Nikita Kucherov has emerged as one of the NHL’s best. Having the league-lead in points (66) is not something to take lightly. Kucherov has gone from an above-average rookie to a superstar in less than five seasons.
Kucherov made his NHL debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 25, 2013. On his first career shot, Kucherov scored his first NHL goal. This was a significant accomplishment, and one that came against the great Henrik Lundqvist. Kucherov couldn’t have dreamed up a better start to his rookie campaign.
As the season went on, the rookie produced eight goals and three assists through his first 27 games. In his final 25 games, the youngster found the back of the net only once while adding six assists. While a respectable outing, this compares nothing to the player he is today.
Is that really Nikita Kucherov?
(Al Bello/Getty Images)
In 2013-2014, Kucherov entered the league with a slightly different image. Yes he was younger, but as a rookie he actually started with the “Bolts” as number 56. No other player wore number 86 on the Lightning, so why 56?
He couldn’t speak English well and 86 turned into 56
As the youngest on the team, Kucherov didn’t get a choice
Stamkos was hurt, had a good idea, he got 86 turned to 56
I think all of us are grateful that number 56 has turned into the 86 we love to watch. After changing his number to 86, Kucherov has only been better each year. His points-per-game (P/GP) average has sored higher and higher each year.
Points Per Game
The smoothest of them all…
Kucherov has become one of, if not the most valuable assets the Lightning have. The fans love to watch this guy, the players are made better for his presence on the ice, and the opponents fear him. Thus Kucherov has established himself as an elite player, a superstar so coveted in the NHL.
Kucherov is always a “plus”
Everywhere Nikita has gone, he is a “plus” to have on the team. Throughout his whole career he has been a player you want on the ice. In every season of Kucherov’s career he has finished with a plus rating. While he has become a superstar, he has maintained his level of play in his defensive end. Continuing this stunning stat, Kucherov finished out last season at +13. He is currently at +12 a little over halfway through this season. With as many goals as his line scores and the dominance they have shown, look for him to finish in the high 20s.
Proven in the playoffs
Not only is Kucherov elite in the regular season, he has proven to be lethal in the playoffs. In his 45 games of playoff hockey, he has “lit the lamp” 22 times and produced 20 assists.
Only 24, this guy has everything every team dreams of.
There is no limit to how far Nikita can go. It is almost certain that he will lead his team to the Stanley Cup, if not this year than in years to come. Add guys like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to his team and there you find the NHL’s best team.
Featured image courtesy of Mike Carlson/Getty Images.
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As we close in on the final quarter of the 2018 regular season, it’s time to take a look at the Calder Memorial Trophy race. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the award is given to the most proficient player in his first year in the NHL. Past winners of the trophy include some names you’ve probably heard before, such as Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin.
Lets take a look at this season’s current front-runners:
1. Mathew Barzal: C – New York Islanders
Photo from msgnetworks.com
Barzal was a first round pick of the Isles back in 2015 where they took him 16th overall. He currently sits 16th in the points race in the NHL with 53 points. He’s ahead of household names such as Patrick Kane, Brad Marchand and even Tyler Seguin.
Barzal is a large reason that the Islanders are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. He’s third in points on the team behind John Tavares (59) and Josh Bailey (57). He’s provided an additional spark to the Islanders as he’s cemented himself as a reliable second-line center between Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee. He leads all rookies in assists with 37, which is 10 more than the next rookie Will Butcher of the New Jersey Devils.
2. Brock Boeser: RW – Vancouver Canucks
Photo from Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press
Boeser was drafted 23rd overall in the same draft as Barzal, the 2015 draft. Boeser is one of the lone bright spots for the Canucks this season. He leads his team in points with 46, which is nine more than the veteran in second, Thomas Vanek. Boeser has five points over his last five games and participated in NHL All-Star weekend.
At the All-Star weekend he took home the MVP award after the All-star game and also won the accuracy-shooting competition. Boeser has closed the gap between himself and Barzal for the Calder with his play and accomplishments of late.
3. Yanni Gourde: C – Tampa Bay Lightning
Photo from lightningstrikehockey.com
Gourde is apart of the extremely efficient Tampa offense that leads the league in scoring with 3.56 goals per game. He went undrafted but signed a one-year AHL contract with the Syracuse Crunch in 2014. This is his first full season playing up with the Lightning and he hasn’t disappointed. They’ve re-signed him to a two-year contract worth $2 million.
He sits third in rookie points with 38 and sixth on the Lightning in total points. He leads all rookies with a +23 in the +/- category and is only +2 behind Victor Hedman (+25) for the team lead. His stellar +/- shows the positive impact he’s had when on the ice while contributing from the third line.
In most years you’ll see the Calder Memorial Trophy be awarded to a forward, but in some cases that hasn’t been true. Three times in the last 14 seasons the award was given to a blueliner. Aaron Ekblad in 2014-2015 with the Florida Panthers, Tyler Myers in 2009-2010 with the Buffalo Sabres and Barret Jackman in 2002-2003 with the St. Louis Blues. Two rookie defenseman have turned heads this season and deserve a good, hard look before the award winner is decided.
1. Will Butcher: D – New Jersey Devils
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Butcher was drafted back in 2013 by the Colorado Avalanche in the fifth round, 123rd overall. This season he was given the chance to play in the big league with the Devils and has run with the job.
Butcher leads all Devil defenseman in assist (27) and points (29). The most astounding fact is that he’s done it while playing on the third defensive line and with only 16:09 average-time-on-ice (ATOI). His ATOI is the eighth least out of nine New Jersey defenders per espn.com.
2. Charlie McAvoy: D – Boston Bruins
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
McAvoy was taken off the board at 14th overall in the 2016 draft by the Bruins. He played last season for the team in the playoffs as they were shorthanded at the defensive position and was a pleasant surprise as he provided a huge spark to the team. In six games played last season, all in the playoffs, he tallied three assists and logged heavy ice-time.
This season he’s played in 46 of the team’s 50 games and has accumulated 25 points. He plays on the top defensive unit along side Zdeno Chara with 22:43 ATOI, which is over four minutes more than the next rookie skater. The Bruins have earned at least one point in 20 of their last 21 games. McAvoy’s stellar play on defense, indicated by his +19 rating (2nd best among rookies), has directly contributed to this astonishing streak the team is riding.
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The Tampa Bay Lightning keep dominating the NHL, and it comes at the hands of a very balanced attack. Tampa Bay is getting it done on both the offense and defensive side of the puck, and the goaltending play of Andrei Vasilevskiy has been at an elite level. If the Lightning keep this up there is a good chance that they will be hoisting the Stanley Cup at the end of the season.
(Photo By: Karen May Martin)
Part of the reason the Lightning keep dominating is that of their elite offense. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point headline the point leaders for a team that is averaging an NHL best 3.7 goals per game. Tampa is a team that goes four lines deep and can score at any time.
On the power play, this season the Lightning have been excellent, scoring an NHL second best 25.2 percent. They are handling teams, not because of the volume of shots, but because of the quality of the shots, they have taken. Tampa ranks 12th in the NHL in shots per game with 31.3. Tampa is also doing a good job not turning the puck over with a takeaway to giveaway ratio of .9; this ranks 9th in the NHL.
Even though Tampa has a majority of the stats to back them up, the most significant reason they are playing the way they are is because of the team’s chemistry. Tampa Bay’s players take pride in playing team hockey. It is a testament to guys like Kucherov and Stamkos who have set aside their name to better team performance. In turn, this has increased their productivity tremendously.
For most teams, a great offense means an average defense, but Tampa has both great offense and great defense, and it is part of the reason why the Lightning keep dominating. The Lightning are second in goals given up with 92 and are ranked ninth in shots against. The defense does a good job keeping Vasilevskiy clean, and it is a big part of his success.
Defensemen Anton Stralman, Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev are the headliners of Tampa’s break out defense. Stralman leads the Lighting in plus/minus with a plus 27 rating. Hedman leads all defensemen in points with 29 so far this season. Sergachev might be one of the most underrated breakout players of the season. At just 19 years of age, Sergachev has 25 points and a plus/minus of plus 17.
The Defense of the Tampa Bay Lightning has done a fantastic job so far this season. With an amazing offense in front of them, they have taken their role and excelled with it. The defense is a major reason as to why the Lightning have taken the NHL by storm.
(Photo By: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Andrei Vasilevskiy has overtaken as the full-time starting goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning season and has played at a very high level. Vasilevskiy’s 1.95 goals against average is good for second best in the NHL along with his .937 save percentage. Andrei leads the league in shutouts as well with six so far on the year.
At 23 years of age, Vasilevskiy should be around to stop shots for the Lightning for a long time. His record stands at 26-5-1 and is as much a testament to the team around him as well as him individually. As the season goes on Vasilevskiy seems to be getting stronger as well as the offense and defense around him.
It’s understandable to devote all the attention to tonight’s expansion draft. Lest we not forget, however, that the NHL Awards are happening too.
Perhaps it is mostly because the Vegas Golden Knights’ selections occur during the presentation, but this year’s awards are must-see as a hockey fan. From a heated Norris race to multiple options for the best coach and general manager, the finalists well deserve the recognition. These were tough decisions, but there are very few choices where the voters could err.
The postseason stat awards are already apparent: Connor McDavid collects the Art Ross trophy for the most points, Sidney Crosby the Maurice Richard award for the most goals and Braden Holtby the William Jennings nomination for allowing the fewest tallies.
Off the ice, Columbus’ Nick Foligno bagged two awards: the Mark Messier Leadership Award and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders won the NHL Foundation Player Award.
Will these talented players receive more hardware than they already have? Find out below for the official predictions from The Game Haus.
Hart Trophy – Most Valuable Player
Connor McDavid. Photo courtesy of NHL.com
Oilers C Connor McDavid
Penguins C Sidney Crosby
Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky
Crosby has history and hardware on his side in this race. The Pittsburgh star is a two-time Hart winner in 2007 and 2014 while collecting three Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Awards. McDavid and Bobrovsky are first-time nominees, with the latter reaching as high as fifth in the voting back in 2013.
The Columbus netminder had a phenomenal season, but this is a two-man race between McDavid and Crosby. McDavid bested Crosby in points even though he scored 14 less goals. The first 100-point season in Edmonton since 1995-96 is no small feat. Sid the Kid was still elite this season with 89 points.
In the end, the award is for the most valuable player. McDavid was absent on the score sheet for consecutive games just twice this year, registering points in 70 games. Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl enjoyed banner years, while Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle also performed well. McDavid’s 70 assists helped everyone’s cause, and his team reached the playoffs because of it.
Prediction: Connor McDavid
Ted Lindsay Award – NHLPA’s Most Outstanding Player
Oilers C Connor McDavid
Penguins C Sidney Crosby
Sharks D Brent Burns
This award seems redundant since it’s basically the MVP with a different voting pool. The only difference from the Hart is the addition of Burns, who had 76 points and 320 shots this season. Burns’ feats will be explained further in the Norris category, but he is undoubtedly worthy of a most outstanding player award. He makes this award tougher to choose.
As mentioned before, McDavid and Crosby each have worthy cases. Crosby is seeking his fourth Lindsay award, which would tie his fellow Penguin Mario Lemieux for second-most all-time. McDavid could be the third overall Oiler to win and the first since Mark Messier in 1990.
In the end, though, this is the same award as the Hart. It’s a difference of voter opinion, but it’s hard to say one clearly deserves one award while another does the other. With that in mind, this goes to the same player as the Hart, who overall was the best player this season.
Prediction: Connor McDavid
Norris Trophy – Best Defenseman
Lightning D Victor Hedman
Senators D Erik Karlsson
Sharks D Brent Burns
Finally, an award that McDavid can’t win! Instead, we get three players who were the backbone of their teams. Although the award technically is for the best defenseman, players over the years get more accolades for their offensive work as well. All three have played that part well this season.
Hedman has never made it to the top three in Norris voting. His 72 points this season and 53.4 percent Corsi rating have vaulted him there. Averaging 24:30 minutes of ice time is stellar. However, he’s not as talented offensively or defensively as Burns or Karlsson, so he likely won’t win.
From here’s it’s a matter of preference. Burns led the league in shots; Ray Bourque was the last defenseman to achieve that mark 22 years ago. Twenty-nine goals and almost 25 minutes of playing time per game are insane, too. He is an impressive shot blocker and a prime two-way talent.
If the award had voting through the postseason, Karlsson would win in a landslide. His postseason performance while injured was tremendous, and his 71 points, 26:50 TOI and 201 blocks are as well. However, the voting doesn’t include postseason performance. Therefore, based on a slightly better season, Karlsson will have to wait to grab his third Norris trophy.
Prediction: Brent Burns
Vezina Trophy – Best Goaltender
Canadiens G Carey Price
Captials G Braden Holtby
Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky
This category features the top two netminders across most of the basic statistics and another who had a 10-game winning streak this season. This is the hardest player award to predict based on how close two nominees are.
First off, Carey Price will likely not win. That winning streak is impressive, and a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage are too. However, they dwarf in comparison to Holtby and Bobrovsky. While he carried his team to an Atlantic Division title, Washington and Columbus had better seasons. Price was great, his competition is better.
As for that competition, it’s difficult to firmly say one was better than the other. Consider Holtby’s stats: league-leading 42 wins and nine shutouts alongside a 2.07 GAA and .925 save percentage. Now, match them with Bobrovsky’s numbers: 41 wins and seven shutouts, with a league-leading 2.06 GAA and .931 save percentage. How do you decide who was better when the stats are so close?
The deciding factor may come down to the Bob’s 14-game winning streak in December. He had another seven-game unbeaten stretch. Holtby’s best was a 14-game stretch without losing in regulation. This isn’t the best tiebreaker, but voters may have put more weight.
Prediction: Sergei Bobrovsky
Calder Trophy – Best Rookie
Auston Matthews. Photo courtesy of NHL.com
Jets RW Patrik Laine
Maple Leafs C Auston Matthews
Blue Jackets D Zach Werenski
While the Hart and the Vezina are close, this one is more clear-cut. Matthews was the favorite the moment Toronto drafted him first overall in last year’s draft, but Laine and Werenski made it tougher for voters this season.
Laine scored 36 goals in his inaugural season with Winnipeg, leading the team and finishing second amongst rookies. He did it all at 18 years old. Werenski, meanwhile, was quietly the best rookie defenseman and a quality blue liner in general. He notched 47 points and was a +17 on the ice. He had more points his rookie season than Rick Nash. That’s insane to realize.
Unfortunately for both, Matthews had a special year in the NHL. This was apparent the moment he scored four times on Opening Night. He tallied 40 goals and 69 points on the season, leading the Leafs into the playoffs this season. This is an easy choice.
Prediction: Auston Matthews
Selke Award – Best Defensive Forward
Wild C Mikko Koivu
Bruins C Patrice Bergeron
Ducks C Ryan Kesler
There’s a mix of former nominees and newcomers for the Selke. Bergeron has won it three times and nominated three more times. Kesler won in 2011 and has finished in the top three in five total instances. Koivu is a first-time finalist who’s finished as high as fourth in voting.
Koivu had more blocked shots than points with 65 and 58 points. Kesler won over 57 percent of his faceoffs and ranked third in the NHL as a forward with an average time of 21:18 on the ice. He is likely the toughest one of the bunch to go against one-on-one.
The toughest out of all of them this year, however, as Bergeron, who did everything on the ice. He may have had fewer points, but he had more faceoff wins than Kesler (1,089 to be exact) and was more efficient in the circles. Bergeron goes up against many top lines and creates havoc on the ice. He can match Bob Gainey as the only four-time Selke winners.
Prediction: Patrice Bergeron
Other NHL Awards Predictions
Lady Byng Award for Most Gentlemanly Player – Wild C Mikael Granlund. Every nominee was a first-timer, so this is a toss-up. However, if you go 27 games without being called for a penalty, you need some kind of recognition.
Masterson Trophy for Dedication to Hockey – Senators G Craig Anderson. Easy money. His wife overcame cancer and he was lights out during her battle. The best story of the NHL this past year had a happy ending and follows up with a happy epilogue.
Jack Adams Award for Best Head Coach – Toronto’s Mike Babcock. All three candidates (Todd McLellan of Edmonton and John Tortorella of Columbus) turned around mediocre teams into playoff contenders. But did anyone expect the Leafs to go to the playoffs? Babcock created the right winning culture.
NHL General Manager of the Year – Nashville’s David Poile. His team’s run to its first Stanley Cup Final didn’t count in voting; it didn’t need to anyway. His offseason acquisition of P.K. Subban electrified the team.
Feature image courtesy of Cali Sports News
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