TAMPA — With injuries mounting and looking for any kind of an offensive spark, the Tampa Bay Lightning called up rookie RW Nikita Kucherov to make his NHL debut on Monday against the New York Rangers.
Kucherov is second in scoring in the American Hockey League with 13 goals and 24 points for Syracuse, which leads all rookies.
The 20-year-old was a second-round pick in 2011 and finished last season with 29 goals and 63 points in 33 games with Quebec and Rouyn-Noranda in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I'm so excited, it's like a dream come true,'' Kucherov said. “They called me and said I was getting a call-up, but I said 'what?' I was nervous, so I was like 'are you sure?' ”
Kucherov opened on the second line Monday, playing with Alex Killorn and Teddy Purcell, and he delivered on the hype, picking up his first career goal on his first shot while taking his first NHL shift to become the seventh player in Lightning history to score in his debut.
“He is one of these guys that has that uncanny ability to put the puck in the net,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I've watched him develop, and he's kind of turned the corner a little quicker than most guys. And that's not predicting what he's going to do (Monday) or in the future, but the game slows down for him, and just in the short time that I've been around them you can see the hockey IQ is pretty high. Now after this little 60-second barrage your are probably thinking this guy's going to have six tonight, but he's just good player. The kid can play.''
Though the Lightning have shown patience with the team's prospects, letting them develop with more games in the minor leagues before bringing them up to the NHL level, Kucherov might be ahead of the learning curve with his development.
“Is it ideal that he is playing now after only playing (17) games in the American League, no it's not,'' Cooper said. “But on the other side of things, he's probably earned his stripes a little quicker than most other guys and he deserves a chance.''
Kucherov has been lauded for his skill set, superb hockey intelligence and penchant for piling up points.
J.T. Brown started the season playing on the top line with Kucherov in Syracuse, and he is confident Kucherov will adapt to the NHL.
“He is a highly skilled player, and he knows what to do when he gets the puck,'' Brown said. “He has a great shot, and he knows where to put it, and he usually ends up putting it in the back of the net.''
LW Ryan Malone and D Radko Gudas sat out Monday's game with injuries sustained Friday in Anaheim.
Malone hurt his ankle blocking a shot and is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Gudas suffered what the team is calling an “upper-body'' injury, potentially stemming from a first-period fight with Anaheim D Lucas Sbisa. Gudas came back to start the second period but left after three shifts and did not return. Sbisa suffered torn ligaments in his hand and will miss significant time for the Ducks.
Cooper said neither injury is considered serious.
“I'm not saying they both won't play by the end of the week,'' Cooper said.
LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie joined that list when he left after the first period on Monday with an undisclosed upper-body injury, one shift after a lengthy fight with Derek Dorsett, and did not return.
Nuts and Bolts
D Dmitry Korobov was scratched. ... D Keith Aulie and C Tom Pyatt remain on injured reserve. ... Former Tampa Bay C Dominic Moore faced the Lightning for the first time since being traded to San Jose in 2012. Moore sat out last season after the loss of his wife, Katie, to cancer. ... Former Lightning assistant Dan LaCroix is on the Rangers' staff.