Nikita Scherbak is the name making headlines right now for the Montreal Canadiens. The 18 year-old from the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL was Montreal’s first-round selection last night in the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia.
Of course a draft is not a draft without Gary Bettman.
There were no big deals last night at the draft tables — only a couple of pick swaps, so there was more time to focus on the kids.
Montreal was the only Canadian team who did not take their first player in the top 9. That is of course a good thing. The long walk from the table of the 26th team in the draft order is one every team covets. It appears as though not having the pressure of choosing the right player within the top few picks puts a club at ease, and allows them make their selection free of distracting thoughts. Teams picking that low are never expected to snag a bluechip prospect, but that has not stopped late first-rounders from shining in the past.
Nikita Scherbak is the big thing in Montreal today and not just for his skill on the ice, but for his candour in front of the cameras. For a kid who claims he spoke no English when he moved to Canada a year ago, (from Russia) Scherbak has already built quite the rapport with the Montreal media. His glowing and free-flowing personality quickly made him a favourite interviewee last night with TSN’s James Duthie.
Getting drafted in the first round is already overwhelmingly exciting, so imagine how it feels to be the one chosen by the Canadiens. While he feels lucky to come to Montreal and Montreal’s lucky to have him.
Scherbak’s journey is far from mundane. Drafted 109th out 111 picks in the CHL import draft, he was unknown to most scouts at the start of the 2013-14 season. Now other CHL teams are in shock of what they passed on. He essentially went from a nobody to a star in no time, all while playing on a team that had the third worst record in the WHL, (16 wins in 72 games). His fast rise to prominence shows his determination to achieve success and reach the highest levels.
Scherbak played his first year in the WHL last season with the Saskatoon Blades. He led the league in rookie scoring with 78 points in 65 games. He also led the Blades in scoring by 35 points, and in goals with 28. The Saskatoon Blades website lists Scherbak at 6’2″ 174, but he gave the press updated information after the draft, stating that he checks in at a solid 6’2″ 190.
He is a skilled and powerful forward not afraid to use his body to apply pressure to the defense. He has quick, soft hands and is a strong skater, which adds flair to his game. He also has the ability to beat players one-on-one. However, it is his vision that truly makes him a dangerous threat on the ice. His offensive awareness is extremely sharp and that is why he considers himself a playmaking winger. He his a high-end talent no doubt.
Scherbak will not be thrust into the NHL though. He is a very raw project and will likely return to the Saskatoon Blades next season to continue his development. He will have the necessary time to round out his game, particularly on the defensive side. But that is not to be mistaken for lack of hustle. There have been no questions about his attitude, or work ethic.It was clear he was comfortable in front of the media last night. Admittedly, he brings a lot of character to the team, something on which Montreal has been placing heavy emphasis. He said in the press conference that he learned his English by simply talking with other players and people over the last year. When asked about it, he also confirmed his and his family’s dream for him to play in the NHL, not having paid any thought to going back to Russia for the KHL. He appears to like Canada, and expressed that he was in awe of the fandom in Montreal when he first started learning about the team and watching the games. When asked about his knowledge of Canadiens players history, he could only name Alex Kovalev. He admitted more than once that he was nervous, so we’ll blame it on the cameras. I love the energy he brings to the table.
I think most would agree that a player with the skill and personality of Scherbak’s caliber is highly welcome in Montreal, especially under the current regime. Management and coaching staff alike are going to love this kid. He is the right kind of pick for the Canadiens and is going to be a great fit when he cracks the roster. I cannot wait to watch him develop in the WHL and AHL during the next couple of years.
Welcome to Montreal, Nikita.