When you think of the Tampa Bay Lightning, one name usually comes to mind, and that name is Steven Stamkos. As the best player on the Lightning for the past few years, it is easy to see why. Despite a number of injuries, Stamkos is still one of the best players in the NHL and nothing will take that from him.

However, there is a new sheriff in Hillsborough County and his name is Nikita Kucherov. The Russian forward is third in the NHL in points with 98 and has potential to get over 100 with two games left. He could also reach the 40-goal plateau in that span as well.
Because of Kucherov, Tampa has potential to win their division still. But they need help and they most likely will need to win their next two games against Buffalo and Carolina. Winning the division would help the Lightning because it would give them home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs which would bode well for them.

The Expectations Versus Reality

The thing about Kucherov is the expectations were him to be a goal scorer. He was probably penciled in for maybe 30-35 goals this season because he has silky smooth hands. Not only has he reached his goal potential, but he has exceeded all expectations when it comes to dishing out the puck. Kucherov has 60 assists this season which shatters his previous career high of 45.

Kucherov is one big reason for the success of the Lightning this season. He has been fun to watch and has carried the team this season with his play. No one expected Kucherov to be one of the leaders. That job was supposed to do to the likes of Stamkos and Ryan Callahan.

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While it seems unlikely that Kucherov catches McDavid in the points race. It is very likely that he gets second or third in the league in scoring. My gut feeling says second. And Kucherov could become the leader of this Lightning offense the rest of this season. He is on fire and is playing the best hockey of his NHL career to this point.

Making The Case for The Hart Trophy

This case is easy to make. Kucherov is third in the league in points. He has been a dominating force and is a big reason why the Lightning have played so well. His play has been a big key to Tampa’s success. Kucherov will need to continue to be one of the players that they need moving forward if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.Tampa really needs Kucherov to carry his regular season play into the playoffs.

If Kucherov falls off the Lightning will be in huge trouble. And Tampa is not a deep enough team to overcome their top scorer all of a sudden falling off. Especially if it also drags down the production of Steven Stamkos as well.

But that was all projecting the worst case scenario because there is no sign of Kucherov slowing down. He has started a great season for himself and I can see him working hard to finish it with a Stanley Cup. And he and the Lightning have a great shot of doing it this year with the depth that they have.

In Conclusion: A Looking Forward Statement

Making the case for Kucherov is fun because you can learn to appreciate the production he has put up this season. Kucherov is a true talent and deserves to be recognized. This year has been somewhat of a coming out party for him. The question that I have, will he be able to maintain this moving forward? Or will this just be a one-year wonder?

The answer largely depends on whether or not the NHL continues to get the same goal-scoring pace it had this season. Offense is up in the NHL this year, and it is helping with some of these point numbers. The question remains, will the defenses adjust? Or is this a byproduct of smaller goalie pads?

If everything stays the same, there is no reason to believe that this type of production cannot keep up. Kucherov is just 24 years old and should be reaching the prime of his career in his mid to late 20’s. With that said, assuming good health, he could get to 120-130 points in a season. He has one of the best centers in the game to help him along towards that mark. I do not put it past him.

– Kevin Gesterling is a Staff Writer for FPC NHL. He covers the NHL. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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