Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images
At the end of Shane Gersich’s monster Sophomore year with the University of North Dakota, when he posted 21 goals and 16 assists in 40 games, Capitals’ fans were excited that maybe the team found a gem in the 5th round of the 2014 draft. But then he followed up with a less impressive Junior season scoring only 13 goals and 16 assists, 8 points less than his last season. Even though North Dakota lost a lot of talent after Gersich’s Sophomore season, the Junior season left Capital’s fans to worry about Gersich.
Fast forward to last night where Gersich made his NHL debut against the New York Rangers and I think the North Dakota alumn quelled a lot of worries. Shane (#63) didn’t play a whole lot of minutes, but still found moments to show he can play in the big leagues.
Early in the game he had a monster shift with his line mates Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly. After a strong forecheck, he made sure to get back and pick off a pass out of the zone, keeping the play alive. He was able to regain possession and even tried a twister pass to Lars Eller that hit a skate. Then Gersich circled around the net into the slot to get a difficult across-the -body shot on Lundqvist that hit a defender. And he didn’t stop there. After DSP and Gersich teamed up on a Ranger trying to flee the zone, Shane was able to corral the puck and dish it to Eller, but unfortunately an opposing player got a stick on it, because if not, Eller was alone in front of the goal.
Gersich shows off some of his tenacity on this play. He bursts into the slot to try to shoot a bouncing puck, but it flies into the corner where a Ranger defender looks like he would be able to get control. However, Gersich jumps at the loose puck, sticking it to Eller who keeps the play alive. Just seconds later Gersich gets the puck along the boards again, and although he is pushed down quite easily, he keeps control.
Though it doesn’t look like a mind-blowing play in the defensive zone, it’s good to see Gersich had the poise not to panic, and keep the puck on his stick for a second, before dishing it to Eller for a clean exit.
Once in the ozone, we see once again Shane’s ability to keep the play alive by jumping for the puck to keep possession. He then sets up in the circle for a slap shot that would have been a good scoring chance if not for an opposing player getting a stick on it at the last second.
Easily Gersich’s best look of the night, he proves here he’s not afraid to go to the net. What’s really promising about this is how many Caps would have tried to pass that to DSP in that situation? Probably all of them. We need players willing to go for the shot and less of the fancy plays.
Again, while going to the net, Gersich gets a good scoring chance by redirecting the puck in close on net.
This play is all started by the quick forecheck of Gersich, who gets his stick on a pass that was going behind the net. If he didn’t stop that pass, Rangers are probably out of the zone soon after. But he does stop it, so he and his line mates were able to force a turnover.
A little later in the sequence, Gersich spins out from a wall-battle and dishes a perfect pass into the slot for DSP who whiffs on the grade A chance.
Gersich ended the game with only 8:52 in time on ice, but had the 2nd best 68.18CF% (possession) and was on the ice for 4 high danger scoring chances and ZERO against. And that’s with only one offensive zone start. He also had 3 shots on goal, tied for 3rd on the team (behind Ovechkin and Carlson). All of that is mighty good for a kid in his 1st NHL game.
Barry Trotz took notice of this too. “I thought he was dangerous every time I put him on the ice. He seemed to create something. He was picking guys’ pockets, he was getting to those areas. His speed is undeniable. He’s got some good hockey sense. Just a really good game for him.”
Obviously, it’s important to remember they were playing the lowly New York Rangers, not exactly a huge test. But it’s better to dominate a game against a mediocre opponent than to get dominated by a mediocre opponent. Hopefully we see more Gersich sooner rather than later.
Overall, in a very small sample size, Gersich looks very reminiscent of fellow teammate and University of North Dakota alumni TJ Oshie. Both smaller guys but very skilled and a bull on the puck that will keep plays alive. Seriously, how often do we see Oshie do the same “dive for the puck” play that ends in scoring chances? Oshie literally did that a couple of times last night too.
If Gersich has a weakness it’s he can get pushed around by bigger players along the boards, which is expected of smaller guys. But if he can continue to get stronger he should be able to stand his ground more in the future, much like Oshie did when he entered the league.
Gersich has had a heck of journey: drafted late, had a great Sophomore year, a down Junior year, then wasn’t sure if he was going to join the Capitals. But at last he’s in the NHL and has started with some promise. “I thought for the first game, if he’s got better than that then I’m really excited for sure.” I think all Caps fans can agree with that, coach Trotz.
All stats provided by Natural Stat Trick
By Luke Adomanis