When Shane Gersich joined the Washington Capitals organization after completing his collegiate season in 2017-18, he was viewed as a potential top six forward with high offensive upside. However, that offensive game has not been the staple of Gersich’s young professional game. Instead, the Chaska, Minnesota native’s game has morphed into a player who is perfectly suited for a bottom six role. How did this change occur?
Let’s start at the beginning. As a high school player in Minnesota, Gersich posted two 60-point seasons and his play earned him a spot on the United States Under 18 team in the United States Developmental Program for 2013-14. Playing with current NHL players Jack Eichel, Auston Mathews, Dylan Larkin, Alex Tuch, Sonny Milano and Anders Bjork, Gersich tallied 16 goals and added 16 assists in 61 games. Following the season, he was drafted in the fifth round by the Capitals. He then moved on to the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL) for the 2014-15 season and had 50 points in 52 games.
Those two seasons gave Gersich an offensive pedigree to build off of as he headed to the University of North Dakota. After a lackluster freshman season, the Minnesotan was placed on a line with Brock Boeser and Tyson Jost, both of whom are currently succeeding at the NHL level. Unsurprisingly, Gersich put up good numbers playing alongside that talent in the 2016-17. He led North Dakota with 21 goals and 37 points in 40 games (Jost had 35 points in 33 games and Boesser had 34 points in 32 games). This is the season that caused NHL evaluators to brand Gersich as a potential top six forward.
Jost left for the Colorado Avalanche and Boesser for the Vancouver Canucks after the season and Gersich’s goal total dropped by eight in the 2017-18 season. When he turned pro following North Dakota’s season, Gersich went right to Washington as a condition of him signing a contract, and played in three regular season games and two playoff games, as the Capitals won the Stanley Cup.
Gersich was sent to the Hershey Bears to develop for the 2018-19 AHL season. The expectation was that he would be a top six forward and score. That simply has not happened. He’s created plenty of chances with his speed, but did not finish enough. His shot did not translate to the professional level well. Gersich converted just eight of his 125 shots for a shooting percentage of 6.4. He finished the season with 24 points.
The point total was not what was expected by many for Gersich. However, something unexpected happened. He developed into a reliable player in his own zone. He led all Hershey forwards with a +5 rating, which was third on the team behind Aaron Ness and Tyler Lewington. Gersich became a valuable penalty killer and could be counted to always back check. Two of his three goals this season have been shorthanded.
The evolution of Gersich into a different type of player has continued this season. He has gone 16 games without being a minus. His effort defensively has been excellent. On November 27, he hustled back and broke up a Providence scoring chance with his stick. Gersich goes into the dirty areas to battle for the puck and the physicality in his game has picked up. He is one of the Bears’ top penalty killers and has been a big reason for the unit’s recent streak of 20 straight kills.
Gersich does everything that NHL teams look for in a player in their bottom six and that is now his ticket to the show, not as an offensive player. How did the evaluators misdiagnose Gersich’s game? It is easy to get fooled by good numbers at a lower level. Those numbers can be skewed by the competition level and by the players they play with. When a player is playing with players as talented as Jost, Boeser, Eichel, Mathews, Touch and Larkin, it is easier to produce offensive numbers and their creativity can sometimes hide a deficiency like a less than accurate shot.
Scoring numbers do not always translate to the professional game. For example, former Bear Zach Hamill scored 93 and 75 points in back-to-back seasons with Everett in the Western Hockey League and ended up being the eighth overall pick by the Boston Bruins in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Hamill never came close to those numbers as a pro because he lacked the intangibles (like work ethic, hustle and heart) that a player needs to succeed at a high level.
Gersich may not turn out be the offensive player he was expected to be, but he can still be a useful pro because he possesses the necessary intangibles to succeed. Championship teams always have hard-working, bottom six forwards who make a difference during the playoff run. That is where Shane Gersich will make his mark.
By Eric Lord