At 6'2", 175 lbs, Nikita Scherbak certainly has the frame that most scouts look for in a potential first rounder. Having only spent one year in North America, with the Saskatoon Blades, Scherbak quickly cemented himself as one of the best play-makers in the upcoming draft.
Playing with one of the worst teams in the WHL, the Saksatoon Blades, and without much in terms of a decent supporting case, Scherbak managed to put up 25 goals and 50 assists in 65 games. His production earned him WHL Eastern Conference Rookie of the year honours. His point total was good for 23rd in the WHL, and he was far and away the best rookie, thumping the second place rookie by almost 20 points.
His main assets are elite creativity, quick hands, and above average skating. He tends to find space where most forwards would struggle, and he doesn't shy away from the rough stuff. He does need to get stronger, as do most prospects, but with his 6'2" frame he shouldn't struggle to gain a little mass.
The main knock on Scherbak is the country of origin printed on his birth certificate. Due to visa issues he failed to attend the NHL combine. There have been whispers that he has a tendency to take long shifts, and under utilize his teammates.
From the coach:
"The best thing about him is that he's very coachable and teachable. Because he can skate he can get on the puck, but when he's not on it right away he's not afraid to make or take a hit. When you've got that part of a game from a Russian player, it's exciting" - Saskatoon Blades head coach Dave Struch
"I love the kid but we won’t draft him…if that makes any sense." - NHL Scout
"He’s going to be anywhere from 10th to 2nd rounder, he’s a top 10 talent though." NHL Scout
"I doubt we take him. I heard all the he’s not the average Russian stuff but he’s still a Russian." – NHL Scout
"I really like this kid and he was difficult to rank. We acted as if we were an NHL team and the Russian factor dropped him a bit for us. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he slipped to the 2nd round but I think he’s too good and will hang on " - Mark Edwards
"Another player who has launched himself into first round consideration is Saskatoon Blades import winger Nikita Scherbak, the WHL's leading rookie scorer by a large margin. Scherbak leads the Blades as well posting well over a point-per-game making a flawless transition into the North American junior hockey circuit. An intelligent player who’s shown to be very coachable, Scherbak’s game is featured around strong skating, creative vision and a willingness to engage physically in puck battles at both ends of the rink. He’s learning quickly and his big steps in development are exactly what teams covet." - Dobber Prospects
Hockey Prospect: 14
McKeen's Hockey: 16
Craig Button: 35
Average Ranking: 23
If the Russian factor keeps Scherbak from going in the top 25, the Habs should pounce on the chance to add such a talented player to their prospect pool.
However, let's keep in mind that Trevor Timmins has shied away from drafting Russian prospects of late, the last being 4th rounder Alexander Avstin.
Scherbak is definitely worth the risk, and hopefully the Habs won't handicap themselves come draft day by avoiding the skilled right winger.
The only problem standing in the way of Scherbak putting on a Habs jersey come draft day is that he'll probably be gone before the draft reaches the 26th overall pick.
Although, if other GMs are scared off by Russian stigma, Timmins would be wise to call his name. If there's something Timmins has always done well, it's exploit the silly stigmas that are followed by many teams in the league.