Fellow players in awe of Kucherov’s relentlessness

A finalist for the 2023-24 Ted Lindsay Award, Nikita Kucherov’s dedication has earned praise from former Tampa Bay Lightning teammates Luke Schenn and Ross Colton.

Fellow players in awe of Kucherov’s relentlessness

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When asked about Nikita Kucherov, one of three 2023-24 Ted Lindsay Award finalists, former teammates Luke Schenn and Ross Colton shared similar memories of the motivated Tampa Bay Lightning forward.  

Mere hours after the Lightning had celebrated their second consecutive Stanley Cup triumph in 2021, Schenn found himself in conversation with Kucherov not long before sunrise.

The veteran defenceman laughed at the recollection of the post-celebratory discussion.

“I remember when we won the second Cup in Tampa we were obviously up late that night and I was talking with Kuch around three or four in the morning,” remembered Schenn.

“He just had 32 points in the playoffs and he was already not satisfied with how his playoffs went. He was already thinking about training, getting back on the ice and figuring out how he could be better.”

That approach to the game and honing his craft was something Colton, who played three seasons with Kucherov in Tampa Bay, also witnessed first-hand.

Colton, who won a Cup with the Lightning in 2021 and was part of the team that eventually lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Colorado Avalanche in 2022, recalled one of the stranger moments from the latter experience.

The forward, who, in an ironic twist, was dealt to the Avalanche two days after the Game 6 defeat, recalled a scene that left him somewhat speechless less than 10 days after the curtain closed on the 2022 NHL season.

“I remember when the trade was announced, Kuch was already on the ice, a week after we lost.

“I thought, ‘Wow, what is he doing?’ And then you realize just how committed he is to the game through his work ethic. You see the result of the extra effort he puts in.”

In playing with the Lightning, Colton took immediate notice of Kucherov’s talents.

“He’s always working on his craft,” said Colton.

“Kuch, being so dominant on the powerplay, is always working on his stickhandling in practice. He is always looking to up his game.”

Schenn, who has since played with the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs before landing in his current home on the Nashville Predators blueline, also marveled at Kucherov’s unwavering focus.

“The way he sees the game is unbelievable,” praised Schenn.

“He quietly always puts in the work. He works on things, goes over things and does everything he can to be better.

“His dedication as to how he can get better is unreal.”

That formula for success was certainly there for all to see in 2023-24.

Kucherov set a new single-season franchise scoring record with 144 points en route to his second career Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer.

He tied for the league lead in assists with 100 and became the fifth player in NHL history to reach the century mark in the category, while establishing a new NHL standard for most assists by a winger. The 58th overall pick from the 2011 NHL Draft factored on 50% of his team’s goals this season, just the 12th time in NHL history a player has achieved the feat.

Given all his accomplishments this season and praise from fellow teammates, it’s no surprise that Kucherov has landed alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Auston Matthews as one of the three finalists for Ted Lindsay Award the only NHL Award voted on by the players themselves, recognizing the player they deem to be the most outstanding during the regular season.

“Once you come to the NHL, become one of the best players in the league and have all this success, a lot of people might think it comes easily to them, but the best players are just that because they do the extra work,” lauded Schenn.

“It’s based on what they want to achieve in the upcoming season, not what they did in the one previous.”

Colton, who played in his fourth NHL campaign in 2023-24, views Kucherov in the same light.

“When you get asked about guys of his talent, people wonder if it is God-given talent or if it just comes naturally to them, and I always tell them that’s not the case at all.

“Guys like Kuch put in so much work in the offseason, which is amazing.”

Playing against No. 86 presents its own set of challenges.

“Kuch everything is crazy,” started Schenn.

“You watch him on the powerplay and in practice, everything he does is deception. Every time he looks one way, you know that’s probably not where the puck is going. The way he sees the ice and is able to slow guys down he can beat you with his hands and his skill it’s that ability that makes him the opposite of most guys.”

Schenn went up against Kucherov in the 2022-23 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Toronto and Tampa Bay met in the First Round.

“Sometimes, you watch him and he’s not moving fast.

“You think, ‘Okay, I’m just going to go to him.’ But that’s what he wants. He wants to draw guys to him because he’s so good at passing through you or finding his teammates who are open.”

Trying to narrow down Kucherov’s most impressive skill is no easy task.

Schenn pondered the question before landing on an answer.

“The most mind-blowing thing about playing against him is when he’s on the half-wall. Wherever he is looking, he has three other options where he is not looking and it’s going to one of those spots. Trying to figure out which one is nearly impossible.

“His hockey IQ is off the charts.”

It’s also on the radar of his fellow players, who voted him as the Ted Lindsay Award recipient in 2019.

Colton is hardly surprised Kucherov’s name is on the shortlist once again.

“When I played with Kuch, I looked at him as a finesse guy. He played this slower style of game, but in reality, he was going a million miles an hour. He slows the play down and he has great vision.

“He is one of the game’s best for a reason.”

Kucherov is also back in a familiar place.

After Tampa Bay lost in the First Round the to the Florida Panthers this postseason, the soon-to-be 31-year-old was quickly back on skates.

“With Kuch, it’s coming out more and more just how much he skates during the offseason,” shared Schenn.

“He’s already been on the ice for a few weeks. I’m pretty sure he skates two hours a day, five days a week in Tampa all summer, working on puck touches every day and things like that. He’s on the ice more than anyone, just working at everything.”

The motivation behind it is anything but self-serving.

“Kuch understands that if he finds success it helps the team,” noted Schenn.

“If a player like him has a few off games, you know he’s coming back with a five-point game next time out. That’s the scary part when it comes to being on the opposing team.”

The 2023-24 Ted Lindsay Award recipient will be revealed June 27 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.