On October 2, Nikita Kucherov took some time to talk to Igor Eronko of Sport-express.ru about his former CSKA team, Nikita Gusev’s potential landing spot, the Russian players he watches and imitates, and preparing for next season. And more!
If you use this translated text in any way, please credit Igor Eronko of Sport-express.ru, and original translation to English by Igor Nikonov (@nikonov_igor) and Natalia (@forgotten_night) of Raw Charge.
“I felt sorry for the guys in CSKA”
Igor Eronko: Now, if Nikita Gusev comes to Tampa, he’ll only do it as an unrestricted free agent. And Igor Ozhiganov is of interest to the Leafs. [Kucherov played with Gusev and Ozhiganov in minor hockey.]
Nikita Kucherov: I still hope that if Gusev goes to the NHL, as whatever kind of agent, he'll come to Tampa. And seeing Ozhiganov would be nice too. I'd like to have them both here.
Eronko: So invite them.
Kucherov: I can't just make them do something. When we talk, I tell them what's new in Tampa, what's good and what's bad. But they like the KHL for now and want to play there. It's fine with me—I will support whatever decision they make. We've been friends since childhood. If they decide to leave for the NHL though, I'd rather it be Tampa.
Eronko: Have you seen the new CSKA? They've changed their style.
Kucherov: What's CSKA for me? SKA holds my rights in the KHL (laughs). To be honest, I haven't really watched them, just the highlights. But I've seen a picture: the team is playing and about 15 people are standing behind the boards, watching the game because they're out of the lineup. I felt sorry for them. There are a lot of good guys in CSKA than can not only play in the KHL, but also become leaders in other clubs. Instead, they're warming the bench.
There's a great guy there, Andrei Kuzmenko, a very talented player; I was surprised to find out he's been sent to the VHL. I'd advise him to go to the NHL rather than sit there. I think he would succeed here. I don't understand what kind of rotation they have there. Why some play and others don't.
Eronko: They're trying to give everyone game practice.
Kucherov: But it's hard. One game you're in, the next two you're out, which means you get neither proper practice nor the necessary confidence. Instead of playing and thinking about your tactics, you just try to avoid any mistakes, because once you make one, you'll start worrying about getting benched again.
It would have been better if they had loaned some of the players. It would have strengthened other teams and instantly boosted the KHL's level. Why keep 15 people outboard when you can reinforce five more clubs? What’s the good of the championship if some teams easily defeat all the others?
It’s hard for me to talk about it because I don’t see what is happening and how, but it’s obvious that teams like Amur or Spartak are in great difficulty. And I feel sorry for them, because what they need is those guys sitting on the bench in CSKA, those who would be able to improve themselves and strengthen the league if they joined the other teams.
“Ovechkin is the only one who tried to fight for justice”
Eronko: Is it true that Ovechkin picked his own partners at the World Cup and sometimes surprised you with new combinations?
Kucherov: No. I don’t know where you got this information. The coaching staff makes all decisions, what does he have to do with it? I don’t think he would have done that, even if he could. He’s a team player like that. It was my first time on the same team with him, and it was great to see how much he cared about it.
He doesn’t care who scores and who passes; he cares if he wins. And it seems to me that he’s ready to play with anyone just to represent Team Russia and put on its jersey, whatever the tournament is.
Eronko: Did you learn anything from Ovechkin?
Kucherov: You can pick up a lot from him. The passion he has every time he hits the ice – eyes ablaze on every shift. He has a knack for the net: Sasha is always where the puck is going to be. It is extremely difficult to learn.
Eronko: Ovechkin was accused of being unpatriotic because he had promised to come to the Olympics but took his words back.
Kucherov: He’s basically the only one who tried to fight for justice and get the guys an opportunity to go to the Olympics. It didn’t work, but at least he has tried his best. And blaming him for not going is foolish and unfair. If the NHL has set such rules, we’ll have to abide by them. Of course it’s disappointing. Everyone wants to be at the Olympics. It doesn’t happen that often. But no one should blame Ovechkin. He wasn’t the one to set the rules.
“I hope Sergachev makes it so that there will be more Russians on the team”
Eronko: Considering your current status, could you let yourself relax a bit during the training camp and not compete with the rookies?
Kucherov: Because of the experience, I certainly feel comfortable and confident. There are younger guys—I try to help them if they need it. But every training camp starts from scratch. Everyone is equal. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve played for the team. You approach it in your best shape and give it 200 percent.
And you try to compete with the young guys, because they’re very well-prepared nowadays. Many of them come to their teams and start playing in the NHL right away. I don’t let myself slack off because I know I’ve already made the team. No one’s spot is guaranteed.
Eronko: Will Sergachev make the Lightning roster?
Kucherov: Judging by what he showed at practices and what he’s capable of in general, with his speed, size and ability to see the ice, he has a good chance to make it in Tampa and be a strong defenseman. He has a great potential, but right now it all depends only on how he’s going to follow the coach’s instructions. I hope he makes it, of course, so that there will be more Russians on the team. It’s always an honor for Russia, and would be good for the Lightning too.
Eronko: One more person to talk to.
Kucherov: I have no problems with the language. I’ve had enough time to get comfortable in five years. I can’t say my English is perfect. TV shows, for example, where actors swallow half of their words, are hard to understand. Or there’s too much slang that I don’t know. But overall, everything’s fine.
“[Vasy] is working very hard on his stick handling. I think he will be as good as Bishop in the future”
Eronko: Do you miss Jonathan Drouin?
Kucherov: It’s a pity that a guy was traded. I wish him good luck. But we’ve got some good players. And we got Sergachev.
Eronko: Were there some special tactics used by Ben Bishop, who plays great with the puck?
Kucherov: Yes, there were some variants. He could organize the exit from the zone, so defensemen didn’t have to get the puck, but he did instead.
Eronko: Do you have something similar with Andrei Vasilevsky?
Kucherov: He’s working very hard on his stick handling. I think he will be as good as Bishop in the future. But right now we don’t have any similar tactics with him.
Eronko: Will he be able to score from net to net, like Mike Smith did at the All-Star Game?
“Everyone likes and respects [Jon Cooper]”
Eronko: Jon Cooper made a great impression at the World Championship: he is a sincere person and always ready to explain things.
Kucherov: He is a very good person and coach. He can always find a common language with anyone. He doesn’t have any problems with anyone. And he always speaks directly. He wouldn’t talk through someone. That’s why everyone likes him, including the fans. Everyone likes and respects him.
Eronko: But he didn’t play hockey in fact.
Kucherov: If he understands the game better than people who played, then what questions could there be? We reached the Stanley Cup Finals with him. It's not just that.
Eronko: Cooper put you on the same line with Stamkos and Namestnikov, but he did not promise that you will play the whole season together.
Kucherov: It would be great if we stay together, because it’s always pleasure to play with them. But if he separate us we’ll play on the different lines. We have enough good players.
Eronko: Stamkos said that he remembers every goal he scored at the professional level...
Kucherov: Me too. If I can remember with whom and when we played, I also remember how I did it. It is saved in your memory, when you score a goal. I think it’s the same for every hockey player. It’s interesting to see how it was, when you come home after the game. Who has opened, who made a pass, who played goalie, and when I scored. I watch all of my shifts after every game, discuss it with coaches and try to find something to improve.
We always discuss with teammates the details of playing in our own zone, in the middle, in the attack. How to play better, what to change, when to pass faster, how to get open. There are some mistakes in every game, which you’re trying to analyse and fix, to prevent them in the next game.
And also there are some bad habits that you need to get rid of. I don’t throw the puck without looking anymore. I reduced the time of receiving the puck on the boards to have more time for making decisions. I’m working all the time to improve my own game.
“I’m a student of Datsyuk”
Eronko: Do you study other hockey players?
Kucherov: When I have time, I watch highlights of our guys on YouTube: [Artemi] Panarin, [Evgeny] Malkin, [Pavel] Datsyuk, [Evgeny] Kuznetsov. I like watching Patrick Kane. Trying to take from other guys all the best that I don’t have. And trying to use their tricks in practice. If it works in practice I use it in the games. It’s nice if it works there too and you learned it from Kane or Kuznetsov. You’ve added something to your game and became a better player. It helps a lot.
Eronko: Do you think someone is already copying you?
Kucherov: I don’t even know (laughing)
Eronko: Pavel Datsyuk has some special tricks, like when he releases the puck from the hook and works with someone else's stick.
Kucherov: There was a player named Valtteri Filppula in Tampa. He played with Datsyuk and learned from him a lot. We spent a lot of time together: we stayed after the practice and played ‘keep the puck.’ I’ve learned some of Datsyuk’s tricks from him too. To hammer a stick, to shove a puck between legs to make defencemen lose their balance. So you can say, I’m a student of Datsyuk.
Eronko: Nikolai Prokhorkin said that you always rushed everyone, even in everyday life. Did it help you in NHL?
Kucherov: I was hot-headed and young in CSKA (laughing). I’m a more quiet person now. But if someone fights sneakily, I will fight back. I won’t tolerate it. And I’m always on adrenaline during the important games. My aggressive temper shows in these games.
Eronko: How do you train one-timer shots? It’s believed that one-timers are hard to train.
Kucherov: If you want, you can do everything. It depends on your shooting techniques. It doesn’t matter how strong you are. If you have a techniques, your shot will be strong and accurate. I’m staying after every practice and shoot 100-200 times. It takes 5-10 minutes, but it will be very useful in the future. It became a habit. I’m trying to improve every aspects of my game, while I have a time. I shoot a lot in my garage, where I have a synthetic ice.
Eronko: Did someone correct your shooting technique in Tampa?
Kucherov: No, but there are more possibilities to work on yourself. When I was younger, we spent 90 minutes at practice. And you couldn’t stay longer, because other teams had to train too. But in Tampa we are the only ones who skate in the arena. You can stay as long as you like, if you aren’t tired and feel that you need to work on something. So I stay.
Eronko: Jaromir Jagr usually takes the keys from the training ice to skate at night, if he wants.
Kucherov: Well, I’m trying to rest at night. It's necessary to prepare for the next day, no matter if it’s game or practice. You should get enough sleep to be in good shape and feel better!
Eronko: Phil Esposito said that you would score 40 goals, after the season with 30 goals two years ago. A lot of people were skeptical. What should we expect now? 50? Or maybe even 60 goals?
Kucherov: I don’t want to miss playoffs again. Actually I don’t want to miss playoffs anytime in my career. I don’t want to watch other teams fight for the Stanley Cup. So I’m ready to score less than 40, if we’re still fighting for trophy. I want to be a team player, not the one who thinks only about his personal stats.
Eronko: Don’t you want to win Hart Trophy or at least Maurice Richard Trophy?
Kucherov: Of course I have personal goals. But the team is first place for me. If I had a chance to fight for these trophies and it wouldn’t be bad for my team, then I would like to get these trophies. It's still an honor.