The New Jersey Devils have continued their offseason overhaul.
After acquiring P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds and No. 1 overall draft pick Jack Hughes, the Devils added another significant young piece to the team on Monday, trading for 27-year-old Russian winger Nikita Gusev and then signing him to a two-year, $9 million contract.
Gusev has taken an interesting road to the NHL. Despite being drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012, Gusev has never played an NHL game. His rights were traded to the Vegas Golden Knights during the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, but again he stayed in Russia, where he played for the KHL's SKA Saint Petersburg.
With Vegas unable to match his salary request, the Golden Knights traded his rights to the Devils for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick.
Gusev is expected to contribute right away. At 27, he's entering the NHL in what should be his prime years. His $4.5 million is a hefty cap hit for a player who has never played an NHL game, but his skillset should translate over well to the NHL. A speedy 5-foot-11, 180-pound, right-shooting left wing, Gusev was the 10th-highest scoring player in KHL history.
Gusev comes to New Jersey with a good deal of hardware. He won a Gagarin Cup (the KHL's championship trophy) in 2017, and also won a gold medal in the 2018 Olympics. Last season, he scored 17 goals and tallied 82 points in 64 games, winning KHL MVP honors. He finishes his KHL career with 68 points in 67 playoff games.
No Devils player scored more than 50 points last year, and Gusev will be expected to slide right into the team's top-six and should receive power play minutes. After a top line of Taylor Hall-Nico Hischier-Kyle Palmieri, the Devils could roll out a second unit featuring Gusev, Hughes and Simmonds with Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac and Jesper Bratt providing ample depth. That's a significantly improved offensive unit than the one that limped along last season to a bottom-six finish in goals.
"We did our best to accommodate Nikita and his salary request but were unable to do so," Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said. "He is a good person, a good player and we wish him well in New Jersey."
It remains to be seen if the Devils' summer spending spree will pay off as the club tries to make its second playoff appearance over the last eight years.