On Friday, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Nikita Gusev to a professional tryout. Last season, Gusev played 31 games between the New Jersey Devils and the Florida Panthers and scored four goals and six assists for 10 points in 31 games. The Devils put him on unconditional waivers and, after he passed through, they terminated his contract. He then signed with the Panthers and finished the season there.
It’s Not Like Gusev Can’t Play at the NHL Level
Looking at Gusev’s scoring numbers, it’s pretty easy to see that it just didn’t work out for Gusev during the 2020-21 season. However, he’s shown he can play (and score) in the NHL. During the second half of 2019-20 season, it could be argued that he was the Devils’ best player.
He was also one of the most effective five-on-five scorers in the NHL. He totalled 44 points in 66 games, which would work out to a 55-point pace over an 82-game season.
What caused Gusev’s downfall was that, when the Devil’s new head coach Lindsey Ruff changed to a speedy, rush-based system, it exposed Gusev’s weakness. He’s not the speediest skater. Eventually the Devils couldn’t find a fit for him and let him go.
Gusev has also had success in the KHL, where he led the league in scoring in 2018 and the league’s MVP; and, in his nine seasons in the KHL, Gusev ranked 10th all-time with 332 points (119 goals, 213 assists) in 391 games.
With Less than 100 NHL Games, Gusev Has Made a Tour
Gusev has travelled around the journey around the NHL, but has only played 97 career games over the past two seasons. He was a seventh-round draft selection in 2012 by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 for expansion draft considerations.
Although he signed his entry-level contract with the Golden Knights during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he never actually played a game there. Instead, Gusev’s signing rights were traded to the Devils for draft picks, and the former KHL All-Star and Gagarin Cup Champion played as a rookie in New Jersey.
When Gusev fell out of favor with the Devil’s coaching staff and cleared waivers, he signed with the Panthers for the rest of the season. He scored the stretch, scoring five points in 11 games, but obviously that wasn’t enough to keep him around.
Gusev’s Future in Toronto?
Gusev’s signing seems like another interesting Maple Leafs’ move. Similar to Josh Ho-Sang, who’s also signed to a Maple Leafs’ PTO, Gusev is a skilled play-maker and a potential power-play specialist. He was inconsistent and can struggle on the defensive side of the puck, but that’s where the Maple Leafs’ player development system kicks in.
If Gusev shows enough around the camp, with some remaking of his game, he could become a scoring option on the left-wing. There are wide-open spots, and so far no one’s a lock for any of these spots.
In short. Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas is swinging for the fences by signing Gusev. If Gusev shows nothing, the Maple Leafs have lost nothing. If he shows well and eventually develops into a player, that’s value added to the team.
Gusev’s signing could potentially pay for itself either now or in the future.
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