Fantasy Impact: The New Jersey Devils have acquired winger Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights for a second- and a third-round draft pick. The Devils promptly signed the former KHL superstar to a two-year, $9 million contract.
The Devils get: a player who last year was widely considered to be one of the best players outside of the NHL. Now Gusev will join the other best player who wasn't in the NHL – Jack Hughes. Gusev led the KHL in scoring and it wasn't even close (82 points in 62 games, beating his nearest teammate by 36 points). The fact that he signed such a huge contract only increases his likelihood of success. He will get premium ice time, premium power-play time, and premium linemates – which may not have been assured had he signed a one-year deal with Vegas at say $2.5 million. Taylor Hall, Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier – he will be playing with at least one and possibly two of these players at even strength and likely all three of them on the power play.
Fantasy Players Impacted: The ripple effect here is a huge one – bigger than you would expect. Let's focus on the Devils first. This pretty much eliminates Jesper Boqvist's chances of making the team and it reduces the amount of games he would have gotten during a cup of coffee with the big club. It also changes the power play – one in which I saw PK Subban (shoots right) and Will Butcher (shoots left) both on it, along with Hall, Hischier and Hughes. Since they're obviously not going to remove one of the Triple H crew, it stands to reason that Butcher goes. Because $4.5 million Gusev is not getting secondary PP minutes. Management needs to look good here, so stifling his points definitely won't do that. He needs to flourish, so Coach John Hynes will help him do that.
So Butcher goes to the second unit, which cuts out the lowest PP man on the totem poll: Pavel Zacha. I had 12 different Devils averaging at least a minutes of PP time per game, with five being on the first unit and the second unit mixing and matching the other seven. Zacha just lost that one minute of PPTOI. And speaking of the power play – any chance that Wayne Simmonds had of sneaking onto the top unit just went bye-bye. He should still get second unit time, but overall his PPTOI gets reduced here.
Jack Hughes will also get a boost here. A six-point boost, to be exact (I adjusted my projections in the upcoming Fantasy Hockey Guide). Because now he either plays with Gusev (who he could make look reeeal good) or with Taylor Hall (and come on, it's Taylor Hall). Win-win. I also like Jesper Bratt to line up on the left side of a scoring line. So either Bratt gets Hughes and Gusev, or Hischier and Kyle Palmieri – or some combination of these. However it ends up, Bratt gets a boost.
This also helps the man himself. In Vegas it was kind of an awkward fit, with other proven scorers on big contracts already filling up the top two lines and certainly the top PP unit was spoken for. With New Jersey, Gusev is a key player.
As for Vegas, I had been worried about Brandon Pirri's production and opportunity. It was non-existent with Gusev in the lineup. Suddenly, Pirri is back on the third-line, likely a 30-point player with upside for 45 or more if he can iron out his consistency. But for the most part I had already been treating Vegas players as if Gusev would be traded away.
Fantasy Players this helps, in order:
1. Nikita Gusev
2. Jack Hughes
3. Jesper Bratt
Fantasy Players this hurts, in order:
1. Will Butcher
2. Pavel Zacha
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