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Over the past few summers, acquisitions such as Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, and Lars Eller (to name a few) have been the talk of the town when training camp rolled around for the Capitals, bringing with them all sorts of hype and fanfare. However, less-heralded signings such as Brett Connolly and Devante Smith-Pelly have proven to be fantastic gambles for the team. The Caps’ track recent track record of gambles on these “reclamation projects” means nothing but good things for recent free agent signing Sergei Shumakov.
While there are some notable differences in Shumakov’s case (more on that in a moment), similarities do exist. Both Connolly and Smith-Pelly gave the Capitals some solid depth pieces to an already loaded roster, with the hope that the team’s coaches and existing depth would be able to maximize the potential that they had previously shown in their careers. Both were early-round draft picks (sixth overall and 42nd overall in 2010, respectively) that were touted positively prior to their professional careers, but had failed to reach the potential heights expected. Both signed on one-year, inexpensive contracts and responded with productive seasons that earned them extensions with the Capitals.
Shumakov, however, is unproven at the NHL level, having spent his entire professional career to this point in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). And unlike Connolly (and to some degree, Smith-Pelly), Shumakov was never expected to put up major offensive totals as a pro. However, the former Sibir Novorisibirk and CSKA Moscow forward did produce seasons of 33 and 37 points in 2015-16 and 2016-17 with Sibir after a 24-point season in 2014-15, and followed those up with a 40-point campaign last season; his 40 points left him three points out of the Top 10 KHL scorers and his rate of point production was 15th-best among all KHL skaters.
But while Shumakov has to adapt to the smaller, North American rinks and the fast pace of the NHL, there are some similarities to Connolly and Smith-Pelly’s signings. One of the most notable is that Shumakov is of a similar age to Connolly and Smith-Pelly when they signed with the Capitals (26) and still young enough to develop his game. A second is that he is a forward expected to simply provide some scoring depth to the Caps’ bottom-six, which lost both center Jay Beagle and Alex Chiasson (who combined for 40 points last season) to free agency, and has the potential to add more than just depth. And while he will face a challenge in adjusting to America, the Capitals have a host of other Russian players who had to do the same in Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov (who was a teammate of Shumakov’s from ages five to 17), and Dmitry Orlov, and all of whom will certainly offer Shumakov support and direction this season.
With Shumakov yet to arrive at Training Camp (doe to visa issues), it is not yet known what to expect from the 26-year old. If the team’s most recent free agent gambles are anything to go by, it should be nothing but good things.
By Michael Fleetwood