EVERETT — The big question surrounding the Everett Silvertips heading into the 2014-15 WHL season: Where is the offense going to come from?
On Monday the Tips found their answer.
Everett addressed its biggest need in the grandest possible fashion, acquiring high-powered winger Nikita Scherbak in a blockbuster trade with the Saskatoon Blades.
Scherbak, a Russia native who’s entering his 19-year-old season, is a first-round NHL draft pick who is one of the league’s most electrifying offensive performers. The Tips are banking on Scherbak being the offense leader the team desperately needs.
“For some time we’ve been concerned about our offense for this year,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said. “Scherbak is a big, strong offensive forward, and it’s hard to acquire that type of player. We were able to make it happen. We’ve made positive strides as an organization and we want to keep it going.”
In exchange for Scherbak the Tips gave up a substantial package that included goaltender Nik Amundrud, who’s entering his 17-year-old season, as well as a first-round pick in the 2015 bantam draft and a second rounder in 2016.
Scherbak, who was selected 26th overall in this year’s NHL draft by the Montreal Canadiens, is currently at training camp with Montreal and will not join the Tips immediately.
Everett returned the bulk of the team that improved by 31 points in the standings last season. However, the players Everett lost were the heart of the offense, most notably winger Joshua Winquist. Winquist, who graduated as an overager, set a franchise single-season record by scoring 47 goals, and this season’s roster was devoid a Winquist-like player who could get the Tips a goal when they needed one.
Scherbak is that kind of player. Scherbak brings the total package to the table, He has good size at 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds. He’s has both tremendous skill and skating ability. Last season he logged 28 goals and 50 assists in 65 games with Saskatoon to lead the Blades in scoring.
“He has the potential to fill the place of Winquist and score the 40-plus goals we’re looking for,” Davidson said. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s skilled, he can skate and he’s a first-round NHL draft pick, so there’s other people who feel very good about him, too. We need his offensive game. (Tips director of player personnel) Bil La Forge saw him play in the preseason and said he was a man among boys.”
Scherbak is currently scheduled to take part in the Canadiens’ preseason opener against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday evening in Montreal. Davidson said he didn’t know when Scherbak would come to Everett, and he acknowledged the possibility Scherbak, who has received rave reviews for his performances during Montreal’s training camp, could end up making the Canadiens’ roster as a 19-year-old, though he fully expected Scherbak to be returned to the WHL. If Scherbak isn’t returned, Everett gets its draft picks back.
Scherbak was available because Saskatoon had three European players for just two roster spots. Russian winger Nikita Soshnin and Swedish defenseman Amil Krupic were selected in this year’s CHL import draft and are not eligible to be traded. Therefore Scherbak, who led Saskatoon in scoring last season by 35 points, was the only one for whom the rebuilding Blades could get anything in return.
“We talked about (trading Scherbak) early in the summer,” Saskatoon’s new general manager/head coach Bob Woods said in an interview on Saskatoon’s website. “It was an option we wanted to look at because we knew we were going to draft a couple Euros and if they turned out to be pretty good players, we’d have to seriously consider moving forward with the organization. There were a number of teams very interested. It boiled down to two teams and we got a very good offer from Everett.”
Everett could potentially have a European logjam of its own. Scherbak joins fellow Russian forward Ivan Nikolishin in currently filling the Tips’ two Euro roster slots. However, Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller could still figure into the equation. Mueller is a legitimate candidate to make the NHL’s San Jose Sharks as a 19-year-old, as the 2013 first-round pick is being given every opportunity to earn a roster spot. But if the Sharks deem Mueller not quite ready, he has to be returned to Everett.
However, Davidson said the trade for Scherbak was not based on any new information regarding Mueller’s chances of making the Sharks.
“I just felt a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” Davidson said. “Also, the trade filled the absolute need we feel we have at the moment. If Mirco gets sent back later we’ll deal with that at the time. But for now we’re not going to worry about that, and we hope for the best for Mirco.”
Meanwhile, Saskatoon received a young goaltender who found himself squeezed out in Everett. Amundrud, a third-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft, had a lost 2013-14 season as he was relegated to the midget AA level and passed on the depth chart by Carter Hart, who is a year younger. But Amundrud had a strong preseason, finishing as the league leader in goals against average (0.51) and save percentage (.981). Amundrud is the second goaltender acquired by Saskatoon in a span of six days as the Blades also picked up 18-year-old Michael Herringer from Victoria for a conditional bantam draft pick.
“It’s a great landing spot for Nik Amundrud,” Davidson said. “He had a real tough season last year, but he worked hard in the offseason and came in here and had a great training camp. It’s a great situation for Nik in Saskatoon in that he won’t be behind a 19-year-old like Austin Lotz, he’ll probably be battling for a lot of starts.”
On Monday Hart was named the WHL’s nominee for the CHL Goaltender of the Week award. Hart started Everett’s season opener Saturday at Seattle and posted a 26-save shutout in a 1-0 victory, his first win in the WHL. … Former Everett head coach Mark Ferner is headed back home. Ferner stepped down as the Kamloops Blazers’ associate coach to take his former position as general manager and head coach of the B.C. Hockey League’s Vernon Vipers, with whom he won the Canadian junior A national championship in 2009 and 2010.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.