The 2014 NHL draft shaped up well for the Habs, as they were lucky enough to pick among a bevy of talented players by the time they finally made it to the podium for the 26th overall pick.
Nikolai Goldobin, Adrian Kempe, Josh Ho-Sang, Nikita Scherbak and Ivan Barbashev were all available. However Trevor Timmins and Marc Bergevin decided to go with the player who many of us at EOTP would claim is the most skilled player of the group, right winger Nikita Scherbak.
The 6'2", 176-pound Scherbak spent the last season player for an awful Saskatoon Blades team, and I'm not exaggerating when I say awful. Despite playing on such a poor team he managed to put up 78 points in the rough and tumble Western Hockey League.
Dubbed "Mr.Everything", Scherbak's main assets include deceptive speed, top notch creative vision, quality stickhandling, excellent lateral mobility, and an ability to exploit space and create scoring chances.
He's steadily improved his defensive game as the year has gone on, and he's done a good job adapting to the gritty style in the WHL.
"Excellent scoring instincts and he arrives at the right times to take full advantage. Awareness of how to exploit opportunities is very good and is vigilant and alert in this regard. A versatile player who can play off strengths of others."
— TSN (ranked 21st)
"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 (ranked 14th)
"Scherbak was ‘Mr. Everything’ offensively for a young rebuilding Blades team ... plays with urgency inside the offensive zone displaying push back and exploits open space to manufacture scoring opportunities ...."
— Future Considerations (Ranked 16th)
"A winger with excellent vision, Scherbak has outstanding speed and passes the puck extremely well. He is very slippery and often skates his way out of trouble. Unable to come to the Combine because of Visa issues and not playing in the U18s hurt Scherbak’s ranking in the draft, but it will be hard for NHL teams to pass up his offensive skills at this point in the draft."
— Hockey Prospectus (ranked 26th)
"Good at driving to the net and creating scoring chances. He has a quick release and can finish at the net; very unselfish and uses his linemates well. Led the Blades as a rookie with 78 points (28 goals, 50 assists)."
— NHL.com (ranked 22nd)
"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 (ranked 26th)
Remember when we said that the Russian factor might lead to a great draft pick this year? For all intents and purposes, Montreal landed with a player who was ranked much higher than 26th overall. It's way too early to call Scherbak a steal, but Habs fans should be really happy with this pick. He'll need to add some weight to his frame, and as is the case with most offensive threats he'll have to hone his defensive coverage. He'll be able to do so next year, which will only be his second year in North America, as he's probably going to be returned to the Blades before the season starts.
Why did Scherbak fall to the Habs? The ole Russian factor:
"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 second 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
Personally I have no doubts that Scherbak will continue to develop into a solid player in the WHL, and I'm not willing to give much merit to a phenomenon that rarely happens. He left his family as a kid, came to Canada and chose to play in the grittiest league in the CHL. Trevor Timmins has been known to exploit market inefficiencies in the past, and he seems to have done it again.
If there's any doubt that Scherbak's dream is to play in the NHL, his interview with James Duthie should seal the deal.
He mentioned that his dream was to play in the NHL about 5 times, and that it's his main goal.
"I'm shaking right now, this is my dream. What an unbelievable day," said the newest Habs prospect. He also spoke a few words of French (Bonjour, merci, etc), which is always a smart PR move.
As is the case with most prospects, we'll have to adopt a wait and see approach with Scherbak, however he not only filled an organizational need, but in my opinion he was far and away the best player available.