BRANDON — RW Nikita Kucherov returned to his native Russia after competing for his country in the World Cup of Hockey last month and tried not to worry about his immediate future.
Kucherov said he trained hard and let his agent handle his contract negotiations with the Lightning over his restricted free agency. If he was worried about missing tonight's regular-season opener or an extended period, he did not let on Wednesday while addressing the media after practice.
"Obviously, you don't want to miss any games," he said. "It's tough to sit home and see the guys going through training camp and you are not there. I'm happy to be here and happy to be with my teammates."
Kucherov, who scored 30 goals and had 66 points last season, Tuesday signed a three-year deal worth $4.76 million annually, adding the final piece to what the Lightning believes will be a championship puzzle.
"He's a big part of our team, let's make no mistake about that," coach Jon Cooper said, "and to see him zipping around out there, it's gratifying because you want to put your best foot forward, especially early in the season."
Kucherov, 23, is ready to start the season despite missing all but the final practice of training camp because of the World Cup and his holdout. He didn't want to talk about his contract or why he took a shorter deal than he had wanted, other than to say he believed a shorter deal was his best option. He said there was never a point when he thought he would end up with another team.
"I'm just happy to be here and happy that the whole situation with the contract has been resolved," he said, "and I'm back with my teammates getting ready to win the Stanley Cup."
MAKING HIS POINT: Rookie RW Brayden Point was expected to be sent to AHL Syracuse once Kucherov signed so he could get more seasoning by playing on one of the Crunch's top two lines. Instead, the Lightning decided to keep him.
"We're not handing out roster spots for free," Cooper said. "The guys earn them, and Brayden Point was really close to earning one last year, and he most definitely earned one this year."
Cooper said Point's work ethic is "impeccable" and he has good hockey sense.
"He's just got to learn the pro game, and there's going to be some bumps along the road," Cooper said. "It's not easy."
Point, 20, practiced with the third line and will get time on the power play.
"(I'm) obviously excited," Point said. "Getting a chance to play (in camp) was awesome, but now it's another step up from the preseason, so I just got to work that much harder."
Point said his parents, Janice and Grant, and brother Kade, 13, would be at tonight's game against the Red Wings. "I'll get to share it with them," he said. "It's going to be pretty exciting."
NUTS AND BOLTS: Cooper said he hopes RW Ryan Callahan (hip surgery), who is expected to return in mid November, returns closer to Nov. 1. … Here are the Lightning lines: Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin; Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Kucherov; Vladislav Namestnikov, Valtteri Filppula, Point; Brian Boyle, Cedric Paquette, J.T. Brown. The defense pairings: Victor Hedman-Anton Stralman; Jason Garrison-Andrej Sustr; Slater Koekkoek/Nikita Nesterov-Braydon Coburn.