Nikita Kucherov is one of the best players in the world, a legitimate NHL MVP candidate. But Kucherov, 24, still has a chip on his shoulder from all those who doubted him back in Russia. He's still burned by CSKA Moscow, his old KHL team, for abandoning him when he needed shoulder surgery as an 18-year old. Kucherov credits his family and long-time youth coach Gennadiy Kurdin, who was like a "second father" when the Lightning wing's dad was away as an officer in the Russian army.
Each of the Lightning All-Stars was asked to discuss his biggest influence, the best and worst moments of his career. Here's Nikita Kucherov's, in his own words:
My family and my youth coach are a big reason why I'm here. (Kurdin) is like a second father. He did everything. I was with him from when I was five until I was 16, 11 years. Every day, he picked me up from practice, drove me back after. He talked to me a lot. When I was a kid, I didn't say much, I was just listening. All we did was talk about hockey — all the way there, all the way back. He'd say, 'What would you do if you've got a 3-on-2? What would you do if you had the puck — would you pass or drive the net? What's your options?'
It was really interesting for me. I just soaked everything in. I'm a listener. I like listening to smart people. He's definitely a big reason why, I'm here, my family and him. I don't want to disappoint them. I want to be better and I want to win something, make them even more proud of me.
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My best moment is when I made the NHL and stayed in the NHL, and proved to everybody that they were wrong, especially back in Russia, people even here. They thought there's no way I could play. That's something that drives me more, that people didn't believe in me. But I proved them wrong."
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My toughest moment was when I had those injuries, the shoulder, and had no money. Back in Russia, (CSKA) threw me into a situation where they said, 'We don't believe you have anything in the shoulder, if you want to do surgery, you have to pay for it yourself.' But at the time, I didn't have much money.
It was tough. Not as a player, but as a person. I felt like, I don't really need them. They used me. At the time, my agent called (Lightning GM) Steve Yzerman. I had just got drafted. I came here a week after I told my agent to call Steve. I'm really happy and blessed that (the Lightning) helped me out, paid for my surgery, even though I was just drafted. I wasn't even thinking to come (to North America) at the time. I'm really grateful.