After failing to earn an NHL contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, with who he attended training camp on a professional tryout, Nikita Gusev is headed back to the KHL. The free agent forward has signed a contract with SKA St. Petersburg through the end of the 2021-22 season.
Gusev, 29, is one of the more impressive one-and-done performances in recent NHL history. He came to the NHL with huge expectations in 2019 after a long successful career in Russia and put up 44 points in 66 games with the New Jersey Devils. Since then, he’s scored four goals, registered ten points and now couldn’t even find a contract.
That doesn’t mean a future in the NHL is completely out of the picture, Gusev is still young enough to try again next year. But unless his skating ability drastically improves in the next few months, it’s hard to see how any team would trust him in a top-six role. Given he doesn’t offer much outside of creative offensive play, the KHL may end up being where he plays out the rest of his career.
One thing on the horizon is the Olympics, where Gusev could still very likely be part of the Russian contingent. He was outstanding at the 2018 Games (which did not include NHL players) and has been dominant at World Championship tournaments in the past. That could be a place to catch the eye of another North American team, but whether he even wants to continue that path is unclear at this point.