Prospect Scherbak No Longer A Draft Surprise
Russian forward looks to make dream of playing in the NHL a reality
ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia on June 27-28. Nikita Scherbak is the No. 15-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings.
Nikita Scherbak might be the next great Russian forward to take hold in the NHL.
Scherbak, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound, left-shot winger, finished the season ranked 15th on NHL Central Scouting's final rankings for North American skaters. He is on the North American list rather than the European list because the Moscow native played this past season with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL, where he made an impression on both scouts and opposing teams.
He said made he the jump to the WHL because he felt it would help prepare him for his ultimate goal: the NHL.
"I came to Canada because I want to play NHL, and it is [a] good chance I go to [the] draft," Scherbak said to the Blades website.
He added, "I like this hockey. I will play here [in North America]. [It is] good for me when I play here."
Scherbak's English could use some work, but there has already been a vast improvement and he is comfortable conducting interviews in his newly learned language.
In his one season with the Blades, the smooth-skating forward provided a much bigger contribution than his second-round selection in the Central Hockey League Import Draft would have predicted.
He racked up 78 points (28 goals and 50 assists) in 65 games, which led the WHL in all categories for a rookie.
Among the attributes of Scherbak's game that has impressed Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan is his skill and smart play.
"He’s played all three forward positions this year, but his strength is on the right wing being a left-hand shot because he loves to drive the net,” Sullivan said. “He’s an unselfish player and has really adapted well to the North American game.”
Scherbak ability to adjust to the North American style might be the young forward's biggest improvement from the past year.
"When I watched him the first few games of the season, he didn't know which way to go, but you could still see he had that high-skill level," Sullivan said to NHL.com. "When I went to scout Saskatoon a few weeks later, I couldn't believe it was the same player; he was outstanding."
Dave Struch, Scherbak's coach in Saskatoon, was just as surprised at how quickly the young Russian picked up things while getting adjusted to life on a new continent.
"While we were in training camp and waiting for his papers to be finished so that he could join us on the ice, he sat in the players' box and rode a stationary bike while we practiced and played," Struch told NHL.com. "When he finally got his release, the coaching staff went to show him our systems, and he showed us our systems. He picked up everything just from watching our practices and games."
Struch said he was impressed with the young player's work ethic and how coachable he was.
“There's no doubt Nikita has been a big surprise for all of us, but I give all the credit in the world to the player for putting the time in and wanting to learn the game over here and being as coachable as he is,” Struch said. “He doesn't always do the right thing, but he listens to us and wants to get better."
The learning curve for Scherbak has been steep, and he has surpassed all expectations. Don’t expect him to slip in the draft like he did in juniors. He won’t be sneaking up on many more opponents.