Nikita Gusev, a 7th round draft choice by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012, recently had an interview with SportsDaily.ru that was translated by Alessandro Seren Rosso of The Hockey Writers. Gusev, who plays in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, started the 2015-16 season with Yugra of the KHL where he had spent the previous two seasons. Last season he had a break out year putting up 37 points in 55 games. That helped earn him his first All Star appearance. After struggling to start the season and being a little banged up, as stated in this interview, Gusev was traded to SKA St. Petersburg, one of the top teams in the KHL. However, he has been scratched for a couple games and has been relegated to 4th-line duties by the club.
Gusev had stated he was not thinking about the NHL yet in a February 2015 interview, but In the more recent piece, he seems to have come around more on the idea of crossing the pond to play with his best friend, Nikita Kucherov.
– Just as any other young and promising player, probably you are thinking about playing in the NHL.
– Of course I have such plans. My best friend Nikita Kucherov, with whom I talk every day, wants me to join him overseas, but earlier I could not. He tells me that [in North America] there is a completely different environment and hockey also is not the same. But every player has his own goals and destiny. Nikita is doing great there, and I’m very happy for him.
Both Nikita's played together in CSKA Moscow's junior system and both excelled there. Gusev actually put up bigger numbers than Kucherov during their junior days. The difference of course has been Kucherov was drafted higher and came to the QMJHL as a 19 year old, while Gusev stayed in Russian and eventually made it to the KHL full time. There's no question Gusev is an offensively talented player with hockey IQ and speed. The question has always been though would he take the risk of jumping to North America especially without a guarantee of NHL playing time.
Gusev's contract is up at the end of this year. That would make next offseason the perfect time for him to jump. At worst, he'd be a dynamic scoring threat for the Crunch and at best he'd likely be a highly skilled third line winger for the Lightning.
The greatest asset that the Lightning may have in luring Nikita Gusev over to North America is the number of Russians already with Tampa Bay (currently four - Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Nesterov and Andrei Vasilevskiy), especially having his best friend on the team. By the way, if he does come to the Lightning, I really hope he wears number 87. The team would then have Russians in consecutive numbers from 86 to 90.