As kids growing up in Russia, the pair of Nikita Gusev and Nikita Kucherov first played together at the age of 15 for a team called the White Bears. Both undersized players, coach Gennady Kurdin took them in and urged them to use their skating and passing to unlock defenses. Quickly, they became unstoppable.
They then moved on together to play for CSKA Moskow of the KHL. Kucherov eventually to the leap of faith heading across the Atlantic ocean to play in the QMJHL where he would become a 2nd round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft while Gusev stayed in Russia where he went from an undersized castoff to the best player in the KHL.
Following MVP campaigns in their respective league, this summer the pair reunited to play for Team Russia in the IIHL World Championships and lit the world on fire.
He’s a skilled player, smart player that can make plays. We played together as kids and it was nice to get back together and we had that chemistry back. He’s a fun guy to play with and a fun guy to be around. We’ve known each other for a long time and it’s easy to talk and easy to hang out with him. He’s just a great guy. -Kucherov
Kucherov and Gusev accounted for 10 goals, 32 points, and a +23 rating in six games together. They ranked #2 and #3 in scoring in the tournament and were the talk of the tournament.
This year, Gusev will try to match Kucherov’s success in the NHL playing his first year with the Golden Knights.
We’ll see what’s going to happen, but I wish him luck and I wish him the best. He’s my good friend and Vegas is going to be happy to have him. -Kucherov
Gusev said the reason he decided to leave his home country to come to North America was that he wanted to play against the best in the world. You would think in making that decision he would lean on his friend, the best player in that best league, for advice. But according to Kucherov, that wasn’t necessary.
He won the Olympic Gold Medal, I should be asking him for advice, not him asking me. -Kucherov
Hopefully, the skill levels translate for Vegas’ Nikita as well as it has for Tampa’s.