Nikita Kucherov is a good hockey player. Like, really good. Like, really really good. So good that he’s scoring at an historic rate so far this season. And considering the season is 58 games old, that’s quite something. Every year, we see players go on ten or twenty game hot streaks putting up buckets of points. But the Tampa Bay Lightning star forward has kept this pace well over two-thirds of the way into the season.
I’m normally hesitant to acknowledge “on-pace-for” stats. They’re usually misleading because players don’t keep up what they do in small samples over a full season. But Kuch’s outrageous scoring pace has gone on long enough that we have to start paying attention. And so, for as long as this continues, we’ll be checking in at least once per week on how his season is progressing. As of last night, he has 92 points in 58 games.
Before we look at the charts, let’s briefly get into the historical context. The scoring environment in the NHL has changed drastically over the years. Wayne Gretzky scored over 200 points in a season four times. No player, no matter how good, will ever do that again because the gap between skaters and goalies will never again be that large. To compare Kucherov to players of that era would be unfair. Instead, we’re going to focus on the Salary Cap Era, which began in 2005-2006 after the lost season.
In that time, three players have scored 120 points or more. Sidney Crosby scored 120 in 2006-2007, Jaromir Jagr scored 123 in 2005-2006, and Joe Thornton scored 125 in 2005-2006. Since then, no one has scored more than Evgeni Malkin’s 113 in 2008-2009.
The first chart below compares Kucherov to the three players who reached 120 points. The data here is via Hockey Reference.
If you didn’t know already, the secret is out now. Kuch is above the pace of all three of those players including Crosby who had a decent lead on the other two through his team’s first 58 games.
For a closer view, the next chart is the same but shows only the games to this point in the season. This tighter view makes it easier to see how Kuch’s recent hot stretch has put him in the lead in his chase of history.
No one should expect Kucherov to continue scoring like this for another 24 games. He’ll slow down at some point. But he’s done enough so far to give himself a decent shot at having one of the best scoring seasons in the cap era. He “only” needs 28 points in these final 24 games to get to 120. And he needs 34 to set the record.
The last player to start a season this well was Mario Lemieux in 1996-1997, well before the cap era. Lemieux is arguably the second best player in NHL history behind Gretzky. Some would even argue he’s the best, but his ailments robbed fans of seeing his full glory over a long career. Those are the kinds of names Kucherov is chasing. He’s been established as one of the best players in the NHL for the last couple of years. This season, he’s trying to put up numbers that will launch him into the historical conversation.
So sit back and enjoy it. Because who knows when we’ll get to see a player on a run like this again. And for our part, we’ll be tracking his chase and keeping you updated.