It had been many moons ago since the New Jersey Devils lost a right handed shot in Ilya Kovalchuk to the KHL via “retirement.” After going many seasons without a lethal right-handed handed sniper, many Devils left wings have been very easy to stop and contain. With GM Ray Shero utilizing Cap Space, a 2nd, and a 3rd round pick in two different drafts, he got Nikita Gusev. This is the type of asset management Ray Shero hopes will spark the Devils roster with more fire power.
The type of fire power Nikita Gusev truly brings is a very sneaky fast, uber dynamic left wing who is very smart and can use opposing players as blinders on a goalie to fire shots at will. This move takes the pressure off of Taylor Hall as the “go-to” guy in the top-six line pairings. If the season started out today, Nikita Gusev-Jack Hughes–Wayne Simmonds on a line would add sniping, speed, smarts, play-making ability, and the “beef goulash” chemistry that makes everyone on that line a lot harder to stop from scoring.
Seeing flashes of Gusev playing for Olympic Athletes from Russia showed everyone something. Gusev has proven to have a lot more than Ilya Kovalchuk at this point in his career. His slap shots, and wrist shots are far scarier and more subtle. They’re so scary, they might freak out opposing fans. Gusev can pick the corners, score on breakaways, and he can dangle a goalie out of place.
When you add Gusev to Jack Hughes’ line along with Simmonds this brings marvelous puck possession, stick handling paired with really great snipers. It also uses the size, grit, and durability of Wayne Simmonds who loves re-directs, and getting in the “garbage goals”. That can be huge (no pun intended). A center like Jack Hughes setting up “The Goose” for a one-timer to win the game or add an insurance goal will make fans “honk” and “flap” their wings. Heck there should be a goose call promo night.
If you pencil in the 4 lines today you now have:
Nikita Gusev- Jack Hughes- Wayne Simmonds
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As you can see, this acquisition makes the third line that much better. Players like Bratt and Coleman providing support around Zajac to dish the puck. Finally, you get to the fourth line. This is the best bottom-six line since the Stephen Gionta– Ryan Carter-Steven Bernier line was around in 2012. Wood provides speed, skill, spunk, and feistiness. Did we mention spped that can shred opposing teams defenses?
Pavel Zacha has been improving his shooting and his face-offs. He’s a nice center who provides playmaking, power, and some more skill to protect the puck. John Hayden adds more beef to the goulash soup, meanwhile his two linemates can bring the extra paprika, and pepper flakes to spice things up.
Now we can’t forget what Gusev means for the defenders. Gusev’s addition to the roster gives that extra guy to get open, and make each defenders job a bit easier getting the puck out of their own end quicker. The split-second decision making will allow guys like Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood to get more breathing room. As long as Schneider and Blackwood stay healthy and elevate each others winning this team can be a very serious playoff team.
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Last we spoke, we figured a 6-8 seed in the Eastern Conferencewas most likely. Now, the bar is raised. The New Jersey Devils stock price to a top seed in the East.