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What to expect from newest Golden Knight Nikita Gusev

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The Goose is loose.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 16 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With TSN’s Darren Dreger reporting that Nikita Gusev is slated to join the Vegas Golden Knights tonight, there are some sky-high expectations surrounding the 26-year-old and what he can bring to the Vegas lineup.

The Athletic’s Jesse Granger earlier today outlined, with an assist from in-house analytics whiz Dom Luszczyszyn, what type of production Gusev might be capable of in the NHL. I won’t give too much of that away, since it’s behind a paywall, but this one sentence jumps off the page:

Gusev was better in the KHL than Panarin, Radulov and Evgenii Dadonov — all players of similar age who have had great successes in the NHL.

A slapdash interpretation of such a fact might lead one to think that Gusev is going to be an All-Star the second he hits the ice. Should he follows in the footsteps of the aggregate Russian ex-pat, though, he will be.

Let’s take a look at how he has done since becoming a regular fixture in the top-six. Keep in mind, these are Gusev’s stats put through a KHL-to-NHL translation:

Nikita Gusev NHL Translation

Season Age GP G A P TOI All Sit. P/60 All Sit. P/60 NHL Rank
Season Age GP G A P TOI All Sit. P/60 All Sit. P/60 NHL Rank
2014-15 22 55 17 13 30 16:54 1.94 T-139th
2015-16 23 56 16 23 39 16:24 2.55 36th
2016-17 24 57 19 38 57 15:41 3.83 1st
2017-18 25 54 18 32 50 15:52 3.50 T-10th
2018-19 26 62 14 52 66 15:52 4.02 2nd

Oh my. Those all situations points-per-60-minutes ranks are gorgeous. He has been the NHL equivalent of a point-per-game player his past three years in the KHL, which is even more impressive considering he lost Vadim Shipachyov (name rings a bell) and Ilya Kovalchuk prior to the 2018-19 season.

Now that you’ve had a chance to have a change of clothes, let’s dive into things a bit more, and perhaps temper expectations. For every Panarin, there’s always a story like Sergei Plotnikov’s. Plotnikov thrived as a top-six winger with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl before coming to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where it was hoped he could ride shotgun with countryman Evgeni Malkin and everyman Phil Kessel. Early returns suggested he couldn’t hang with the two Penguin juggernauts, leading to a drop to the fourth-line, before a trade to the Arizona Coyotes. All told, his NHL career amounted to three points in 45 NHL games. Decent Corsi, for what it’s worth!

NHL players going abroad also can paint a puzzling picture. Brian O’Neill tallied one primary point in 22 games with the New Jersey Devils in 2014-15 before blossoming into a top-line winger in the KHL, finishing fifth in scoring in the Russian circuit this past year. You can point to Dan Sexton, Linus Omark and Linden Vey for similar examples.

The KHL-to-NHL or vice-versa translation is quite variable, and it is unlikely that Gusev becomes a top-10 scorer in the NHL. Part of this is because, well, that’s very hard to do for anybody, but there’s also the adjustment difficulties, as well as his aging.

Scoring rate aging curves suggest that a player is most productive during his age-22 to 26 seasons, the latter of which Gusev just recently experienced. This does not mean that the production will fall off a cliff, but that he is unlikely to reach these heights ever again.

Lukas Radil of the San Jose Sharks, via Fear the Fin’s Sheng Peng, gave some insight into Gusev’s strengths:

He’s really good on power play. Good shot, passes smart. He learned well from Datsyuk.

Calling that scouting report encouraging is an understatement. Let’s see it in meme form:

Radil later mentioned that because of Gusev’s small frame, playing him close to the body is likely the ideal strategy.

As excited as one may be for Gusev’s production across a full season — Luszczyszyn figures his value will be between 1.6-1.8 wins, roughly equivalent to that of Alex Tuch or Erik Haula — that’s something we can worry about come October. The real question is: how will Gusev perform during the playoffs?

As Granger mentioned in his article, Gusev’s likely spot on the Vegas roster in the near term is on the third line, alongside Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch. The latter has been at his best when paired with more of a playmaker, and with apologies to Tomas Nosek, the Czech bottom-sixer does not have the requisite hands to match Tuch’s needs. Gusev’s passing could allow Tuch and Eakin to increase their productivity, giving the Knights a more balanced attack.

In fact, Nosek (despite poor showings his first two playoff games) has been a significantly better player than any of Ryan Reaves, William Carrier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and as such could easily take one of their places in the event of a Gusev start.

As far as the power play is concerned, Gusev’s sensible place appears to be on the second power play in place of Cody Eakin, who has just five PP points in 134 regular season minutes as a Golden Knight. That would give us the following power play groupings:

PP1: Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, Mark Stone, Tuch, Shea Theodore

PP2: William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Gusev, Colin Miller

That’s damn pretty, ain’t it?

Finally, we’ll leave you with Gusev’s showing at the 2015 KHL skills competition, in which he scored one of the more absurd shootout goals ever seen: