There is a lot of excitement over Capitals’ new winger Sergei Shumakov.
The transition from the KHL to the NHL, however, may take longer than the preseason will allow.
When Evgeny Kuznetsov heard the rumors about Shumakov possibly moving to the NHL, he was quick to reach out.
“I call his agent and call him and they said, ‘Yeah, we have a couple teams,’” Kuznetsov said. “And, then, ‘What do you mean a couple teams? It’s only one team.’ Then, after that, they signed after a couple of days.”
Thus the transition from the KHL to the NHL began.
General manager Brian MacLellan worked to keep the Capitals’ championship roster largely intact and made very few additions to the team.
Nic Dowd was signed on July 1 to compete for the fourth line center role left open by Jay Beagle’s departure. The second addition was Shumakov, a Russian player about to turn 26 with no North American experience.
Shumakov appears to be the latest of the low-risk, high-reward moves MacLellan has routinely made since taking over as general manager. The team took similar chances on Brett Connolly who has become a staple on the Caps’ bottom six and Devante Smith-Pelly who signed in 2017 after the New Jersey Devils bought him out of his contract.
“We see a player that has the ability to score and high-level skill,” MacLellan said of Shumakov. “We're not sure how it translates over here yet. We're just going to let him come in and find his way and put him in some spots and see what he can do."
Shumakov hails from the same town as Kuznetsov, Chelyabinsk, which is why Kuznetsov first reached out to Shumakov to recruit him.
“We’ve been together from 5 to 17 years old and play on the same line, so it’s always nice to have your friend,” Kuznetsov said.
But as excited as he is, Kuznetsov is also not naïve to the challenge that now faces Shumakov.
Fans are understandably excited about what Shumakov can add to the team as a tremendously skilled winger who scored 17 goals and 40 points in 47 games in the KHL last season. But the transition from the KHL to the NHL can be a challenging one.
What makes it so difficult?
“Everything,” Kuznetsov said. “The language, the game, the lifestyle, the mentality. It’s not easy when you’re 26 and you have to change everything in your life.”
The ice is smaller in North America meaning players have less room to maneuver. That makes the game faster paced and a lot more physical.
It is a transition that not everybody is able to make. For every Kuznetsov, there is a Vadim Shipachyov who lasted only three games in Vegas last season before he went back to the KHL.
That makes the preseason critical not just for the team to evaluate Shumakov, but also for him to adjust to the game.
Camp got off to an inauspicious start as visa issues delayed his arrival. Shumakov missed the first two days of camp and did not hit the ice until the fourth day. There is also a language barrier to work through as he does not speak English. When he finally did get on the ice, Reirden grouped him with the team’s other Russian players who could quickly get him up to speed on everything the coaches were saying.
Shumakov made his preseason debut on Friday and showed he is very much still a work in progress. He took a high-sticking penalty on his very first shift and ultimately finished the game with one shot on goal and no points.
With the regular season looming, Shumakov will likely need more time to adjust than the preseason will allow. One option that the team has, however, is to send Shumakov to the AHL. Not only is Shumakov on a two-way contract, but he is also waiver exempt meaning there is no risk in re-assigning him to Hershey.
The best thing to help Shumakov transition will be to play as much as possible. With the regular season only two weeks away, he may need a trip to Hershey before he is ready.
“He’s a skilled player and he can bring a lot of offensive chances to our game,” Kuznetsov said.
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