Ice in the garage
Pavel Lysenkov: So why did you need ice in your garage, Nikita?
Nikita Kucherov: I recently bought a house in Tampa and decided to install ice and a goal there. In summer, I have time to work on my shot. I take these practices very seriously, train as much as I can and try to improve my technique.
Lysenkov: Your shot is already excellent. What’s there to sharpen up?
Kucherov: A little bit of everything. Speed, stickhandling, coming out of corners and maintaining the distance, taking the game over. I see Malkin, Crosby, Kane, even Panarin and many others doing this… I had a chance to play with Artemi at the World Championship. I always paid attention to him. You can see that he has the speed and can take the game over. I feel that I’m capable of this too. But I’m not doing it as much as Panarin at the moment. I have to improve it now: there won’t be enough time to work on everything during the season.
Lysenkov: What size is your garage?
Kucherov: Not big. And synthetic ice—what is it? You just put the plastic on the floor and that’s it.
Lysenkov: Did you spend only two weeks resting in the offseason?
Kucherov: I went to Moscow to see my family and friends. By tradition, every year I come visit my childhood coach Gennady Gennadyevich Kurdin. We talk and laugh a lot. I also called in on my grandma in Maykop, didn’t forget about the aunts. And began training.
Lysenkov: How did [your family] in Maykop root for you during the World Championship?
Kucherov: Everyone watched hockey, our big family. They worried and supported me. Everyone was happy to see me when I came for a visit after the tournament.
Lysenkov: You were born in Maykop. When did you leave?
Kucherov: Actually, my mom and dad were born there too. When I turned six months, the whole family moved to Moscow.
Lysenkov: Buying a house is great. What do you like about Tampa?
Kucherov: The city is not that big. It’s a small, peaceful place. Always sunny and warm. I like it a lot there.
Lysenkov: In June you had a meeting with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman about that epochal interview. How did it go?
Kucherov: Very well. No complaints or disagreements. No one mentioned that April topic. We were simply glad to see each other. We have a normal relationship, don't get any wrong ideas.
Lysenkov: Name your dream line, not necessarily from the Lightning.
Kucherov: When I came to Tampa, my dream was to play with Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. But it never came true—first Stamkos had an injury, and the day he came back, St. Louis was traded to the Rangers.
Lysenkov: You also had a great line with Artemi Panarin and Evgeny Kuznetsov at the World Championship. What do you remember about the tournament?
Kucherov: The atmosphere in the team and the level of hockey. I enjoyed playing there very much. We didn’t make the playoffs with the Lightning, so the World Championship was like an outlet. I didn’t want to end the season so early. My mom, mother-in-law and wife came to Cologne. I was very happy to see them. It’s a great joy when your loved ones cheer for you from the stands and you can hug them after the game.
We had a tight team. It’s a pity we couldn’t get to the finals.
Lysenkov: What’s more important: talent or hard work?
Kucherov: Talent is very important. It’s hard to break through and play on a high level without it. But work is absolutely necessary. You can’t pull a fish out of a pond without labor (laughs at the Russian proverb).
Lysenkov: Was there a player you looked up to in your childhood?
Kucherov: It’s hard to say because they didn’t show a lot of NHL hockey in the 1990s. Pavel Bure was the only one I looked up to. Well… I hadn’t seen him play but heard a lot.
I also had posters with the Russian Five from Detroit on my wall. Larionov, Fedorov, Fetisov, Konstantinov, Kozlov. I looked up to all five of them.
Then we got the Internet, highlight videos. I watched and learned. I was astounded by the understanding the Detroit line had, by the way they made passes and enjoyed what they were doing. I understood that I wanted to go out on the ice like them and take the same pleasure in hockey.
Lysenkov: Your coach Gennady Kurdin said, “I taught Kucherov to survive. He’s not the biggest guy, so he has to be smart and nimble.” And now I’m reading a fan’s heartfelt cry: “Nikita, give advice! My son doesn’t fit in the team because of his height, they want to get him off the roster. How to help him keep his head up?”
Kucherov: Obviously, I was always small in the kids’ hockey school. Coach Gennady Kurdin often talked to me, taught me to play clever hockey—like they did in Detroit, like it used to be in the USSR. You pass the puck and get open right away. Always in motion, never stopping. If you get stuck—that’s it, you’re covered. He would shout at me sometimes, tell me off even, “Move! Keep your head up! Avoid the big guys!”
Look around, how many small guys are playing in the NHL now. And a lot of them play well. Is Patrick Kane that tall? Or Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Johnson?
Lysenkov: When you were playing for the White Bears in Moscow, did anyone tell you that it was time to stop, that you’d never amount to anything?
Kucherov: To me personally, no one said anything. Maybe they tried to hassle my parents. But I had my coach Gennady Kurdin, and I listened only to him. I didn’t care about other people’s opinion. I tried not to listen to or notice the people who wished me ill.
Lysenkov: Tell us the history of your number 86.
Kucherov: When I came to CSKA, they gave it to me. I didn’t really choose. As a child, I always had the number 15. But it was already taken on the first team, and the numbers on CSKA and Red Army (MHL) couldn’t coincide. So they gave me the 86, and I took it.
Lysenkov: You started your last season early because of the World Cup. But you played phenomenally, scoring 85 (40+45) points. So the early start did you good?
Kucherov: It’s hard to say. You remember that I didn’t have a contract until October, missed the training camp. So the World Cup was like a camp for me. It was a great tournament that energized me and helped me get in shape for the season. You go out against the best players in the world, you’re with the best of the best. It’s a huge experience.
Lysenkov: Why do you seem so stern from the outside? Though you can see that Kucherov is a sociable guy.
Kucherov: It happens when we have a bad game or I’m dissatisfied with my hockey. I can’t hide my emotions and force this smile. Even when something isn’t going right at practice, I can’t walk around and have fun. I take failures seriously. Maybe I overthink them. I wait for the next day to go out on practice and correct my mistakes.
I take all these moments more seriously than others. That’s why I might come across as stern. But those who know me—friends, acquaintances—they’ll tell you that I like socializing; I’m usually cheerful.
Lysenkov: Name your favorite players at each position.
Kucherov: The goalie is Vasilevskiy. They don’t talk a lot about him in the NHL yet, but in a couple of years Vasya might become the best goalkeeper in the world.
The defensemen would be Vitya [Russian diminutive name for Victor] Hedman and Erik Karlsson, two swedes. As for the offense, I’d take Stamkos and Malkin with me.
Lysenkov: Twice you played against the best Team Canada lineup at the World Cup and twice you had a chance to scrape a win. What wasn’t enough? And how to defeat them?
Kucherov: You can totally outplay them! I can’t say the Canadians dragged us around or outran us. You just have to act wisely against them, primarily in defense. In offense, we’ll definitely score our share.
Lysenkov: Will the Olympics be interesting for you without the NHL players? Will you watch the Games on TV if you don’t go to Pyeongchang?
Kucherov: Yes, I’ll cheer for our team. If they show them in the States at weekends, I’ll watch the whole games. Or the highlights.
I hope a lot of my friends go to South Korea: Gusev, Nesterov, Grigorenko, Yarullin… Even if they don’t go, I’ll be very concerned. In five years, who will remember that the NHL players didn’t come to Pyeongchang? And my friends are the Olympic champions. Or just have got a medal. It’s really great!
«I’m waiting for the whole Game of Thrones season to come out»
At the end of the interview, Nikita Kucherov answered the questions from Sovetsky Sport’s list.
Lysenkov: What kind of music do you like?
Kucherov: A bit of everything. I don’t like heavy stuff—rock, Metallica. I’d rather choose pop, rap, R&B.
Lysenkov: What concert did you go to in the recent years?
Kucherov: I still haven’t been to any. Couldn’t find the time. And when a concert is nearby, I don’t go. It’s better for me to rest or train.
Lysenkov: What TV show would you pick?
Kucherov: Now I’m missing season 7 of Game of Thrones, waiting for all the episodes to come out. Then I’ll watch everything at once. I’m currently watching Breaking Bad.
Lysenkov: Why are you not very active on social media?
Kucherov: Why? I use twitter (@86Kucherov).
Lysenkov: Favorite resort?
Kucherov: Bahamas, I've been there twice.
Lysenkov: Favorite dish?
Kucherov: French-style meat that my grandma cooks.
Lysenkov: What’s your favorite color?
Lysenkov: Car brand?