The New Jersey Devils placed Nikita Gusev on waivers on Thursday. While there was some speculation Gusev would get claimed, he ultimately cleared waivers to no one’s surprise. And it is a shame too. Because entering the season, there was a lot of potential for Gusev to be successful for the Devils. Unfortunately, Gusev was never able to find his rhythm this season with the Devils. One has to wonder if this is the last time we see Nikita Gusev in a Devils’ uniform.
Nikita Gusev No Longer A Fit With The Devils
As previously mentioned, Nikita Gusev was a player to watch for the Devils entering the season. And why not he was the second-leading scorer on the Devils last season with 44 points (13 goals and 31 assists) in 66 games with the Devils. Gusev was just one point behind Kyle Palmieri for the scoring lead for the team. And while Gusev did get off a slow start for the Devils, he was able to find a rhythm as the season progressed. Gusev will be the first one to admit it took some time to adjust to the North American style of game after playing in the KHL. But once he did, he turned into the dynamic player everyone expected him to be when the Devils traded for him from the Vegas Golden Knights.
However, with Gusev gaining all this momentum with the Devils, the worst thing happened to a player like Gusev… his season was halted. Not by his choice, but because of COVID-19. Since the Devils were not a part of the 24-team Return To Play Stanley Cup Playoffs, Gusev and the rest of the team were off the ice for 10 months. That is not ideal for a player who needs to keep playing games to feel comfortable in a new setting.
Where It Went Wrong
With the way the NHL set up the schedule, the Devils had an extra week of training camp. However, with no preseason games and a shortened training camp, the pressure was on Gusev to perform. Again Gusev had to start from the beginning again. It felt like he was a rookie even though it was his sophomore season in the league. There was a new coach in town with Lindy Ruff. Plus Gusev would need to get back up to speed with the NHL game. Ideally, a player like Gusev has a full training camp and several preseason games to get his legs back. Now, this is not an excuse, but Gusev had a child in the off-season, so that could definitely be a factor in why he is struggling.
The Devils started off strong before COVID sidelined them for two weeks, but it appeared the rest did Gusev some good. After the little hiatus, Gusev had four points in six games, but alas it was not meant to be. Before being placed on waivers, Gusev had five points in 20 games. In addition to just playing five games in the month of March, Gusev was a healthy scratch 13 times this season prior to the move on Thursday.
Not Just A Fit
And while his play has certainly justified this move, it is hard to find a rhythm playing in just six games. According to head coach Lindy Ruff, Gusev has had a tough year, and really has not fit into his system. In addition, Ruff has stated other young players have taken time away from Gusev on the ice. Just look at the responsibilities players like Janne Kuokkanen, Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Bratt, and others are getting. The role Gusev occupied last year, he lost because others stepped up and snatched it from him.
Now granted it is difficult to learn the system if you are not playing all the time. But with the skill set Gusev has, there was potential for a monster year. Maybe the expectations just got to him. Maybe playing all the time in the AHL will help Gusev for when he does return to the big club. However, with one year left on his deal, the experiment between the Devils and Gusev could be over.
It may be hard for the Devils to trade Gusev considering his cap hit. Not to mention if they did try to trade Gusev, it would be at his lowest point. Sometimes players need a reset. And a player like Gusev has to go through the ropes of playing in the NHL. So hopefully for the Devils and Gusev, a trip to the minors will do him some good. However, if he does not show any progress in the AHL, the Devils may just let Gusev go for nothing.
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