The Vegas Golden Knights added arguably the best player outside of the NHL to their organization on Sunday, signing Nikita Gusev of SKA St. Petersburg to a one-year entry-level contract.
Gusev, 26, led the KHL with 82 points (17 goals and 65 assists) in 62 games for SKA this past season, outpacing the second-place finisher by 13 points, the largest margin since Alexander Radulov in 2010-11. The Moscow native won the previous season’s Golden Stick Award (the KHL’s MVP) and is likely to earn the same honor this season.
“He’s a very intelligent player,” Vegas general manager George McPhee said. “Very good on the power play and so good over there that you have to sign him and find out what he can do at this level. He’s at the right age to try this and I was delighted that he worked hard to get over here.”
McPhee said Gusev had to give back bonuses and contract incentives that he already earned in order for agent JP Barry and him to leave SKA.
Gusev has excelled beyond the regular season as well, piling up 68 playoff points over the last four seasons (best in the KHL), as well as winning Best Forward at the 2018 Winter Olympics, leading all skaters with 12 points. He will practice with the team on Monday.
“He’ll join our group and we’ll see where it goes,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “I’m not going to make any promises either way. We’ll see what happens. I like our team. I’ve liked our team all year. If we think we need him to put in the lineup, we’ll see where it goes.”
Gusev was originally drafted in the seventh round by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but never played a game stateside. His rights were traded to Vegas during the expansion draft alongside a 2017 second-round Tampa Bay pick (later moved for Keegan Kolesar) and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2018 fourth-round selection in exchange for the Golden Knights selecting Jason Garrison.
The move was also made to allow the 26-year-old to become a restricted free agent on July 1, where Vegas has a good chance to extend the young forward.
For a rundown on what we might reasonably expect from the talented Russian winger, take a look at our article from yesterday.
As for getting Gusev as a possible fill-in for the playoffs, McPhee said the main goal was getting him to Vegas.
“You don’t know what transpires in playoffs, and it gives us some good depth,” McPhee said. “Never had a problem having too many good players around.”
Danny Webster contributed to this report.