Welcome back to Playoff Player Grades! Today, the focus of the blog is Nikita Kucherov.
Heading into these playoffs, there were lots of unwarranted questions about Kucherov’s ability to deliver in the playoffs from those who don’t follow the Tampa Bay Lightning too closely. “He’s too hot-headed,” they’d say. “This isn’t a player who has shown that he can get the job done,” others would remark. Of course, none of those people took note of the fact that Kucherov had delivered point-per-game playoff performances on deep runs in both 2015-16 and 2017-18…
Nevertheless, any questions were quickly answered by Kucherov on this 2020 run. He performed admirably, tallying 34 points in 25 playoff games to lead the Lightning and the league. The next closest non-Bolt on the scoring list notched 26 points during the postseason; Kucherov was that much better than the rest.
The remarkable thing about Kucherov’s run is that he did it without much fanfare. Victor Hedman and Brayden Point seemed to dominate the Conn Smythe conversation, with Kucherov left to go about his league-leading business quietly. It’s sort of been the story of the 27-year-old’s career; outside of Tampa, he doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves for being one of the league’s undisputed best.
Beyond the lofty totals, it’s impossible to ignore that Kucherov also delivered in the big moments. His game-winning goal with 8.8 seconds left against the New York Islanders to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final was more than pivotal. When the Lightning needed him, Kucherov was there.
With all that in mind, it’s not hard to see where this is going. Kucherov delivered a historically good postseason run for the Lightning.