The four-month pause in play due to the COVID-19 pandemic has created a maelstrom of unique challenges for the NHL with regards to completing the 2019-2020 season. Players and teams are also faced with a wide array of serious concerns, none more important than avoiding the virus. Additional concerns include preparing for playoff games in a short period of time and being separated from family and friends for the coming days and weeks.
However, the situation is also providing a unique opportunity for a few of the Capitals top prospects as a number of the them have reported to MedStar in recent days for workouts and the upcoming training camp. One of those recent arrivals in Ballston is Shane Gersich.
Gersich’s call to Capitals camp comes at a key point in the young forwards career. The Capitals signed Gersich to a one-year, two-way extension worth $700,000 at the NHL level and $115,000 at the AHL level on May 20, 2019. The short-term deal seemed to signal a need for the Capitals to see positive development in short order following a quiet rookie campaign in Hershey the previous season. That extension is set to expire at the end of the playoffs.
After a pedestrian freshman season at North Dakota, 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 eye-popping numbers playing alongside that talent in 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). His season 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 for 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.
There was plenty of buzz surrounding Gersich in the spring of 2018. He had just signed a deal with the Capitals immediately following the conclusion of his junior year at the University of North Dakota, and subsequently joined the team on the road in Montreal the following day.
Gersich, a fifth-round pick (134th overall) by the Capitals in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, surrendered his senior year of collegiate eligibility for an immediate shot at NHL playing time, which would quickly follow five days later. His whirlwind spring would later turn into a dream summer which reached a climax with the hoisting of the Stanley Cup in Sin City in early June.
Many assumed Gersich would remain in D.C. the following season, but the fact of the matter was, Gersich was still a kid fresh out of college (a year early), and there was still plenty of work that needed to be done. Gersich was assigned to Hershey, where he spent the 2018-2019 season, getting acclimated to the AHL game.
His first full professional campaign was a mixed bag. Gersich demonstrated his elite-level speed and agility on the ice, but also demonstrated areas that needed improvement, mainly his shot and his general ability to manage the puck.
After a rather lackluster rookie campaign with the Bears, Gersich’s focus in his sophomore season was clear. He would look to “zero-in” his shot, and “lock down” his puck possession.
Gersich, now 24, returned to Hershey for the 2019-2020 season with specific goals to modify his game, and to improve his shot accuracy. He did just that. Gersich became more of a line-driver and defensive press-man, and doubled his shooting accuracy.
The 2019-2020 season was somewhat of a transition season for Gersich, as he evolved into a slightly different role, one focused more on driving his line and less on scoring. To his credit, he embraced the new role, and improved most of the season. He finished the season with 10 goals and 18 assists in just 54 games. He also greatly improved his shooting percentage, finishing at 13.2%, up from 6.4% during his rookie campaign. He also recorded his first career hat trick.
Gersich demonstrated the ability to modify his game, and did well in doing so during the 2019-2020 season. The question remains, did he do enough to garner a new deal from the Capitals?
Shane’s speed will always be his greatest asset, but he’s working on and showing signs of development in areas he needs to improve upon. His shot accuracy improvement alone is something that should be recognized. His passing and stick-handling continue to improve as his time in the AHL progresses. On the other end of the ice, the winger is a responsible player and makes good decisions in his own zone. He receives time on the penalty kill unit because of that.
Gerisich has been an interesting watch this season. After signing just a one-year extension last summer, it was clear the Capitals wanted to see more from Shane, and soon. It was also clear he needed to adjust his game and role on the team, and he did just that. The question will be, do the Capitals extend him? It’s very likely they do, after seeing his effort and ability to adapt this season.
The call to Capitals camp is perhaps a nod to Gersich that the Capitals have seen positive development, and that he will be an asset for the Capitals over the next few years. Look for a one or two-year extension, another year in Hershey with the goal of continuing his development towards a third or fourth line spot on the Capitals in the next two years. Think Jay Beagle.
By Jon Sorensen
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