The Russian Factor. It has become a part of the drafting lexicon in the NHL, used to explain why a talented player isn’t drafted as soon as they should be. This didn’t scare Steve Yzerman in 2011, though, when he used the Lightning’s 58th overall pick to select Nikita Kucherov. The 19 year old has drawn comparisons to Marian Hossa and was touted as a 1st round talent if not for his heritage. The risky draft pick seemed like a coup when Kucherov joined the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. He was in North America, he’d get acclimated to the style of play, and he’d become a force for the Lightning in future years. Perhaps that was wishful thinking.
Fast forward to yesterday when Stephane Leroux of RDS tweeted (in French) that Remparts GM Patrick Roy has Kucherov on the trading block. Simon Larouche followed up on Leroux’s tweet with the news that three general managers confirmed Kucherov’s status. Larouche also called Kucherov “pretty lazy” since his arrival. In 6 games played, Kucherov has 3 goals and 7 assists for 10 points. If only we were all so productive when we weren’t giving 100%! However, Larouche finds his production “not that impressive” given that his linemate is Mikhail Grigorenko, the 12th overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres this past June.
This may be true, but there’s another factor that might be playing into this. Quebec has three import players on their roster: Nick Sorensen, Kucherov, and Grigorenko. CHL teams are only allowed to have two in the lineup at a time. All three players are scoring more than a point per game, so there’s a chance Kucherov could just be the odd man out. However, if the accusations of laziness are true, we could be seeing a premature end to Kucherov’s North American hockey career. If traded, he can choose to return to Russia instead of reporting to his new team. The situation rings familiar of Alexander Radulov’s path: a Russian player with unmistakable talent who never could stick in North America. Here’s hoping that Kucherov finds his way and sticks around long enough to make an impact in the NHL.