Where Kucherov hitting 115 points fits in recent NHL history

Nikita Kucherov isn’t merely content to shred defenses and poor, helpless opposing goalies. He’s like a hot knife going through butter when it comes to the best seasons in recent NHL history, too.

With an impressive two-goal, two-assist night in the Lightning’s 5-4 win against the Red Wings on Thursday, Kucherov now has a blistering 115 points this season. Kucherov has done so in just 71 games, so if he maintains his current (about 1.6197 points-per-game) pace and plays all 82 games, he’d finish either with 132 or 133 in 2018-19.

Just look at this nonsense, as Kucherov unlocked the “destroy the Gatorade achievement” for one of his goals:

Even if Kucherov stopped here, he’d be in some absolutely elite company.

The last player to reach at least 115 points was Sidney Crosby, who managed 120 back in 2006-07. A year before that, Joe Thornton (125) outdueled Jaromir Jagr (123) in a remarkable race for the Art Ross/Hart Trophy in 2005-06.

But, again, if Kucherov stopped at 115, he’d have put together one of the best runs since the calendar hit 2000. Here’s a short list of the best seasons since 2000-01:

1. Joe Thornton, 125 in 2005-06
2. Jaromir Jagr, 123 in 2005-06
3. Jagr, 121 in 2000-01
4. Sidney Crosby, 120 in 2006-07
5. Joe Sakic, 118 in 2000-01
6. Kucherov, 115 in 2018-19
7. Thornton, 114 in 2006-07

Remarkable.

If Kucherov came in around 132 or 133 points as he’s projected, he’d top Jagr’s 127 points from 1998-99. You have to reach back to Mario Lemieux’s 161 points in 1995-96 to see a better total than that projected 132-133 points, and players have only hit 130+ on nine occasions (eight players, with Lemieux doing it twice) since 1992-93.

Kucherov’s 115 points ties with Eric Lindros’ 115 points from 1995-96 as the 25th-best total since 1992-93 already.

This is truly jaw-dropping stuff, and it increasingly feels like Kucherov might only be stopped by injuries, or maybe a decision to give him a breather before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His points break down as 35 goals and 80 assists, so he’s just two helpers away from being a point-per-game player based on assists alone. That’s the sort of stuff we expected from Gretzky.

With all due respect to Connor McDavid, the other player to hit 100 points already (again), it’s tough to imagine any other player threatening Kucherov’s grasp on a much-deserved MVP trophy this season. Interestingly, Kucherov’s hit this mark with substantial ice time (19:42 TOI average), but not nearly being asked to carry the same burden as other potential finalists in McDavid (23:01) and Patrick Kane (22:26).

It’s a truly special season, one where Kucherov’s built on already-strong work to hit another level. At 25, it’s not outrageous to picture him approaching this level again, although he’s setting the bar incredibly high.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Hats off to Ehlers; King of the Hill

via Winnipeg Jets Twitter
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Three Stars

1. Nikolaj Ehlers

Patrik Laine hit a milestone on Thursday, collecting his 100th career goal. Laine added another later on, pushing his league-leading total to 21 for the season, yet he wouldn’t even be in the Jets’ top three against Chicago.

Then again, that thought explains why Winnipeg is so scary: this team is about a lot more than Laine.

Ehlers, for example, stole Laine’s gimmick for a night by collecting a hat trick. Coming off of two straight 60+ point seasons, NHL opponents should tremble at the thought that the 22-year-old might just be coming into his own, from refining his game to becoming more confident.

This top star nod comes with some bonus fun. The coolest part: Ehlers collected a hat trick soon after shaving a design into the side of his head for Hockey Fights Cancer.

The other awesome part: his face after generating that hat trick.

2. Mark Scheifele/Blake Wheeler

Only three players collected three points on Thursday: Ehlers, Scheifele, and Wheeler. In the cases of Ehlers’ linemates, each got their points via three assists.

That trio sent a lot of pucks on net, even when they weren’t beating Corey Crawford. Scheifele fired six shots on goal, Ehlers had five, and Wheeler provided three.

Jets coach Paul Maurice enjoys plenty of decent options as far as the top line goes, including loading up with Laine alongside Wheeler and Scheifele (or Ehlers). Nights like these make you wonder if they should just stick with Ehlers – Scheifele – Wheelers long-term, though.

3. Adin Hill

Craig Anderson collected the other shutout of the night, stopping 27 shots. Hill finished with a 29-save shutout, and did it against a pretty tough (if banged-up) opponent in the Nashville Predators.

Hill suited up for just his fifth NHL start and seventh appearance overall. Interestingly, he’s been quite effective while being used very sparingly in 2018-19. He’s stopped all 35 shots he’s faced with the Arizona Coyotes in 2018-19, seeing a 20-minute appearance and a 15:57 showing in his other two games this season.

Looking at Hill’s stats at lower levels and during his other, rare NHL looks, it’s tough to imagine him keeping this up. Maybe that’s the true tiebreaker against Anderson, then: Hill might not be here again.

(Stranger things have happened, though. Right, Andrew Hammond?)

Highlights of the Night

In most cases, if a highlight gets its own post or is featured in a post, it may merely get linked. (For example: Nikita Kucherov‘s nice goal lives here.) Elias Pettersson‘s great effort and no-look pass is so good, though, that it’s foolish to risk you missing it. So here it is, again:

Matt Duchene is red-hot, and so is this puck movement:

Factoids

This post details that Patrik Laine became the fourth-youngest player in NHL history to reach 100 goals. He’s been especially fantastic during the month of November, too, as this nugget shows:

Matt Duchene’s month might be even better, somehow.

Ken Hitchcock coming up with the revolutionary strategy of “playing Connor McDavid more” helps the Oilers’ cause, but Mikko Koskinen delivering strong goaltending might be Edmonton’s most important development since all of those times they struck draft lottery gold.

Scores

BOS 2 – NYI 1 (SO)
CBJ 4 – MIN 2
OTT 3 – NYR 0
TBL 5 – BUF 4
ARI 3 – NSH 0
WPG 6 – CHI 5
EDM 3 – LAK 2
VGK 4 – VAN 3

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Patrik Laine’s five-goal night wins fan $1 million prize

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Patrik Laine‘s virtuoso five-goal performance inspired a wide array of reactions, at least once people got beyond the general awe.

Some used this as an opportunity to criticize those who doubted Laine, particularly his ability to score at even-strength. Pondering the historical relevance was only natural, and it ended up being logical considering how often Laine matched or approached the work of Wayne Gretzky. Others wonder if this was a true sign that Laine would take the Maurice Richard torch from Alex Ovechkin.

There was likely one person even happier about Laine scoring five goals than Laine himself during Winnipeg’s 8-4 win against the St. Louis Blues.

No, this isn’t about sheer, naive fandom.

Instead, it’s about Laine making money not just for himself, but for a lucky person in Winnipeg. Canadian supermarket chain Safeway runs a “Score & Win” promotion, and a lucky fan, Christopher Haley, hit a $1 million prize thanks to a Jets player scoring five goals.

The fine print details that the winner is slated to receive $50K every year for 20 years.

“Hopefully I made someone pretty happy,” said Laine, who was aware of what his five-goal night did for one lucky fan.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that the promotion yielded that big win for a lucky shopper/fan/shopper-fan. In October 2017, a fan won $100K when Logan Couture generated a hat trick, becoming the first person to land a big cash prize.

As you can see from this winners list, most people seem to win $25 gift cards, which are nothing to sneeze at, but certainly aren’t life-changing.

All things considered, this Winnipeg resident has little excuse but to become Laine’s biggest fan beyond blood relatives … and probably a bigger fan that at least some in the Laine clan.

At minimum, some of that winning money should probably go toward a Laine jersey, right?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Laine rubs elbows with Gretzky on five-goal night

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Patrik Laine, number one with a bullet

When you have a night a special as the one Laine experienced, you get your own section.

On a night of hat tricks, Laine refused to settle for a mere three goals, nearly managing a double-hatty. Ultimately, he finished with a ridiculous five goals on five shots. If anyone can do that, it’s Laine.

This isn’t just a one-night outburst for Laine, either. By the three-goal mark, he had reached at least a hat trick for the seventh time in his young career … and the third during the month of November.

In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s been a very long time since someone managed a hat trick of hat tricks during a single month.

Laine, 20, won’t turn 21 until April 19. That’s relevant to note because, while he’s unlikely to match this Wayne Gretzky mark, it’s also true that it was already unlikely that he’d generate three hat tricks in a single month.

Laine lands in Gretzky-rarified-air more than once. Sportsnet’s stats staff also notes that he’s the first 20-year-old to collect five goals since Gretzky managed that mark twice. Again, it would be asking a lot for the winger to match that mark by number 99, yet he also has the rest of the season to do so (Winnipeg’s last regular-season game comes on April 6, almost two weeks before his 21st birthday).

PHT’s Scott Billeck did a great job of recapping Laine’s red-hot ways:

Thanks to this ridiculous night, Laine now has 19 goals in 2018-19, giving him the NHL lead. Interestingly, Saturday left him at 99 career regular-season goals. It should be fascinating to see Laine try to climb this list, too.

Interesting to see Jimmy Carson right behind Gretzky, the name he’ll be linked with forever thanks to that famous trade, eh?

The other three stars

1. Kyle Connor and Bryan Little

Let’s give Laine’s partners-in-crime a little love, too.

Both Connor and Little collected four assists during Laine’s five-goal night. If you have to choose one of the two, Connor would probably get quite a bit more credit for driving play, as he finished the night with four shots on goal to go with his four assists (Little had one SOG).

Many joked about how Laine’s going to get paid on his next contract. The way things going, Connor might not be too cheap, either.

2. Andreas Johnsson

Heading into Saturday, this 24-year-old Leafs forward had two goals over his entire, young NHL career. Johnsson generated a hat trick in a single period on Saturday, and actually hit that mark with about seven minutes remaining in the opening frame.

Would Johnsson have generated even more offense if the Flyers ever got on the board in this one? Maybe, but he still enjoyed one of the night’s great performances.

(Garret Sparks‘ 34-save shutout likely kept Toronto from going too over the top.)

Read more about Toronto making life miserable for Philly’s goalies here.

3. Jake Guentzel

Guentzel didn’t need three periods to collect his hat trick. He took advantage of some splendid Sidney Crosby passing to gain three goals without about four minutes left in the second period.

This marks the first regular-season hat trick for Guentzel, who now has 18 points in 22 games during the 2018-19 campaign.

Fun fact unless you’re the one managing Pittsburgh’s salary cap: like Connor and Laine, Guentzel is headed toward RFA status. A big season would go really well with all of those playoff heroics, huh?

Highlights of the Night

Quite the no-look pass by Crosby

Matt Luff had the right stuff to make Jacob Markstrom take his bluff:

Non-Laine, non-Sabres-topping-the-league factoids

Laine isn’t the only youngster playing beyond his years.

Gotta love how specific this stat is:

Scores

WSH 5 – NYR 3
TOR 6 – PHI 0
BOS 3 – MTL 2
BUF 3 – DET 2 (SO)
CHI 5 – FLA 4 (OT)
NYI 4 – CAR 1
PIT 4 – CBJ 2
WPG 8 – STL 4
COL 3 – DAL 2
VGK 6 – SJS 0
VAN 4 – LAK 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Wheeler keeps dealing; big apples

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Three Stars

1. Blake Wheeler

What a night for the wildly underrated Winnipeg Jets captain.

Wheeler scored a goal and four assists, crossing 400 for his (again, wildly underrated) career. That milestone helper came as he read Nathan MacKinnon to create a turnover and set the table for Nikolaj Ehlers. Three of Wheeler’s four assists were primary helpers, too.

As usual, the winger brought a great all-around game, earning a +3 rating and logging a significant 3:13 of shorthanded time.

This virtuoso performance extended Wheeler’s point streak to nine games (two goals, 15 assists). Wheeler’s now at 21 points on the season, with 18 of them being assists, which ranks second in the NHL.

Mark Scheifele had a strong game against the struggling Avs, too, scoring a goal and two assists.

2. Mikael Granlund

The Wild absolutely dominated the Ducks, who seem to have no gear other than “hope John Gibson and a few deadly shooters can save the day.”

Granlund and Jason Zucker both generated three points, so you could consider them tied for the second star. Granlund gets the slight edge because he scored two goals and one assist, while Zucker generated two assists and one goal. Again, you could make the argument that Zucker should get that nod instead (or be the third star, if you’re really being difficult), as he had five SOG to Granlund’s two, and Zucker’s tally was the GWG.

Still, Granlund enjoyed a slightly more impressive night, including really making it easy for Zucker on his goal.

The Wild are quietly heating up, with wins in nine of their last 11 games. Bruce Boudreau just finds ways to keep his team’s regular-season-relevant, doesn’t he? Granlund and Zucker deserve serious credit for stepping up with Eric Staal banged up.

3. Chad Johnson

Friday was a solid night for goalies around the NHL. Sergei Bobrovsky earned praise from Torts and had the same number of saves (33) as Johnson. Like Bob, Frederik Andersen only allowed one goal while making 38 stops.

Chad Johnson is the only goalie who earned a shutout on Friday, though.

Considering Jake Allen‘s substantial struggles, the Blues might want to lean on Johnson for a while, as the journeyman goalie has – on occasion – shown that he can carry a team in net at times during certain stretches. The Blues have been able to occasionally create a really nurturing atmosphere for hot-and-cold goalies (like Brian Elliott, Johnson’s creasemate from last season), so perhaps Johnson could go on a mini-run? If nothing else, this was a nice win, especially if Mike Yeo is in any way looking over his shoulder at Joel Quenneville.

In other Blues news, Ryan O'Reilly is on a nine-game point streak.

Highlights

It didn’t translate to a goal, but this bit of Scheifele wizardry was magical:

Speaking of magical, Nick Foligno‘s beautiful pass to Oliver Bjorkstrand played a trick on three Capitals opponents:

Andreas Athanasiou ranks as one of Friday’s honorable mentions, scoring the goal that sent Detroit’s game against the Rangers into OT, then setting up Dylan Larkin for this OT game-winner:

Lowlight

Here’s hoping referee Brad Meier is feeling OK after this uncomfortable fall:

Factoids

Wheeler’s 400th assist wasn’t the only milestone from Friday. Patrick Marleau didn’t do a whole lot for it (Nazem Kadri ended up batting down a puck for a nice goal), but most of his 600 career assists have surely been impressive. (These two assist milestones explain the big apples part of this post’s headline, in case that wasn’t clear.)

Kinda cool to see his old buddy Joe Thornton on this list with him:

Chad Johnson’s enjoyed some nice peak moments in the NHL, but it’s been a while since he’s enjoyed a night like Friday.

Rarely a bad time to see your name next to Wayne Gretzky’s, eh, Blake Wheeler?

Scores

TOR 6 – NJD 1
CBJ 2 – WSH 1
DET 3 – NYR 2 (OT)
STL 4 – SJS 0
WPG 5 – COL 2
MIN 5 – ANA 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.