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Nikita Gusev a worthwhile gamble for the New Jersey Devils

July 30, 2019, 9:59 AM ET [89 Comments]
Todd Cordell
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When the New Jersey Devils officially introduced P.K. Subban to the fanbase, managing partner Josh Harris went out of his way to say there was more to come.

GM Ray Shero was wheeling and dealing, as Harris put it. He wasn't kidding.

Just days later, Shero pulled the trigger on a sizeable trade acquiring Nikita Gusev – a cult favorite long before becoming a member of the Devils – from Vegas in exchange for a 2nd rounder in 2021 and 3rd rounder in 2020.

The Devils wasted no time getting him locked up, immediately announcing an agreement on a two-year deal worth $4.5 million per season (rumors suggested he was looking for $4M annually in Vegas, where taxes aren't as much of a factor).

Gusev, who just turned 27, has been the KHL's most prolific offensive player for years. He recorded 215 points (63 goals, 152 assists) in 173 games from 2016-19. That's 1.24 per outing, which is remarkable output in a low-scoring league where seemingly every goaltender posts a .920 save percentage or better.

Last season, for example, 25 qualified netminders reached that mark while 16 finished above .925SV%. Gusev still mustered up 82 points in 62 games and finished 36 points – and 35 assists – clear of the closest teammate to him.

Gusev is a highly intelligent winger with fantastic hands, playmaking ability, and a good shot, although he probably doesn't use it as much as he should. He's one of those guys who will lead teammates into space and create lanes when it looks like none are open.

While he may not be a dynamic skater, his ability to read, react, and make quick decisions helps mitigate that and allows him to play with pace. I am not concerned.

With Gusev in the mix, the Devils now have an abundance of wingers who a) have been quality top-6 forwards for years or; b) project to be quality top-6 forwards for years.

Gusev joins an impressive stable that already features the likes of Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Jesper Bratt, Wayne Simmonds and, perhaps, Jesper Boqvist.

John Hynes will have plenty of options to mix and match with his two star centers, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, depending on the scoreline, opponent, style of game, and so forth.

Is there some risk in signing Gusev? Sure, but probably not as much as you'd think. He has long dominated the 2nd best league in the world, he has showed very well on international stages, he's in the prime of his career, and there's no doubting the raw talent. He is going to contribute.

Will he be a star? Maybe, maybe not. But he doesn't even need to be. If he comes over and produces, say, 45 points – a very reasonable expectation, especially given projected linemates and opportunity (I'll get to that in the coming days) – it's not like $4.5 million will be a crazy overpayment. And it's only a two-year deal. This isn't a long-term investment that, if things go south, the team can't get out of.

The Devils have lacked gamebreaking talent since Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise were on the team and at the peak of their powers. It's hard to come by, and the Devils have somehow added three players with that ability, or potential, in the span of ~a month with P.K. Subban, Hughes and, now, Gusev joining the likes of Hischier and Hall.

I think it's going to pay off sooner than later.

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