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Monday, Nov 20, 2017
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Lightning's Steve Yzerman: Nikita Kucherov 'wants to be great'

If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

Kucherov, 24, joined Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Keith Tkachuk as the only players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his team's first six games. Kucherov has seven, including two in Monday's 3-2 win over Detroit. Yzerman racked up six in the first six games of the 1988-89 season, when he finished with a career-high 65.

What's that like?

"Honestly, I don't remember much," Yzerman said with a chuckle. "It was a long time ago."

But Yzerman has enjoyed watching Kucherov's record run, which has sparked the Lightning's 5-1 start heading into Tuesday's game in New Jersey.

"He's a really fun, exciting player to watch," Yzerman said. "He's got some special skills. From a team's perspective, he's good in all facets of the game, both ends of the rink. He's equally great as a goal scorer and playmaker. And he's playing hard. He's very motivated, very competitive. He's been a significant factor in every game."

Yzerman isn't surprised, having noticed Kucherov's drive ever since the Russian was selected in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft.

"He's been that way since the day we met him," Yzerman said. "He's driven, he's always talked about ways of improving. In juniors, basically his response was, 'Tell me what I need to do to get to the NHL.' When he got here, he said, 'Tell me what I need to do,' and he's goes out and he does.

"He's a very intelligent guy and now he's in his early 20s, he's been around a bit. He knows what he needs to do, what he wants to do. He wants to be great."

So what's the ceiling for Kucherov, who scored 40 goals last season? Can he reach 50, 60?

"The sky is the limit for him," Yzerman said.

Devils coach John Hynes, who coached Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, said he sees similarities between the former league MVP and Kucherov.

"I think both guys are excellent with the puck," Hynes said. "When you look at Kucherov, the way he can score, even the power play goal (Monday), he can change the angle of his shot. The little subtle stick, skill things and deception in their game, that they can do in high pace, under pressure is one of the reasons why both are so deadly offensively. They're difficult to check. They have deception, they change speeds. They can change angles on shots really quick. They're a challenge to contain."

More from skate: It looks like veteran backup Peter Budaj may finally make his season debut against the Devils. With starter Andrei Vasilevskiy the only goalie at the skate, it would appear he won't be playing his seventh straight. Expected scratches J.T. Brown, Andrej Sustr and Gabriel Dumont were skating, as was Slater Koekkoek. The lineup won't be announced until tonight.. Former Lightning center Brian Boyle, diagnosed with cancer in September, isn't playing yet, but is progressing well and scheduled to work out on his own later this week, Hynes said.


 

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