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Canadiens prospect Scherbak fighting ‘afterthought’ labelMONTREAL — It was on Friday afternoon, at the opening of Montreal Canadiens training camp, that head coach Michel Therrien cautioned members of the press not to read too deeply into his initial line combinations.
25 ñåíòÿáðÿ 2016 ãîäà. Sportsnet.ca
But it’s almost impossible to not see 2014 first-rounder Nikita Scherbak’s slotting with AHL-bound centre Daniel Audette and left winger Markus Eisenschmid as an indication of where he currently stands on the team’s depth chart. Michael McCarron, Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon might be ready to steal a spot on one of Montreal’s bottom two lines this season, but somehow Scherbak, who possesses NHL speed, NHL hands, and an NHL shot has become an afterthought.
The Moscow, Russia native, who needs to be outstanding to show he belongs in the conversation, was having an altogether pedestrian showing before he managed a 3-on-3 goal in Sunday’s Bell Centre scrimmage.
“He’s gotta be creative offensively,” said Therrien. “He’s gotta make sure he skates well. This is one thing — he’s a good skater, he can make plays, and he’s gotta play to the tempo of the NHL.
“We were capable of seeing him more on the ice at 3-on-3 because the kid’s got skill and more room. He’s gotta fight for his position on the ice, and with his speed we expect good things with him.”
It was two years ago that a fresh-faced Scherbak was making an impressive bid to start the season in Montreal before he was among the last players cut from training camp.
He returned to the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips and put up 27 goals and 55 assists in just 65 games.
But injuries stunted Scherbak’s momentum at the onset of the 2015-16 season, and they limited him to just 48 games — all of them spent with the St. John’s IceCaps. His production — seven goals and 16 assists — left much to be desired.
As the Canadiens stumbled through a failed season, prospect after prospect made their way up to Montreal. There were 46 players who dressed for at least one game with the big club, but Scherbak wasn’t one of them.
“I was happy for the guys,” said Scherbak. “We are one team and one family. Some of my friends, like Michael McCarron, were up and I was watching the games at home. Obviously you want to get called up, but they deserved to be there. I didn’t have that many games and I didn’t have my best game last year.”
Somewhere along the line, it became clear to Scherbak that talent alone wasn’t going to take him to the next level. So when the Canadiens requested that he spend the summer in Montreal with strength and conditioning coach Pierre Allard rather than return to Russia for his training, he jumped at the opportunity.
“When I got drafted I thought it was going to be easy,” said Scherbak. “I didn’t expect that guys would be so strong. You have to be a professional to play in this league. You have to have good nutrition, you have to sleep a certain amount of hours every night and have a good sleep, and nutrition is very important.
“It’s not about talent in this league. Everyone has talent; it’s about strength.”
Time will tell if Scherbak’s new habits will pay dividends. He can take some confidence from the fact that Therrien feels he’s progressed.
“We see a different player this year,” said the coach. “He got a lot stronger, he had a really good summer. He learned a lot of things about being an athlete, and these days you have to be an athlete. If you’re not an athlete, you’re going to have a tough time to play in the NHL.”
The 20-year-old Russian feels pre-season games will give him a better chance to show what he can do. He’s not thinking about how he can differentiate himself from any of the forwards competing for a spot in the lineup, he’s just focused on being himself.
“I expect more from myself this year,” Scherbak said. “Everyone knows what I can do. I just have to play simple and work hard and things will work out.”
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