After SKA St. Petersburg was eliminated from the Gagarin Cup playoffs recently, the Vegas Golden Knights snapped to attention. That’s because one of the KHL’s best players, Nikita Gusev, would now be able to come to North America finally. Gusev’s KHL contract technically runs through the end of April but it can be terminated early if the team agrees. Igor Eronko of Sport-Express believes that’s exactly what happened, reporting that Gusev is on his way to the Golden Knights to join them for the playoffs.
Because he was on the Golden Knights reserve list, Gusev is eligible for the playoffs right away if the team can get him signed. The team has owned his exclusive rights since acquiring them from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the expansion draft, as part of the agreement to select Jason Garrison. He was originally a seventh-round pick of the Lightning in 2012, but draft rights for KHL players never expire if they fail to come over to North America.
If Vegas can sign Gusev—which is still far from certain, despite this report—it would be a huge boost to the organization. The 26-year old forward is arguably the best player in the world outside of the NHL, and is coming off a season in which he scored 82 pooints in 62 games. In fact, Gusev has 215 points over his past three seasons with SKA and has added another 54 in long playoff runs. Though undersized, he is pure offense and could potentially give the team another weapon for their series against the San Jose Sharks.
Obviously there is a history with Russian players in Vegas, after the saga of Vadim Shipachyov last season. Signing a multi-year deal with Vegas to make his NHL debut, Shipachyov barely got any chance to show what he could do in game situations and eventually voided his deal to return to the KHL. Gusev will know exactly what happened in that situation, given that the two were teammates in Russia for some time.
It’s not often that such an impressive player comes available at this time of the year, but if the Golden Knights can actually get Gusev under contract it could be a huge factor in their playoff run. He’ll have to prove he can produce at the NHL level, but he’s never had a problem doing that in the past.