Panthers add skilled Russian winger Nikita Gusev ahead of Monday’s trade deadline

Nikita Gusev of the New Jersey Devils smiles during warm ups before the game against the New York Islanders at Prudential Center on January 07, 2020 in Newark, New Jersey.
Nikita Gusev of the New Jersey Devils smiles during warm ups before the game against the New York Islanders at Prudential Center on January 07, 2020 in Newark, New Jersey. (2020 Getty Images)

SUNRISE, Fla. – The NHL Trade Deadline isn’t until Monday at 3 p.m. but the Florida Panthers are clearly not waiting to pull the trigger on any moves they feel will help the team.

The latest roster addition didn’t come via trade though.

On Sunday the Cats signed free agent winger Nikita Gusev to a one-year contract worth $1 million.

The deal was first reported by TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.

“Nikita is a highly skilled and creative forward who plays the game with great speed and playmaking ability,” Panthers General Manager Bill Zito said in a release from the team. “He has proven himself to be a tremendous offensive talent throughout his career.”

In Gusev, the Panthers are adding a dynamic forward looking for a fresh start after a two-season stint with the New Jersey Devils.

His rookie year in 2019-20 started off slow, with Gusev accounting for just five points over his first 13 games.

He finished strong during the second half of the season though, ending up with 44 points (13-31-44) in 66 games.

Gusev again stumbled out of the gate during the start of his 2020-21 campaign, and after just five points in 20 games the Devils began phasing the 28-year-old out of the lineup in favor of younger players.

Jersey waived Gusev last week, placing him onto the taxi squad after he went unclaimed before making the decision to place him on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract on Friday.

His time in New Jersey may have left something to be desired, but that’s because of how much success Gusev had before taking his talents to North America.

During the 2017-18 season, Gusev was awarded the KHL’s Golden Sick as the league’s MVP after finishing with 22 goals and 40 assists in 54 games for SKA Saint Petersburg.

Later that year, Gusev was named Best Forward at the 2018 Winter Olympics after logging 12 points (4-8-12) in six games for the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

The following season, which was his last with SKA and in the KHL, Gusev went bananas, putting up a ridiculous 65 assists and 82 points in 62 games to lead the league in scoring.

“We are thrilled for Nikita to join the Panthers and look forward to what he can add to our team,” Zito said.

With Gusev locked up, the question shifts to how and where the crafty forward will be utilized in South Florida.

One constant throughout his career is that Gusev can pile up the assists. He’s also often been utilized on the left side of a power play thanks to the quick-release and accuracy of his right-handed shot.

Ultimately deciding where to deploy Gusev will fall on the shoulders of Panthers Head Coach Joel Quenneville. He’ll likely join the team sometime during their current road trip, which continues Tuesday in Dallas before wrapping up four days later following two games in Tampa.

The addition of Gusev is the latest in a flurry of transactions by Zito and his staff in recent days.

On Thursday, Florida sent Brett Connolly, Henrik Borgstrom, Riley Stillman and a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward and former Panther Lucas Wallmark and defenseman Lucas Carlsson.

Saturday, the Cats acquired defenseman Brandon Montour from the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 third-round pick.

While he’s clearly been busy, Zito may still have a couple moves up his sleeve ahead of Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

Stay tuned.


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