On the bubble is a series examining the players in Montreal Canadiens training camp who are fighting for a roster spot. With limited space on the Habs main roster, there is not enough room for all of them. This series looks to figure out who has the best chance of making the team.
Next up: Nikita Scherbak
On the Bubble: Nikita Scherbak
Nikita Scherbak is one of the Montreal Canadiens most talented prospects. He fell to the Canadiens in the first round (26th pick) of the 2014 NHL draft. While his talent is undeniable, he has yet to realize his full potential as a professional.
Scherbak has shown flashes of the skill and talent that people believe make him a future star, but he still had growing pains that landed him in the coaches dog house more than once last year. Despite these setbacks, Nikita Scherbak continues to develop towards his potential. Last season in St. John’s, Scherbak enjoyed a breakout year. He scored 13 goals and 41 points with the Icecaps, up 18 points from his rookie campaign. Scherbak also enjoyed his first taste of NHL action, playing three games for the Canadiens and scoring his first NHL goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Scherbak attended the Montreal Canadiens rookie camp on September 7-13. With his skill set and experience, expectations were high for Scherbak. He got off to a difficult start to the camp but improved each day. By the end of the camp, Scherbak was one of the standouts. For Scherbak, taking the next step is all about finding the consistency in his game.
At his best, Nikita Scherbak is an offensive juggernaut. He was the second best forward in St. John’s last year, behind Charles Hudon. In terms of pure skill, Shcerbak is arguably the Canadiens most gifted prospect.
Scherbak’s best quality is his playmaking ability. When he breaks into the offensive zone, he likes to slow the play down to assess his options; to shoot or pass. It’s what made him one of the IceCaps most dangerous forwards last year. He has excellent vision and reads the play very well. Usually, if he is given the time or space he makes the opposition pay. While his best asset is his passing, Shcerbak also has a very good shot. His shot is underrated because he is would rather set up his teammates than shoot.
While he loves controlling the puck, Scherbak can be careless with it at times. This carelessness is why he has high turnover numbers. While it is easy to chalk it up to effort level, it’s not really the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, Scherbak tries to do too much at times. He sometimes tries to make a pass that is too difficult or keep the offensive play alive longer to create scoring chances.
His decision-making is probably his biggest weakness overall. He tends to favor high-risk plays over the simple one. In the offensive zone, he prefers to take on defenders one-on-one before making a pass to a teammate. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out and he will turn the puck over. This perceived selfish play can be frustrating to teammates and coaches.
He is not a great eye test player. When watching him play, he doesn’t always seem to be giving maximum effort. He can look lazy at times, which leads to turnovers. He also needs to apply himself more in his defensive responsibilities. When given more difficult defensive responsibilities he tends to struggle.
Nikita Scherbak brings a lot to the table. He is a supremely talented player. Still only 21, he is far from a finished product. While the knock against him is his effort level, the narrative that he is a lazy player is a bit overblown. He gets into most of his trouble by trying to do too much on his own.
Scherbak did see an improvement on his point totals from his rookie season, but some viewed it as a bit underwhelming for someone with his talent. For Scherbak, the situation in St. John’s was not ideal for him. He spent a good portion of the season bouching around the lineup. When he finally landed on a line with Chris Terry and Charles Hudon, he began to produce well.
One thing to keep in mind about Scherbak is that he is still only 21. He also is a December baby so he only had a year of Junior before heading to the AHL at age 19. That is a big jump for any player.
For Scherbak, a full-time role with the Canadiens seems to be out of reach. His game is not polished enough for a long run with the Habs. He needs to build off his strong finish and take a major role with the Rockets. He should be on the shortlist for Habs call-ups, especially if the team is looking for a short-term injection of skill. For this season, however, Scherbak should focus on dominating in the AHL.
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