The Florida Panthers continue to make some moves ahead of the 2021 NHL trade deadline. Just days after acquiring Lucas Wallmark from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Brett Conolly, the Panthers added yet another forward with their newly found cap space. Nikita Gusev was a newly unrestricted free agent and he has found a new place to call home. Nikita Gusev was recently put on unconditional waivers by the New Jersey Devils to terminate his contract.
As soon as he cleared waivers, he found the Florida Panthers wanting his services. Gusev and the Panthers agreed to a contract that will last until the end of the 2021 season. According to Pierre Lebrun, the contract is worth $1 million. The 28-year-old from Russia has struggled this season with the New Jersey Devils, but a change of scenery may be exactly what he needs to reach the potential he was thought to have had after coming over to North America from playing the KHL.
What Made Nikita Gusev Such a Desirable Player?
Nikita Gusev was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the seventh round of the 2012 NHL Draft. He never actually played for the Lightning as he never left Russia to come to play in North America. After being drafted to the NHL, Nikita Gusev decided to play in the KHL. During his time playing in the KHL, he had some amazing seasons playing for SKA St. Petersburg.
His rise to stardom in the KHL started in the 2016-17 season when he scored 24 goals and 47 assists in just 57 games. He followed it up with another strong season in 2017-18 when he scored 22 goals and 40 assists in 54 games. In his final season playing in Russia, he played 62 games and scored an astonishing 82 points. 17 of those points were goals. At the conclusion of his season, he decided to come over to North America to continue his professional hockey career.
With his rights now belonging to the Vegas Golden Knights, he was ready to suit in the playoffs but unfortunately, he was unable to get into any game action for the club. In the offseason, the Devils wanted the Russian superstar on their roster. The Devils traded a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 second-round draft pick to the Golden Knights for his services. They inked him to a two-year contract worth $9 million.
What Went so Wrong During His Time With the Devils?
Nikita Gusev’s first season in New Jersey wasn’t too bad. He scored 13 goals and 31 assists in 66 games but it was not up to the expectations people had for him. After an eventful offseason for the Devils, there was an expectation of improvement in the team’s performance and individuals such as Gusev. Unfortunately for Nikita Gusev, he did not meet the expectations as he only assisted on three goals and has scored two of his own in 20 games this season. His lack of production and poor play lead to the termination of his contract.
What Should Be Expected From Gusev on the Panthers?
It would not be surprising if Nikita Gusev found himself playing a large role for the Panthers early on. Gusev would be the perfect winger to play alongside Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe while Anthony Duclair is sidelined with an injury. When Duclair returns, Gusev could find himself playing down on the third line with Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari. Playing alongside some more skilled players in Florida Nikita Gusev can hopefully find the scoring touch he possessed back in Russia. This low-risk high-reward signing has the potential to push the Panthers to be serious playoff contenders.
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