Kucherov Ready To Improve Game In AHL

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Nikita Kucherov understands he still has room for improvement.

The Syracuse Crunch forward, set to officially begin his rookie season Saturday night in Binghamton, is used to netting at least a point per game, if not more. But at just 20 years old, he knows he has to keep progressing to reach his goal of playing in the National Hockey League.

"It's hockey, it's my life," Kucherov said. "I'm going to do everything I can do to be in the NHL."

"I need to go to the gym every day to get stronger, and improve my game in the defensive zone," the Moscow native added.

Kucherov registered 53 points in 27 regular season contests last year with Quebec and Rouyn-Noranda of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But the jump to the professional ranks means putting up those same numbers will be a bigger challenge.

"I think it's going to help me, because here there's bigger, stronger guys," Kucherov said. "I talked to the guys, they said it's a good league."

During practice this week, Kucherov was put on a line with former first-rounders Brett Connolly and Vladislav Namestnikov. The trio will be looked at to provide the offense lost by the promotion of last year's top line – Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Richard Panik.

Connolly recorded 63 points last regular season, two behind Tyler Johnson, who was named the league's most valuable player. Namestnikov came on strong in the postseason, when he recorded 10 points in 18 games to help the Crunch reach the Calder Cup Finals.

"They have so much skill on the ice, really good skaters," Kucherov said of his new linemates.

"Those guys are NHL players, they are and we're definitely going to miss them," said Crunch coach Rob Zettler of Johnson, Panik and Palat. "But it's time for the Namestnikovs and the Kucherovs and Connollys to step up and take those guys' places. They've got all the talent in the world to be able to do that, it's our job to get him going that way."

Pictured: The Crunch's Nikita Kucherov talks with teammate Vlad Namestnikov between drills during practice Wednesday at the Cicero Twin Rinks.