Nikita Kucherov registered two assists Thursday night to become the first player to 50 points this season, and the speed with which he hit the 50-point plateau is a rare feat in today’s game.
Last season, Connor McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy in a season where he was the only player to crack 100 points. The year prior, it was Patrick Kane who earned himself the NHL scoring crown with a 106-point campaign that was powered by a 26-game point streak. And before them, it was Jamie Benn and Sidney Crosby and Martin St-Louis. But what none of those players did in their eventual scoring title-winning seasons matches up to what Nikita Kucherov has done this year, which is score at a pace that few others have in the post-lockout NHL.
Thursday night against Ottawa, Kucherov padded his point total with two helpers as his Tampa Bay Lightning claimed a shootout victory over the Senators. The pair of assists were significant in a few ways. First, they took Kucherov’s run of multi-point games to four in a row. Second, they stretched his overall point streak to six games. And by registering at least a single point in the contest, Kucherov found the scoresheet for the 28th time in 34 games — he’s only been held without a point six times. Most importantly, though, Kucherov’s two assists saw him continue his assault on the scoresheet with his 49th and 50th points, giving a five-point lead in the scoring race.
No doubt, on a personal level, for Kucherov to have already hit the 50-point plateau is nothing short of spectacular. Last season was unquestionably his breakout campaign as he racked up 40 goals and 85 points, but he’s already more than halfway to eclipsing both of those totals with fewer than half the games played. Consider that at his current points pace, Kucherov would need only 59 games to replicate what it took him 74 contests to do last season. That alone is impressive.
What makes Kucherov’s 50-point-in-34-games feat that much more incredible, though, is that such a mark has been so tremendously rare in the post-lockout era. In fact, in the past decade-plus since the lost season, there are only 10 instances of a player registering 50 points by the time his team has played its 34th game. Four of those seasons came in the run-and-gun campaign immediately following the lockout, too, while the other six spread among the past 12 seasons and there has only been one in the past five years. The owners of those particular campaigns are no joke, either. Sidney Crosby has managed the mark three times (2012-13, 2010-11 and 2006-07). Evgeni Malkin and Vincent Lecavalier have done so once, in 2008-09 and 2007-08, respectively. And it was Daniel Alfredsson, Jaromir Jagr, Dany Heatley and Peter Forsberg who each hit 50 points by their team’s 34th game in the 2005-06 campaign.
It’s not just that Kucherov is scoring, however. It’s the way in which he’s racking up points. Crosby holds the top mark for goals among the aforementioned group, putting up 27 goals across Pittsburgh’s first 34 games of the 2010-11 season, but Kucherov is tied with Alfredsson, Jagr and Heatley as snipers to fire home 23 goals over the 34-game span. (Others have also done so — and Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk have even previously hit 28 goals in their team’s first 34 games — but not while also accumulating 50 points.)
And beyond scoring goals, Kucherov is also using his shot to produce rebounds and vision to make plays en route to racking up 27 helpers, 14 of which have been the first assist. That gives Kucherov a total of 37 primary points, making him a primary point-getter on 74 percent of his 50 points through this part of the season. How does that stack up against the others? Quite well, actually. The high-water mark for primary points came when Alfredsson and Jagr went on tears to start the 2005-06 campaign, with 90.4 and 86.3 percent of their respective totals comprised of goals or first assists, but Kucherov’s output is better than that of Forsberg, Heatley, Malkin and Crosby in 2006-07. It’s about in line with both of Crosby’s other seasons, too, as well as those of
Incredibly, though, Kucherov’s white-hot start might not mean the Art Ross is a given. Only twice has a player started with 50 or more points by the 34-game mark of his team’s campaign and actually won the scoring race. Coincidentally, both were Penguins. Crosby took home the crown in 2006-07 with 120 points in 79 games, while Malkin’s 113 points in 82 games were tops in the 2008-09 season. The others all fell short, be it due to an injury derailing their season or another challenger hitting a hot streak later in the campaign.
And, as it stands, either an injury or a suddenly streaking scorer might be the only thing that stands between Kucherov and the scoring crown. At his current pace of 1.47 points per game, he’s finding the scoresheet at a rate of 0.15 points better than any other player in the league and he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. If he continues this through the campaign, he’ll be the first player since Crosby to reach the 120-point plateau. And if Kucherov can manage to do so in an era where the even 100-point plateau is rare, there’s little doubt he’ll be making room in his trophy case for the Art Ross.
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