With roughly a quarter of the 2018-19 season remaining, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov looks to have a pretty firm grasp on the NHL’s scoring leaderboard, and perhaps even the MVP race. He is the best player on the league’s best team and entering play on Thursday has a six-point lead in the scoring race, has seven more assists than any other player in the league, and is putting up numbers that few players in the history of the league have ever registered in a single season.
Let’s start by looking at those current numbers.
At the 57-game mark he is already at 63 assists and 88 total points for the season. According to the Hockey-Reference database, it is just the 17th time since 1987 (and only the second time since 1996) that a player has reached those numbers at this point in the season. Wayne Gretzky did it five times, Mario Lemieux did it four times, Sidney Crosby, Ron Francis, Pat Lafontaine, Bernie Nicholls, Denis Savard, Adam Oates and Steve Yzerman all did it once.
That is already rarified air.
But look at what sort of pace that puts him on.
If he maintains those numbers over the remainder of the season (and, admittedly, that is asking a lot, but he has already done it for three quarters of the season) he would clear both the 90-assist and the 125-point mark.
Either one on their own would be significant because the only time they have ever been hit since 2000 was when Joe Thornton did (96 assists, 125 points) during the 2005-06 season. The only players to top 125 points in a season since 1995 are Thornton, Jaromir Jagr, and Mario Lemieux.
In the history of the league only 10 different players have recorded 90 assists and 125 points in the same season. Gretzky did it 12 times, Lemieux did it five times, and Paul Coffey, Doug Gilmour, Pat Lafontaine, Adam Oates, Bobby Orr, Peter Stastny, Steve Yzerman, and Thornton all did it once each.
Only eight of those instances have happened since 1990, and only four (two for Lemieux, one for Jagr, one for Thornton) have happened since 1994.
Whether or not Kucherov gets there remains to be seen, and a lot can happen over the next 25 games, but the fact he is even flirting with such numbers in this era is truly remarkable because no one has really come close to them over the past two decades. Keep in mind we are only a couple of seasons removed from the 90-point mark being an almost impossible to number to hit.
Now Kucherov is on pace to record that many assists this season.
He has been one of the best players in the league for a few years now, and with a season like this, even if his pace slows down a little the rest of the way, he is firmly cementing himself among the top-three or four.