Monday, 22 June 2015

Nikita Scherbak should spend next season with the IceCaps in the AHL.

Heresy Alert: I have some reservations with respect to Nikita Scherbak.  I certainly don't think he's ready to jump to the NHL, that he can be the 'solution' to our talent problem in the Top 6, specifically on the right wing.  I don't buy in that with a strong camp he can win an NHL job in October.

The simple reason that gives me pause, that keeps me off the bandwagon, is that Nikita put up 27 goals and 82 points this season, which is essentially identical to the production that he had last season.  And usually, you expect a player to take a big step in terms of production from one season to the next in the CHL, especially a highly-drafted scoring forward.  You'd like the points to build.

Now, I understand the caveats, that he played under Kevin Constantine, a noted taskmaster who insists on a defensive system, and effort in all three zones from his players.  I note with satisfaction that Nikita gets glowing reviews from his coaches, from everyone, about his attitude and dedication on and off the ice, his leadership and rapport with the team.

I also get that opposing teams had a simple book on his Silvertips team, that if you shut down Scherbak, you shut them all down, so he was facing very tight checking every game.

I saw all the highlights videos that showcase his incredible talent, his skill on skates and with the puck.

I read the comments that explained that he was given free rein with the Saskatoon Blades to focus on offence and entertain the fans, whereas his responsibilities were manyfold in Everett, so he contributed much more in his second season, it just didn't show up on the scoresheet.

Despite all this, it would have been nice if his point totals had jumped by 15 or 20 points.  As an illustration, lots of observers were anticipating a drop in production for Nikolaj Ehlers due to the departure of Jonathan Drouin this season, yet he maintained his point totals from last season in 12 fewer games.

When Nikita was traded to Everett, it was explained as an attempt to get a linemate for Ivan Nikolishin, that those two could rely on each other and lead the Silvertips.  That didn't quite transpire, the centre's production also was static this season.

Nikita will in all likelihood jump to the pros this fall, sending him back to the WHL seems pointless.  I do think he should put in a lot of time in the AHL though, it's not like he had nothing left to learn in junior, like he torched the league.  I envision him playing a lot, in all situations, specially on the powerplay.  I could see him being released to play in the World Junior tournament, if the Russian team would have him.

I can see him having a look with the Canadiens, either early in the season or for injury reasons, but to rely on Marc Bergevin's maxim that you often regret bringing up a player too soon, but seldom regret calling them up too late, he'll spend the most time in St. John's, learning the pro game.  He'll mature mentally and physically, adapt to the system and the opposition, make the progression.

And he won't turn out like Guillaume Latendresse, who was relied on too early in his career because he looked the part, he had size, what we needed, so we crossed our fingers, rationalized that his physique would allow him to 'withstand' the rigors of the NHL.  We enjoyed the early success, but now years later rue the decision, and wonder what could have been, if not for the early fame and fortune and stardom and injuries.

Let's allow Nikita to absorb more, to grow up, to reach cruising altitude, before we dump years of frustration and great expectations on his 19 year old shoulders.

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