Toronto Maple Leafs Find Some Free Money in Nikita Gusev

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 19: Nikita Gusev #97 of the Florida Panthers skates during a break in action against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on April 19, 2021 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 19: Nikita Gusev #97 of the Florida Panthers skates during a break in action against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on April 19, 2021 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs added a potentially significant player to their roster Friday night.

Nikita Gusev will be joining the Toronto Maple Leafs on a training camp tryout.

While it is not generally exciting news when a player who no one else wanted to sign gets a chance to earn a contract in training camp, this is not your typical PTO.

Nikita Gusev is a legitimate NHL player with an absolute ton of talent.  He is unsigned and available because he had one of the most unlucky seasons anyone in the NHL has had in recent memory.

Nikita Gusev and the Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season Nikita Gusev played 20 games for the New Jersey Devils before they finally showed him some mercy with a change of scenery.

In these 20 games, the Devils were outscored 14-2 while Gusev was on the ice at 5v5.  Gusev scored just one 5v5 point in 20 games.  (stats from

This sounds absolutely awful, but here is the thing: A 0% shooting percentage over 20 games and 31 shots is preposterously un-lucky.  Gusev managed to score eight 5v5 goals with a 7.1% shooting rate the season before, so we know he can score in the NHL.

In fact, he’s extremely talented and in his rookie season he scored at a first line rate of 2.29 points per 60.  Overall he had 44 points in 66 games as a rookie,  despite getting only the 7th most power-play time on his team that year.

The year before that, he won the KHL scoring title.

He clearly struggled to score last year, but when a player shoots 0%, when his on-ice shooting percentage is 1.96%, when he has a PDO of .897 but a CF% of 53% you can say with certainty that he is a much better player than his counting totals would indicate.

Every single year in the NHL good players go on bad-luck streaks and if those players are not well-established stars, they usually get cut or traded.  That’s what happened to Gusev and he’s free money for the Toronto Maple Leafs who can definitely use an injection of talent from the cheaper players on their roster.

Gusev will join Josh Ho Sang as PTOs trying to earn a contract, and he’ll but up against Ritchie, Bunting, Robertson, Abramov, Kampf, Case, Brooks, Engvall, Spezza, Simmonds, Kerfoot, Mikheyev and more for playing time.

People are probably not going to give Gusev much of a chance to make the team, but I am telling you he will earn a contract with the Leafs, because he has Elite level offensive skills that no one on Toronto – outside their Core Four – can match.

He brings very little defense or physicality, which is why he lost his job when he didn’t score.  When he joined Florida last year at the trade deadline he got into 11 games, posted a 67% expected goals rating, while scoring at a very good second line rate.

This is an absolutely great pickup for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Gusev is the very definition of a “one dimensional player” but the thing is, his “one dimension” is incredible.  If you can use him on a line that constantly has the puck anyways and doesn’t really need someone to be defensive, he could absolutely crush it.

The fact that his team shot under 2% and his own goalies posted a sub-.900 save-percentage while he was on the ice last year, leading to a 14-2 beatdown, it is important to remember that those are just some of the most ridiculous numbers imaginable, and that they are so ridiculous that they can’t be anybody’s fault.  The worst player of all-time would post better numbers, and the worst player of all time couldn’t have won a KHL scoring title or scored at a first line rate in the NHL over a full season.

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I know old-school types think you need a grinder on every line to be successful, but Marner-Matthews don’t just drive play, they absolutely dominate it.  The kind of room they could create for Gusev would allow him to be absolute terrorist with the puck.

Gusev is a great no-risk pickup for the Leafs.