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Nikita Kucherov - A Playmaker/Sniper (Hybrid) Study

Updated: Feb 9

*There are a lot of videos below - give it 30 seconds to fully load before you click off*



Nikita Kucherov is an extremely talented athlete.


As Darryl Belfry says in one of his podcasts, he has worked on his talents through thousands and maybe even millions of reps.


The ability he has crafted is phenomenal.


But often when we watch Kucherov, we become mesmerized by his calm confidence and smooth plays.


We do not see the specific skills, tactics, and strategies we can learn from him and implement into our game structure.


That is why I studied 5 of his games and all of his most recent highlight mixes to see what I could find that would help players.


I am making this stuff for a younger version of myself who would have killed to have information like this consolidated in one place.


We are going to first break things down into 3 key areas




Position

(Position Player Plays On Team)

He is a left-handed right winger.


This means he plays on his 'off wing'.


Role

(What Is Expected From Player On Team)


Nikita Kucherov is undoubtedly a 1st line player.


Playing about 22:00 minutes per game.


This stat is massively boosted by playing a ton of powerplay minutes where it's not unusual to see him stay on the ice for a full 2-minute powerplay.


Archetype

(Way Of Describing A Player's General Play Style)


He has developed a unique hybrid blend of playmaker and shooter/sniper.


He typically is a pass-first player, but his shot is so high level that when he does shoot, he is a massive threat.


I believe that much of his passing success is influenced by his ability to threaten the shot.


This allows him to get players to over-commit and then lay the puck off to a teammate for a better chance.


Identity

(Unique Skill Expression And Skills Stack)


What I find most interesting about Kucherov is that he has developed a unique set of patterns and skills that allow him to be very successful.


The first place I will guide your attention is this player mix.


Just watch with complete focus and note down anything that stands out to you.



What did you notice?


There are many things I discovered, but I will save these insights for a bit later as I combine my thinking after studying 5 full games and various other videos.


Let's next guide our attention to this awesome video from Hockey Psychology on YouTube.


I think his simplified analysis is beautiful!



Most of the video highlights the way that Kucherov slows the game down like no other player.


It highlights the fact that he can play with a very calm and relaxed demeanour.


Unlike Mackinnon who is much more explosive and athletic, Kucherov is more calculated and precise with his movements.


I do not think that one is 'better' but it means that Kucherov tends to do better with better players, whereas I think Mackinnon can essentially play with anyone and still dominate and control a game.


Now an amazing resource that I found is the Hockey PDOcast with Dimitri Filipovic and Darryl Belfry.


In the below conversation, they break down all of the insights they have on Kucherov.


It was awesome!


What I found was lacking though, was that they did not break down specific clips.


So that is why I continued to break things down after this video.



My key takeaways:

After going through the study material of 5 games, as well as countless other videos there is much to learn.


Here are the main takeaways I learned that will be valuable to you...


Easy/Effortless Movement in Mind and Body

When Kucherov is playing, it seems effortless.


He never wastes any energy.


Every move is efficient, smooth, and with a purpose.


He likes to roam around the ice a lot looking for opportunities and then he attacks when the opening arrives




Meticulous Technician Who Can FLOW

You can tell that Kucherov is constantly digging into these skills and improving.


There is so much work that has gone into has game.


When he gets onto the ice he just flows and trusts his instincts.


He makes mistakes, bit he is ok with it and has his coaches trust that he will improve for next time.




What He Does Can Be Programmed

A lot of what Kucherov does can be programmed into a player.


It takes work.


It takes reviewing your mechanics.


It takes comparing your mechanics to the best players.


It is not as much like Mackinnon who is much harder to replicate because of his freakish athleticism (which we are working to replicate more and more).


Even when you watch his shot, you have to realize this is thousands of hours of iterations and improvement, he wasn't just born with this ability.




Shot Release Options

He has several different shot releases, but these are the ones he has mastered that many other players have not.


He has mastered the Soft-Ankle Release which I will break down below.


He can also do this shot off of a one-timer which makes it 10x more dangerous!


In addition to this, he has a world-class one time, and a technique several other players have mastered which I call the Cross-Step-Step Release.


These are shots you can learn and begin to implement into your game structure.







Elite Breakouts Ability As Winger

Able to make amazing exits because he does not just force pucks.

Using the seal and cut-back movement he is able to move out of pressure and then put the puck to his players moving with speed.


Kucherov is able to catch a pass cutting back and then his a guy in the neutral zone with speed which forces teams to play further back, thus opening up space for future breakouts.






Masterful Zone Entries

Kucherov is a manace on zone entries.


He stays so calm and collected that it is nearly impossible to read his next move.


He is able to use quick passes, cutbacks, kick-outs, and various other movements to create a threat on every attack.





Elite Wall Play

Most players struggle to just deaden it (kill it, place it, then try to make a play)


For Kucherov, his first touch from anywhere is effortless.


He can take a one-timer rim and touch in once and make an effortless play


He does it all in one touch.


How does he do it?

  • He uses footwork

  • Proper spacing from the wall

  • Reading the speed and weight of the puck

  • Pre-checking and scanning the ice with early shoulder checks

  • He knows what side of the stick to use



The Short Cushion

Able to make one-touch passes and shots very easily.


Able to hide everything with very quite feet and never getting off balance.






Slowing The Play-Down & Being Deceptive

He is able to settle the puck down and not force plays.


Instead, his decision-making is very clear and calm.


This does lead him to make mistakes, but also allows him to force players to over-commit and make them make mistakes.


Is able to switch the decision at any point because he is balanced.


He knows what his options are, then trusts his trained instincts to make the right call.




Ability to Hide Behind Coverage & Knowing When To Attack

He is very good at hiding behind the play and not getting noticed which makes him very dangerous.


This allows him to score goals after not doing much for a large portion of a game.






Engaging Linemates

One other thing you will notice when watching most of these clips is that he is able to use teammates effectively.


He likes to make quick passes and call for it back.


He always expects it back.


This allows his teammates to always be engaged and helps him to move the opponents around so he can make the plays he wants to make.




My Word of Caution

Though it may seem like you can just be like him and it will all work out.


If you are not already like him, trying and replicating his whole game will be costly.


For example, if you're a great shutdown forward, then it won't be wise to adopt his play style.


Most players will benefit from stealing just a couple of habits from him and installing them into their Identity structure.


What Is an Identity Structure?


Essentially it means the collection of habits and skills a player has that make up who they are as a player.


Like the collection of habits in life that make up your personality.


I encourage you to be careful not to just blindly try to implement these skills, habits, tactics, and strategies into your game.


Instead, think about how they fit into your style of play and the role you are expected to play.


This will help you dramatically improve your game by not trying to implement shooter/sniper habits if you are a 2 way centerman.


See what I mean...


Hope this helps on your journey.


If you want to really take your game to abother level make sure to check out the Next Level Academy to see what's possible.


See you at the next level!


  • Corson



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Who is Corson Searles?

I am a former player & mental/performance advisor for AAA, junior, college, and pro hockey players. I am obsessed with dissecting atheletic performance potential, lifestyle design, and hockey development.

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