Sergei Shumakov was going to sign with the New York Rangers, until he wasn’t. He had put pen to paper to join the Washington Capitals, until he hadn’t. But as the Russian winger looks to finalize an anticipated move from the KHL to the NHL, the question most are seeking to answer isn’t where he’ll land, but rather who exactly is Sergei Shumakov?
Certainly not a household name, and definitely not one on the level of other major off-season KHL-to-NHL import Ilya Kovalchuk, Shumakov appears to be on track to become a late-summer addition by a team looking for some added depth scoring. He won’t be familiar from any past draft, nor did he pop up at the Olympics or any past World Championship, but the 25-year-old has been turning some heads overseas across the past several seasons.
Back in 2014-15, Shumakov became a full-timer in the KHL. Having worked his way up through the Sibir Novosibirsk system, Shumakov either tied or led the team in scoring in back-to-back campaigns in 2015-16 and 2016-17. And his standout play in Sibir led to interest from one of the KHL’s more storied franchises, CSKA Moscow. But the relationship between CSKA and Shumakov soured over the post-season and into the summer, escalating when he failed to show up to training camp earlier this off-season and culminating with a contract termination earlier this week despite there being two years remaining on Shumakov’s pact.
And while that may not be where the NHL interest in Shumakov began, it’s where we are now. Prior to his contract termination, Shumakov was reportedly drawing interest from the Rangers, who are now out of the running, according to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks. And since the termination, rumors circled that Shumakov was a potential target of the Capitals, who, on Tuesday, had reportedly signed the winger to a one-year, entry-level contract worth $925,000, only for the team and Shumakov’s agent to deny any such deal had been struck.
It’s not difficult to see why there is interest from multiple parties when it comes to Shumakov. Statistically, he has shown plenty of growth as he’s entered his prime in the KHL. That’s to be expected of any prime-aged player, sure, but his rise from a 24-point campaign in 2014-15 to successive seasons of 33 and 37 points while with Sibir led to his breakout year last season with CSKA in which his 40-point campaign saw him finish three points outside of the top 10 in KHL scoring. His rate of production was also the 15th-best among all skaters, up there with Minnesota Wild top prospect Kirill Kaprizov.
Production in the KHL by no means makes a player a capable NHL scorer, of course, but it can help us get an idea of what could be expected when a player makes the transition from one league to the other. Using NHL equivalency factors from Corsica founder Emmanuel Perry and pairing them with Shumakov’s performance over the past three seasons, the projected point total for the winger would be somewhere in the 40-point range.
What does that mean for Shumakov? The short and honest answer is that it could mean something or it could mean nothing. In recent years, we’ve seen several notable and somewhat promising KHL talents head to the NHL only for it to go sideways. Sergei Plotnikov, for instance, flamed out after scoring just three points in 45 games during the 2015-16 season. Viktor Tikhonov, a first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008, managed just three goals and six points in 50 games that same season. The most recent cautionary tale, however, is that of Vadim Shipachyov, who was brought in with considerable hype surrounding him by the Vegas Golden Knights only to mutually agree to terminate his two-year, $9-million contract three games into the 2018-19 season.
But Plotnikov, Tikhonov and Shipachyov are the negative examples, the players whose moves to the NHL fell flat. Upon leaving the KHL for the Chicago Blackhawks — albeit at a younger age — Artemi Panarin’s three prior campaigns were only slightly better than that of Shumakov. Likewise, Evgenii Dadonov’s NHL projection was about 55 points, but he went out and became a 65-point player last season upon his return to the Florida Panthers. And defenseman Nikita Zaitsev made the move from the KHL to NHL almost flawlessly as a rookie with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Shumakov is no sure thing. No player who comes over from the KHL to the NHL is, particularly not when they have to learn to play on a smaller ice surface and a different style of game. But his offensive numbers — not to mention the puckhandling ability and shot he’s put on display — give reason to believe he could be among those to make a successful transition. Now, all that’s left to know is where he’ll be suiting up next season.
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