Nikita Kucherov has been the best player in the NHL this season, and it’s really not that close.
The Hart trophy is his to lose with a dozen or so games to go. (He was front and center in this conversation last year too.) And he’s been the main cog in the unstoppable machine that is the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning. A team that can still mathematically tie or break the current record for most points for a team in a single season (132).
Comparing Kucherov’s current point total with season leaders from recent years will show you just how uncommon of a run this has been for the 25 year-old Russian. Kucherov and the Lightning have 12 games left on their schedule. If he were to sit out all 12, his current point total of 111 would still be the highest we have seen in the NHL since 2009-10 (as long as nobody else this season passed him).
And assuming Kucherov does play in those 12 contests, and keeps up his current gaudy pace of 1.59 points per game, he may be pushing a season total of 130 points. Only 2 players have finished a season with more than 125 in the last 20 years- Joe Thornton (2005-06), and Jaromir Jagr (1998-99).
A Season For the Record Books
If you need more proof that this season for Kucherov is a rare one these days, here’s a few things to help put it in perspective:
Kucherov leads the league with 111 points. Patrick Kane is second with 98. The difference between the two is the same as the difference between Kane and the player in 9th place, Brad Marchand.
Kucherov leads the league in assists with 78. Blake Wheeler is second with 65. The difference between the two is the same as the difference between Wheeler and the player in 12th place, Jonathan Huberdeau.
Kucherov leads the league in points per game, with 1.59.
Kucherov is the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1996-97 to reach 100 total points in 62 games or fewer. He’s also the only Lightning player to have two 100-point seasons.
He’s the best in the game offensively right now, and he’s put some distance between himself and the rest of the league. As if things couldn’t get any better in Tampa, his contract is a work of art to boot. Kucherov signed an 8-year contract extension with the club this past offseason, with an AAV of $9.5 million. So not cheap, but still outside the top seven or eight guys in the league. And based on his production, you could call that a steal. His cap hit next season puts him on par with guys like Evgeni Malkin (70 points this season) and Jamie Benn (46 points this season).
Kucherov may end up this season with as many points as those two combined. Lightning fans, talk about sittin’ pretty.
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