Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov has Yzerman's attention in AHL

DETROIT — Syracuse RW Nikita Kucherov entered Saturday with an AHL-best 12 goals and six on the power play. His 22 points were second, and he had nine goals and nine assists in a nine-game points streak in which the Crunch was 7-2-0.

The points streak ended Saturday, but that doesn't change that, as Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said, "he's off to a great start."

All of which makes you wonder if Tampa Bay might call up Kucherov despite Yzerman's usual blueprint of allowing young players time to develop.

Yzerman said "there are some benefits" to Kucherov, 20, the No. 58 overall pick of the 2011 draft, staying with Syracuse. "He's playing in all situations. He may get some time on the penalty kill. He's learning good habits. But if he continues on this path, he'll be up sooner rather than later."

Kucherov, 5 feet 11, 184 pounds, had 26 goals and 53 points in 27 games last season for Rouyn-Noranda of the junior Quebec league. He started slowly in Lightning training camp but was more poised and confident by the end, with a goal and three points in five games.

Part of his trouble was acclimating to the speed of the NHL game and the size of opponents.

"One step at a time," Yzerman said. "I know I talk about being patient, but if a guy is ready to play in the NHL and I have a roster spot for them, they'll play."

CHANGES: Looking for more puck-moving ability, coach Jon Cooper on Saturday went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in the 3-2 overtime win over the Red Wings. D Andre Sustr, scratched in three previous games, was back in the lineup. RW B.J. Crombeen was out.

"I don't think any player would be cool with not playing," Crombeen said. "But you're always putting the team first. Obviously, I'm going to do my best to get back in the lineup and help the team win."

Cooper kept intact the reunited "Kid Line" of C Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik and Ondrej Palat, and kept LW Ryan Malone with C Nate Thompson on a fourth line filled out by double shifting Marty St. Louis.

FRIENDLY ENEMIES: Cooper and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock have been friends since the summer of 2011, when Cooper, after his first year as coach of AHL Norfolk, interviewed with Babcock for an assistant job.

Cooper, who interviewed by phone after meeting Babcock at the 2011 draft in St. Paul, Minn., said he knew he wasn't ready for the NHL. And Babcock recalled telling Cooper to aim higher than NHL assistant. "When we got down to it, (Cooper) said, 'What would you do if you were me?' " Babcock said. "I said I'd stay in the American League and be a head coach in the NHL."

Cooper didn't get Babcock's job but said, "I knew I had somebody down the road I could talk to regardless of the situation. He ended up being pretty vital for me. I tapped into him the year (Norfolk) won the (2012) Calder Cup, just to talk about what his teams did, how he dealt with the media. He was like a mentor during that time."

ODDS AND ENDS: C Steven Stamkos has goals in six straight games, the league's longest active streak and one off his career best. … Malone played his 600th NHL game. … Tampa Bay has killed 37 of its past 39 penalties. … C Valtteri Filppula, who called his first game back in Detroit, where he spent the first eight years of his career, "definitely weird," had a season-high six shots and called the win "very satisfying." … RW Pierre-Cedric Labrie and D Keith Aulie also were scratched.

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