Nikita Kucherov ready to step back in for Lightning
It seemed as if Nikita Kucherov was never gone.
The Lightning wing returned to practice Wednesday afternoon at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, his first since signing a three-year, $4.76 million deal Tuesday. Kucherov, 23, was all smiles, back on the second line with Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn, a fixture on the power play. Teammates greeted him with "Kuuuch!"
"He's getting ribbed a little bit for missing training camp," coach Jon Cooper said. "You know how guys feel about training camp."
But Kucherov, his contract holdout over, will be back where he should be Thursday night, in the lineup against the Red Wings for the season opener at Amalie Arena.
"We want to put our best foot forward," Cooper said. "And he's a big part of that."
Kucherov, the team's leading scorer last season, said it was tough being back in Russia while his teammates were participating in training camp and preseason games. He said the fact he played in the World Cup of Hockey for Russia makes him feel more ready for the season.
Kucherov said he tried not to think about his contract negotiations, letting agent Scott Greenspun handle it, and stayed positive. While it wasn't a long-term deal he likely sought, Kucherov said the short-term, bridge deal "was best for me in this situation."
"It's good to have everybody back," Kucherov said. "We have unfinished business this year."
While the business side allowed Kucherov's contract talks to come down to the wire, he said he didn't want to miss any time. And he never had any doubts of where he'd end up.
"I always wanted to play in Tampa," Kucherov said. "I never thought I'd play anyplace else."