By now, it is common knowledge that General Manager George McPhee is an intelligent man with a few tricks up his sleeve, and he knows how to use them effectively. That is, after all, how Vegas acquired former Ottawa Senator Mark Stone.
That’s why everyone took interest when he started pursuing SKA St. Petersburg left-wing Nikita Gusev after a Game 1 loss to the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the 2018-2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. Was he a secret weapon GMGM was pulling out to assure ascension to the Finals?
Before we get into his impressive statistics, let’s get to know our newest Golden Knight on a personal level. Gusev is a 26-year-old who hails from Moskva, Russia. He has received several accolades, including a gold Olympic medal, a silver medal from the IIHF Ice Hockey World Junior Championship (World Juniors), and a World Championship bronze medal, just to name a few. He’s received numerous distinctions in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) as well, but more on that in a minute.
His stellar playing was making waves all across the world as far back as 2009 when he was chosen to go to the Junior Hockey League (MHL) All-Star Team. Tampa Bay took interest in this young prospect, and drafted him in the seventh round of the NHL Entry Draft. Though signed, he never played a single game in the United States. The Lightning sat on his rights until they traded them over to Vegas. Gusev has been on the Vegas Reserve list ever since.
What about his hockey playing is so impressive? As stated before, he’s received several commendations during his time in the KHL. In just this 2018-2019 season alone, he’s the KHL Scoring Leader at 82 points in 62 games (17 goals, 65 assists). Those 65 assists gave him the Most Assists in a KHL season. In the previous season, he was the second-place scorer at 62 points, just one point behind the actual lead scorer. He also received the 2017-2018 Golden Stick and Helmet awards, which went to the regular season MVP and best left-wing player in the league.
This kid is an absolute beast in the KHL, a golden goose, if you will. It’s no surprise that GMGM wanted to call him up, and no wonder why SKA St. Petersburg was a bit hesitant to let Gusev out of his contract. The stars aligned, however, and Gusev signed an entry-level one-year deal with the Golden Knights Sunday morning, wearing jersey number 17. He begins practicing on Monday, and there is a possibility that he could be playing in Game 4.
Coach Gerard Gallant says he’s not making promises, however.
“If we think we need to put him in our lineup, we’ll see where it goes,” he said. “I’m very confident with our lineup right now.”
There have been exceptional KHL players who have moved up to the NHL and had a rough time adjusting, so the trepidation to start Gusev in the playoffs as soon as he gets off the plane is warranted. Gallant wants to see how Gusev does in practice before he makes any lineup decisions.
The Golden Knights have also signed another young prospect very recently who doesn’t have the option of playing in the playoffs. Defenseman Jimmy Schuldt was signed to a one-year, entry-level contract on April 3. Gusev just signed on April 14. The whole situation radiates a schoolyard vibe. Why does Gusev get the possibility to play and Schuldt doesn’t?
It boils down to NHL rules and player guidelines. Players are not permitted to play in the playoffs unless they are signed to the team in question by the time the trade deadline expires, which was February 25. As Schuldt was not on the reserves for the Golden Knights nor was he signed to them by that time, he is unable to play.
Gusev, however, was on the Reserve list at that time as the Golden Knights had his rights since 2017. As long as he received an entry-level contract (which was just secured this morning), he is eligible to play.
Gusev’s contract will expire July 1, after which he will become a restricted free agent.
It should be noted that this contract is relatively cheap, as Gusev did not play with Vegas during the regular season. Why dish out money to someone you’re not expecting to play?
Be prepared, folks. The arena may start echoing with elongated chants of “Goose!”