Looking at the Montreal Canadiens roster at the end of last season, almost everyone had Nikita Scherbak pegged into the top nine this season. However, after a couple of trades, signings and third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi earning his spot in camp, Scherbak is on the outside looking in. This raises the question, what do the Montreal Canadiens do with Nikita Scherbak?
What the Canadiens can do with Nikita Scherbak
Scherbak looked good at the end of last season. He had a solid work ethic and showed the skills that made the Canadiens select him in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The Canadiens knew they would have a project with Scherbak but he had the offensive ability to be a top-six forward in the future.
However, Scherbak has been inconsistent, not only with his play but his work ethic. Scherbak often looks lazy which in turn causes him to sometimes make ill-advised plays. This work ethic will not be accepted with this new Canadiens team, who have a new approach to the game and a new attitude entering this season.
We’ve seen this work ethic on full display the open the season. The Canadiens have opened the season with a 1-0-1 record after losing a heartbreaker to the Toronto Maple Leafs on opening night as well as easily defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 on Oct. 6. The Canadiens outplayed and outworked both these teams and deserved a better faith against the Leafs. However, the Canadiens are happy taking three points on the road against two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
With the team starting off as strong as they have, its hard to see Nikita Scherbak getting into the lineup any time soon. This forces the Canadiens to make a tough decision regarding the skilled forward. It’s hard to have such a skilled player up in the press box every night, but with the Habs quick start and everyone buying into the system, it’s even harder to put him in the lineup. So what should the Canadiens do with Scherbak?
Send Him to the Minors
Sending him to the minors seems like the most logical option. However, Scherbak requires waivers if he were to get sent to Laval. Only being 22 years old and having the ability that Scherbak has, he would most certainly get claimed on the waiver wire. This would be poor asset management by Bergevin. He has already stated in a recent radio interview that he would be afraid to do this as he knows there is a team who would take a chance on him. Therefore, this isn’t really a viable option.
Keep Him Up and Hope He Earns His Place
Keeping him up with the Canadiens and hoping he eventually earns a place in the lineup is certainly something the Habs would love to have happen. However, the Canadiens have a ton of depth on the wing. Currently, the top-six is represented by Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar. It’s hard to see Scherbak being able to outperform or outwork any of these wingers.
Then we look at the bottom six. These positions are currently filled by Paul Byron, Artturi Lehkonen, Charles Hudon and Andrew Shaw. These players are some of the hardest workers on the team. They also provide the defensive abilities teams want in their bottom six, especially with a coach like Claude Julien. That, while being able to contribute offensively, makes it even hard for Scherbak to get into the lineup over these players. Leaving no room in the lineup for Scherbak, unless of course, if there is an injury.
This seems like the most logical option of the three. With players such as Shea Weber, David Schlemko, Jacob de La Rose and Nicolas Deslauriers all eventually coming off the injured reserve, decisions will need to be made in order for the Canadiens to stay at the 23-player roster limit. Nikita Scherbak is more skilled than Deslauriers and de la Rose, and also younger. He would certainly bring a much better return than the other two forwards.
The Canadiens have a clear need on the left side on defence. Their position of strength is on the wing. A team like the Anaheim Ducks could be the perfect trade partner for the Canadiens. The Ducks are in need for a skilled forward especially with the injuries to Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Ondrej Kase, and Patrick Eaves. They also have a lot of depth on defence, especially on the left side.
One name that comes to mind is Jacob Larsson. Larsson is currently playing for the Ducks AHL affiliate San Diego Gulls. Much like Scherbak, it’s not that Larsson doesn’t have the ability to play in the NHL. It’s simply that there are no roster spots available for him. Larsson also fits the bill of what the Canadiens are looking for as they are clearly in a youth movement. He’s a skilled left-handed defenceman that prides himself on his defensive abilities. Something coach Julien would certainly fall in love with. Could the Canadiens and the Ducks come to terms on a trade involving the two young players?
Whether it be the Ducks, or another team looking for a skilled young forward, the Habs best option at this point might be to trade Scherbak.
Tough Decisions Looming for the Canadiens
The Canadiens will be faced with some tough decisions in the not so distant future. Whether its trading or waiving Scherbak or one of the returning players not named Shea Weber, a decision will need to be made. In terms of asset management, trading one of the players would be the best options, and Scherbak would certainly provide the best return.
Marc Bergevin has already had to make some very tough decisions these past few months dealing away Alex Galchenyuk and former captain Max Pacioretty. Another one, while not as substantial, is on the horizon.
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