Team: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Hometown: Moscow, Russia
DOB: December 30, 1995
Projected: Mid First-Early Second Round
Relatively unknown before this season, Nikita Scherbak has come into his own playing for the third-worst team in the WHL, the Saskatoon Blades, leading all rookies in goals, assists, and points. The right wing from Moscow has turned plenty of heads this season, so much so that he is projected to go in the first round by many draft boards. Not bad for someone taken third to last in the CHL import draft.
First and foremost, Scherbak is a very creative playmaker, and his 50 assists attest to this. He has excellent offensive-zone vision and is able to find teammates with laser-like passing. His combination of speed, excellent puck protection, willingness to take a hit to make a play or drive to the net adds a little "power forward" to his game as well.
Defensively, Scherbak has come very far this season thanks to his strong work ethic and desire to get better. He is both willing to hit and be hit to make a play and that has helped him become less of a defensive liability for his team.
As far as the Russian factor goes, I see it playing a role in where he is drafted but him coming over to North America this season might lessen it. As seen in one of the videos below, he has worked very hard to learn the English language and to learn the North American game; he has excelled in both. This also should help lessen the skepticism by general managers.
"The best thing about him is that he's very coachable and teachable. Because he can skate he can get on the puck. But when he's not on it right away he's not afraid to make or take a hit. When you've got that part of a game from a Russian player it's exciting."
- Dave Strutch (NHL.com)
"He's a gifted skater. Gifted with the puck and his vision is really good. We're a gritty team so stops and starts are the key to our success. As a Russian player he's come a long way from the first five games. He's coming back into our zone and stopping and being sounder defensively. He's learning the North American way.
- Dave Strutch (NHL.com)
"I play here. Good for me when I play here. No Russia."
Where He Would Fit
I'm not sure the Predators could justify picking Scherbak at the number eleven spot but if he were to, for some reason, fall to their second round pick Poile should take him without a second thought. His dynamic offensive ability, desire to get better, willingness to go into the dirty areas, and on ice vision makes him an exciting prospect to have in your system.
As seen in the Saskatoon Blades' video report on him (link above), he has set high goals for himself and wants to become the next Pavel Datsyuk. Setting high goals like that is very good and it's great if he gets to that point but we're all about his realistic potential. Conservatively, he is a very good second-line playmaking winger but even if he doesn't reach that point, his physicality could also lend well to him being a third-line player.