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What Devils can expect from Gusev

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There is a very strong argument to be made that Nikita Gusev has been the best hockey player in the world that was not already playing in the NHL.

Now that he is officially a member of the New Jersey Devils we will finally get a chance to see what he is capable of in North America.

Anytime a player makes the jump from a European league to the NHL there is always some uncertainty as to what they will be able to do, and that always carries some risk when teams are investing millions of dollars in them. Sometimes the gamble works, and sometimes it does not.

If you are a Devils fan and looking for reasons for optimism that Gusev will be one of the success stories, it is that the players that are most similar to him in terms of age and production in the KHL have mostly succeeded in the NHL.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The table below is a quick breakdown of some similar players.

It looks at what each forward did in their two previous seasons in the KHL (sorted by points per game) and what they then produced after signing in the NHL. As you can see, the players most similar to Gusev have, for the most part, been extremely productive.

Radulov and Kovalchuk are, admittedly, not completely perfect comparisons here because they both had NHL experience before they went to the KHL (Kovalchuk was an NHL superstar) and there was at least some sense as to what they were capable of.

But Gusev’s production is right in line (or better) than what Artemi Panarin, Evgenii Dadonov, Radulov, and Kovalchuk did before making their jumps back to the NHL. All of them are currently top-line forwards.

Kovalchuk’s return to Los Angeles this season is viewed as a disappointment, but he is also significantly older than the others in that group and still managed to score at a 20-goal pace on a miserable Kings team that lacked any offensive creativity around him. The only comparable player that did not have any success in the NHL was Vadim Shipachyov, and the circumstances around his failure in Vegas are still a mystery as that relationship seemed destined for a divorce before it even had a chance to begin. We still don’t know what he could have been capable of with a real shot.

The only other players that really flopped in making the jump (Sergei Plotnikov, Valeri Nichushkin) were not even close to the same level of production in the KHL.

There are still no guarantees, but given his age and what he did recently in Russia there is at least reason to believe he can be closer to a Panarin, Dadonov, or Radulov than a Plotnikov or Nichushkin.

MORE DEVILS COVERAGE:
Devils acquire Gusev from Golden Knights, sign him for two years
One big question remains for Devils after busy summer

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Devils acquire Gusev from Golden Knights, ink him to two-year deal

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The New Jersey Devils continued to bulk up their roster by acquiring Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday and signing him to a two-year, $9 million contract.

Vegas receives a 2020 third-round draft pick and a 2021 second-round pick.

The 27-year-old Gusev was originally a seventh-round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012. He never came over, so the Lightning dealt his rights to Vegas ahead of the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft for Jason Garrison. The forward stayed in the KHL with SKA Saint Petersburg and scored 39 goals and recording 144 points over the last two seasons. Finally, he signed a one-year, entry-level contract in April with the Golden Knights and was with the team during the Stanley Cup Playoffs but did not appear in a game.

The Golden Knights had tried to re-sign Gusev, who was a restricted free agent ineligible for an offer sheet and without arbitration rights, but the two sides were far apart — reportedly $2 million  in negotiations as he sought a multi-year deal. Vegas is so tight up against the cap ceiling that they would have had to move out a few contracts in order to fit his deal. That clearly couldn’t get done.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

“We did our best to accommodate Nikita and his salary request but were unable to do so. He is a good person, a good player and we wish him well in New Jersey,” said Golden Knights general manager George McPhee. “When you have a roster comprised of players who are deserving of a certain salary range you are not always able to make room for everyone. This is the reality of having a good team in the salary cap world. After this trade, we now own nine picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts. These picks will help boost our organizational depth and add to our pool of prospects. Although we were not able to make this work I am really happy with where we are at with our roster.”

Gusev could have returned to the KHL this summer if he did not sign a contract with an NHL team.

Considering what Devils GM Ray Shero gave up here, this is a worthy gamble to take on a player who is coming off an MVP season and averaged 0.85 points per game in 391 career KHL games. Shero has used this offseason to capitalize on the team’s biggest weapon entering the summer: cap space. After this signing, he still has a little over $12 million, per Cap Friendly, in room to continuing strengthening his roster.

From adding up front with Jack Hughes as the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft to bolstering the backend by trading for P.K. Subban to counting on a bounce-back year from Wayne Simmonds after signing him in free agency, the Devils’ aggressive approach to the offseason is hoping to pay off in two ways: get them back in the playoffs in 2020 and entice Taylor Hall to sign a long-term extension.

The on-ice product has certainly been improved this summer and keeping Hall in the fold would only continue moving the franchise a positive direction.

MORE: Devils eager for offseason splashes to help deliver wins

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Pavel Datsyuk isn’t coming back to NHL after all

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A few weeks ago, there were rumblings about Pavel Datsyuk potentially coming back to the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings. On Wednesday, those rumors were officially put to bed.

After spending the last three years with the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA, the 40-year-old has signed with his hometown team, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. Datsyuk’s new contract is for one year.

Although it would’ve been cool to see Datsyuk back in the NHL with the Red Wings, it’s easy to understand why he’d want to suit up for his hometown team, again, before the end of his professional career. And according to agent Dan Milstein, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg and the Red Wings were the only two teams he considered signing with this off-season.

The last time Datsyuk played in the NHL, he put up 16 goals and 49 points in 66 contests back in 2015-16. He’s coming off a season in which he scored 12 goals and 42 points in 54 KHL contests, so we know he’s still capable of playing at a high level.

But is this it for him in the NHL? Will we revisit a potential return to the Red Wings at this time next year?

We can always dream.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Oilers shift continues: MacTavish takes coaching job in KHL

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The Edmonton Oilers’ shift in management is continuing. Ken Holland was recently hired to serve as the Oilers’ new GM and now Craig MacTavish is leaving his post as Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations.

HC Lokomotiv of the KHL announced that MacTavish has signed a two-year contract to coach their team. MacTavish served as the bench boss of the Oilers for eight seasons, posting a 301-252-47-56 record and leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.

MacTavish later served as their general manager from 2013-15 before being replaced by Peter Chiarelli, which led to MacTavish shifting to the Senior Vice President role he’s held until now. Although his departure comes during the Oilers’ remodeling following two disappointing seasons, this change might have ultimately been primarily about what MacTavish wanted.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what other news comes out of the Oilers in the coming months. We already know that Holland plans to hire a new head coach rather than keep Ken Hitchcock in that role and there could very well be more changes on the front office side as well.

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Datsyuk leaves KHL team; Red Wings return possible?

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When Pavel Datsyuk left the NHL for the KHL after the 2015-16 season, it felt like he was putting an end to his playing career in North America.

Not so fast!

On Tuesday, Datsyuk announced via social media that his days with SKA St. Petersburg have come to an end.

“The St. Petersburg stage of my career has come to an end. These were the memorable years,” Datsyuk wrote (quotes have been translated from Russian to English). “I want to say thank you to the SKA club. In St. Petersburg, there are wonderful conditions for games and training, attentive staff – all this helps to concentrate exclusively on hockey.”

Earlier this year, Datsyuk’s agent, Dan Milstein, told a Russian media outlet that his client wasn’t ready to retire. And after Datsyuk made his announcement on Tuesday night, Sportsnet’s Ellliotte Friedman reported that Ken Holland had talked about the possibility of bringing the veteran back into the fold.

The Russian forward is expected to be back in Michigan in the next little while.

Holland, of course, is no longer the general manager in Detroit, but he remains in the organization. Steve Yzerman will now be the one to decide whether or not bringing Datsyuk back makes sense for this young Red Wings team.

Even though he doesn’t appear to be the most vocal guy in the locker room, the 40-year-old’s experience could help turn this Detroit franchise around. And let’s not forget that he showed he can still play. The veteran posted 12 goals and 42 points in 54 KHL games last season.

During his last NHL season, Datsyuk had a respectable 16 goals and 49 points in 66 games with the Red Wings. At this point of his career, the Wings don’t need him to be the go-to guy anyway. He just needs to help them with their transition from being a rebuilding team to a competitive one.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.