The Everett Silvertips took a bit of a gamble when they acquired Nikita Scherbak from the Saskatoon Blades at the start of the season. They gave up a handful of future assets – a 2015 first-round pick, 2016 second-round pick and 1997-born goalie Nik Amundrud – in an effort to solidify their squad as one of the top teams in the WHL’s Western Conference.
Seventy games later, the big trade has paid dividends for the Silvertips, at least in terms of the regular-season. The Montreal Canadiens first-round pick has easily been their most dangerous scorer all year long, notching 27 goals and 79 points in 63 contests. His offensive production is a major reason why Everett has left three of its U.S. Division rivals in the dust and is in a 90-point tie with the Portland Winterhawks for second place in the Western Conference.
“He has added a lot of offense to our group that we thought we needed,” says Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson. “He has been a big part of our group’s success and has helped us get where we are in the standings.”
From Everett’s perspective, it was practically a no-brainer to target the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Scherbak at the start of the year. It was a rare opportunity to boost their offense significantly by adding a high-end winger for an entire season.
“It’s pretty hard to trade for a top-three forward in this league, so it was a good opportunity for us,” says Everett’s architect. “We felt we had enough future assets to make the trade and it was a good trade for both teams. It was a good short-term move for us and a long-term move for them. And they were in a situation where they had three imports, so it made sense for them to make that move.”
As Davidson pointed out, Blades GM-head coach Bob Woods made a smart long-term move for his organization. Saskatoon was in a situation where they had one too many imports (Scherbak, Nikita Soshnin and Amil Krupic), but didn’t have the option of trading Soshnin or Krupic because the CHL doesn’t allow teams to trade import players in their rookie seasons for just reasons. Moreover, the rebuilding Blades needed to replenish their cupboard after emptying it in two botched runs at a championship.
The X-factor in the Scherbak trade for the Silvertips might be the financial benefits that ultimately stemmed from the deal. The organization put itself out there in a bold marketing plan that included refunding renewing season ticket holders $100 (roughly 20 per cent refund) and partial season ticket holders $50 if the club didn’t finish as high as fourth in the Western Conference standings.
“It was a two-year team plan and we stuck our neck out on that,” says Davidson. “Fortunately it worked out and it didn’t come back to bite us… It didn’t change my approach to anything. We wanted to be a better team this year and the deal made sense for us.”
Everett will lean heavily on the Russian native to help bring in a chunk of change from the playoffs. They will have an edge in their first-round matchup against either the Seattle Thunderbirds or the Spokane Chiefs. But beyond that point, the Silvertips would take on the underdog role with powerhouses like the Winterhawks and Kelowna Rockets in their way.
With Scherbak, who has a late-1995 birthdate, poised to head to the pros next season, Everett is need of adding some offensive talent to its roster in the off-season. They without question have the skill in their 50-player prospected list – top 2016 NHL draft prospects Auston Matthews and Tyson Jost – but the challenge is in convincing them to choose the WHL over the NCAA.
“We’ve made our pitch to them to join our team and would love to have both of them,” says Davidson. “We’ve stayed in touch with them all year long, but haven’t tried to be in their face. They are going to finish out their seasons where they are (Matthews with the United States Development program, Jost with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees) and we will talk again when the season is over.”
Matthews, the projected No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft, has maintained all year long that he is 50/50 on deciding between the WHL and NCAA. He has shown interest in some colleges, but BTN has learned that the Arizona product is currently leaning towards signing with the Silvertips. It would save him the hassle of taking a handful of high school classes this summer in order to be eligible for college next year. In addition, the major junior route makes more sense for a prospect who is expected to go straight to the NHL in his first year of eligibility.
Jost, meanwhile, hasn’t exactly shown his cards. It seems logical that the Leduc, Alta., native might be waiting for Matthews to make his decision first. A Silvertips squad with Matthews is a lot more enticing to play on than one without him.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen