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Top 25 Under 25: #18 Nikita Gusev

A dynamic, highly skilled winger from Russia with size issues, Nikita Gusev is an exciting player to watch. However, the Russian Factor is certainly strong with him. A 7th round pick, he's developed into a potential superstar in the KHL. But will he ever come to North America to give the NHL a shot?

Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Nikita Gusev is a unique player on our Top 25 Under 25 ranking. Coming in at number 18, he is a highly skilled Russian winger with a very small frame. And he’s probably the player on this list the least likely to ever have a lightning bolt on his chest or shoulder. Nikita Kucherov’s former junior teammate was selected in the 7th round, 202nd overall in 2012 as an overage draft pick. Gusev is a year older than Kucherov and was drafted a year later, but does share some similarities with him.

Here’s how the panel ranked Gusev.

Kyle Alexander John Fontana Mike Gallimore GeoFitz4 Brett Frieman
19 NR 19 14 NR

Previous Ranks: N/A

In 120 regular season games, Gusev put up 192 points good for a 1.60 points per game scoring rate in the MHL, the Russian junior league. Compare that to Kucherov’s 155 points in 117 games for a 1.32 points per game scoring rate. Granted, Kucherov was a year younger, but Gusev put up stellar numbers. Where their careers differed, is that Kucherov stayed in Russia one more year as an 18 year old before coming to North America to play in the QMJHL for his 19 year old season and then into the AHL and NHL as a 20 year old. Gusev went undrafted playing in the MHL until the Lightning selected him after his 19 year old season.

After being drafted, Gusev made the move full time to the KHL. He struggled as a young pro with CSKA Moscow and found himself playing in the VHL after only six games. He was then traded to Amur Khabarovsk of the KHL and ended the season with 13 points in 30 games in the KHL and 13 points in 15 games in the VHL, the top Russian minor league. Gusev then moved to Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk where he has played the past two seasons and continues to be contracted with for this coming season.

After an underwhelming first year with Yugra where he only put up 14 points in 44 games, Gusev exploded last year for 37 points (21 goals, 16 assists) in 54 games. It has taken him a little while, but he is starting to put his offensive power on display in the KHL and became an All Star for the first time. It was at the All Star game where he became a viral hit for this trick shot:

There’s no doubt Gusev has some pretty sick hands. The biggest knock on him though is his size. He is listed at 5’10" and 168 pounds. He is very slight and there would be valid questions about if his frame could stand up to the more abusive physical style that would be required in the NHL. The Lightning would most likely want to see Gusev come over and play in the AHL and make the adjustment to the smaller rinks and to make sure his defensive game is adequately developed. He’d also do well to add about 20 pounds, which would put him in the same weight range as Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. Unfortunately, it’s very likely that Gusev would only come over without guarantees of NHL playing time and a one-way contract.

Gusev has the skill to be an offensive force in the NHL. Kucherov gives him a good framework to follow; develop the defensive game, be responsible, and create offense from good defense. He would be an exciting, skilled player to watch that very much fits the mold of players that Yzerman and company have drafted in recent years. Or he can remain in the KHL and be one of the top players for years to come. There is a lot of risk for him to come to North America and the lure of home cooking and staying in Russia will surely be strong for him. If the Lightning could get him over though, he would be a dynamic third line winger that could play either side and would certainly have the potential to play in a top six role in the NHL.