Nikita Scherbak arrived in Saskatoon as a 17-year-old rookie joining the Blades of the WHL for the 2013-14 season. While the English language was a work in progress, nothing was going to stop Scherbak from pursuing his dream of playing in the NHL.
By the end of his first season in North America, not only did he have a command of the language, Nikita had become a top scoring threat leading the Blades in goals, assists and points. His hard work allowed him to go from a raw prospect to a first round NHL draft choice (26th overall) of the Canadiens at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
During his second WHL season, the biggest question mark for Scherbak was his defensive play. In many ways, being traded in the off-season to the more competitive and defensively -structured Everett Silvertips was exactly what he needed to improve his two-way game. Head coach Kevin Constantine proved to be the perfect teacher for the skilled winger.
Following up a very solid performance at the Canadiens 2014 training camp, Scherbak marginally improved on his point total during the 2014-15 season, and played well in the playoffs. More importantly, his ability to play defensively while maintaining his offensive production improved his plus-minus dramatically, going from a minus-6 to a plus-33. Playing on a better, more structured team was also a contributing factor.
The following season, Scherbak earned a spot with the AHL St. John’s IceCaps at the tender age of 19. Despite suffering an ankle injury, the 19-year-old showed flashes of his talent recording a respectable rookie season.
Scherbak’s strong skating and offensive abilities were on full display averaging 0.47 points per game. The 2015-16 IceCaps were a team with a depleted roster, with numerous injury call-ups by the NHL Canadiens. If there was a weakness in Nikita’s game, perhaps it was his defensive play as he adjusted to the jump from major junior hockey to the AHL.
Scherbak followed up his pro rookie season with a leap forward in his defensive play while building on his confidence offensively, raising his offensive output to 0.62 points per game.
Nikita was a dominant player in the AHL early last season with nine points in the first six games. After returning to Laval following his recovery from a knee injury, Scherbak maintained a 1.3 point per game pace in 26 games with the Rocket.
He looked very good at times during a 26-game NHL audition flashing his high-end skill particularly when suiting up for seven games on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Jonathan Drouin. That said, consistency suffered as coach Claude Julien underutilized the dynamic winger. Averaging just over 13 minutes per game at the bottom of the lineup resulted in a modest four goals and six points for Scherbak.
Having had a taste of the NHL, Scherbak will be looking for more opportunities to display his powerful strides, strong, accurate shot and excellent playmaking abilities. Defensively he has improved by leaps and bounds but consistently showing good anticipation and solid positioning will be the key to earning the full confidence of the NHL coaching staff.
This upcoming season is an important one for the development of perhaps the most offensively-gifted forward prospect in the Canadiens system. Entering this season healthy and confident, Scherbak will be coming off a summer focusing on his skating and increasing his lower-body strength training in Brossard.
In an interview with Journal de Montreal (translated from French) Scherbak said, “I’m working hard, it’s an important year for me and the team. We have to become competitive again. I feel ready personally. I worked on my skating and strength so that I can play better in the corners.”
“I worked on my skating and strength so that I can play better in the corners.”
Scherbak knows that the upcoming year could be pivotal year as a door opens to him being a full-time NHL player with a desire to play a key role. He told the Journal de Montreal (translated from French), “I want to have a great camp and earn myself a spot on the team. My mentality is to not be a depth player.”
“My mentality is to not be a depth player.”
In the absence of Alex Galchenyuk, it’s obvious that the Canadiens need scoring this season. Scherbak has the skillset to be a solid contributor via a top-nine role. A strong camp and consistency in the pre-season could be his ticket to securing a spot.
Nikita’s story this season will be a key one to watch. Canadiens fans should not be surprised if Scherbak takes the ball and runs with it for a breakout season.