches, even if he is a tad undersized at 5’11″, 176.
With that in mind, the addition of Kucherov to the Lightning lineup couldn’t come at a better time. Since losing All-Star goals-scorer Steven Stamkos two weeks ago in a 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay has struggled to light the lamp. They’re 2-4-0 since losing Stamkos, including losses in their last four. During that four-game skid, the Lightning have notched only six total goals.
Tampa Bay also lost winger Ryan Malone to an upper-body injury recently, forcing their hand into calling up Kucherov. According to practice reports from NHL.com’s At the Rink, Kucherov will skate on a line with Alex Killorn and Teddy Purcell.