Much to the delight of Trevor Timmins, the Montreal Canadiens selected Nikita Scherbak with the 26th pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The Habs had Scherbak ranked a lot higher than 26th so as Scherbak fell into their laps, they jumped at the opportunity to select him.
Late first round picks aren’t always shoe-ins to be regular full-time NHL players. In fact, 33% of first round picks don’t end up playing 100 games at the NHL level. As well, players selected towards the end of the first round usually take longer to crack the line-up. They tend to have some deficiencies in their games which have to be worked on before making the leap. This was the case for Nikita Scherbak.
Patience Paying off Montreal Canadiens Nikita Scherbak
The Habs decided to take their time developing Scherbak. In fact, over half the players picked in the first round of his draft year have played over 100 games. Scherbak has yet to hit 30. While he possessed the frame of an NHL forward, there were deficiencies in his game that needed to be developed before becoming a regular at the NHL level. The Habs elected to bring him up through their AHL system in order for him to develop the tools he needed to be successful in the NHL. It’s now looking like that’s finally starting to pay off.
Scherbak’s offensive abilities were never in doubt. He has a great set of hands and elite vision. Scherbak reads plays well and his playmaking ability is top notch. He likes to slow things down once entering the offensive zone and take a look at all his options. While he is a pass-first type of player, he does possess a very good shot. This makes him extremely dangerous. Being as creative as he is and a pass-first type of player, opponents tend to cheat while defending him as they are expecting a pass. If he doesn’t find an open teammate, he has the ability to quickly turn and shoot. His release is extremely quick and allows him to create high quality scoring chances. This makes him a very difficult player to play against.
Scherbak’s creativity not only makes him a talented scoring winger, but he can make everyone else around him better as well. This was on display instantly after his call-up. Coach Claude Julien decided to play Scherbak with Alex Galchenyuk who was struggling this season. In seven games together, Galchenyuk had seven points.
Maturing His Game
When Scherbak first arrived at the pro level, the biggest concerns for him were his defensive game and his work ethic. Away from the puck, Scherbak looked lost at times. While many are very critical of the development work done by Laval Rocket coach Sylvain Lefebvre, Scherbak is one of the prospects he helped develop well.
During his first season and a half with the St. John’s IceCaps in the AHL, Scherbak played a pretty lackadaisical game. You could see the potential when he would finally give the effort, but it just wasn’t always there. Lefebvre opened Scherbak’s eyes by benching him for the whole first period in a game against Syracuse on November 30th, 2016. Scherbak responded instantly, scoring a goal and an assist in the eventual 3-2 shootout win for the IceCaps. Scherbak credits Lefebvre for “making him respond like a man” and also stating that he took the benching to heart.
From that day forward, Scherbak started putting in work and doing his homework off the ice. He stated Lefebvre made him realize the importance of watching video, eating right and getting a good nights rest. Also, Lefebvre made Scherbak realize that he had to improve his practice and workout habits in order to be a true professional. Scherbak credits all this as to why he was able to mature his game to the level he needed to make the NHL.
Projections for the 2018-2019 Season
Scherbak has all but solidified his spot on the Canadiens roster for the 2018-2019 season. Scherbak did this by proving he was able to provide the offence that was expected of him when he was drafted by the Canadiens while being responsible in his own end. At the very least, he will be a top-nine forward for the Canadiens next season. However, with the chemistry Scherbak and Galchenyuk have shown, he could get a shot in the top six.
While the road to the NHL may have been longer than he wanted, in the end, it was worth it. Scherbak is a much more complete player now. His patience is now starting to pay off, not just for himself, but for the Canadiens as well. The Canadiens will welcome Scherbak with open arms next season, as they try to move past being one of the leagues lowest scoring teams.