He reached hockey’s mountain top just weeks after finishing his college career, hoisting the Stanley Cup in the summer of 2018. Since then things have been relatively quiet for Shane Gersich, the Capitals fifth-round pick in 2014. But the 25-year-old forward, who is now playing in his fourth season for the Hershey Bears, has been working on modifying his game for a seemingly ever-changing role.
Finding A Role
Gersich was originally viewed as a top-six forward with high offensive upside. Following a rather lackluster freshman season at North Dakota, Gersich was placed on a line with Brock Boeser and Tyson Jost during for his sophomore campaign. Unsurprisingly, Gersich posted attention-grabbing offensive numbers for the 2016-17 season. 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). Gersich’s high offensive output caused many NHL evaluators to brand him as a potential top-six forward.
Jost left for the Colorado Avalanche and Boesser for the Vancouver Canucks following the 2016-17 season. Subsequently Gersich’s offensive production dropped during his third and final season at North Dakota.
Immediately following the 2017-18 season Gersicch signed with the Capitals and reported directly to Washington as a condition of him signing the contract. He played in three regular season games and two playoff games, as the Capitals won the Stanley Cup.
Glad we could help our old friend @shane_gersich9 jump start his truck today! Apparently he was gone for a little while playing for a giant cup or something. @Capitals #CongratulationsChamp #StanleyCup #BestCopsAround pic.twitter.com/0FkyylKuVO
— University of North Dakota Police (@UNDPoliceDept) June 18, 2018
After a ton of early buzz at the NHL level, Gersich was ultimately assigned to the American Hockey League (AHL). Following a quiet offensive rookie season, Gersich was asked to transition his game from a scoring role to more of a line driver and checking role for his sophomore season. He was also asked to solidify the Bears penalty kill. To Gersich’s credit, he adapted, worked hard and transitioned his game.
Over the past three seasons with the Bears Gersich has transitioned to more of a grittier puck-battler and physical checking player, with defense becoming more of a prominent component of his game. And he’s done fairly well in that transition.
But things have changed once again this season, primarily due to COVID.
The shear volume of player call-ups from Hershey to Washington this season has seen Gersich return to more of a top-six forward role, simply out of pure necessity. And to Gersich’s credit, once again, he’s made the most of it.
The forward has eight goals and nine assists in 29 games played so far this season, including six goals and four assists in his last eight games. He’s been a dominant forward for the Bears, both offensively and defensively, and is now fourth on the team in goals and fifth on the team in points.
— Jon Sorensen (@jon_m_sorensen) January 2, 2022
Gersich has found his offensive game this season out of necessity for the team, all while the Bears’ lineup has been somewhat of a revolving door throughout much of the first half of the season. As it turns out, the blender lines haven’t seemed to affect Gersich much at all.
“It’s kinda something you’ve learned, especially for me the last couple of years at pro. You can’t really look at it too much. You just got to come to the rink and do your job. Scotty’s [head coach Scott Allen] talked about it quite a bit this year. He says ‘control what you can control’ and that’s really all you can do. We’ve had guys come in and do a great job. Obviously guys go up [to Washington] and do a great job. Whatever role your playing, everyone coming in has done a good job.”
— Jon Sorensen (@jon_m_sorensen) January 9, 2022
Gersich has found some consistency as of late, most notably on a line with Mason Morelli and Drake Rymsha. The line has been cobbled together as a result of the vast void of forwards on the Bears roster as a result of COVID and callups.
“It’s nice to find some chemistry with some guys. Obviously ‘Morelli’ and ‘Rymer’ play a similar game. We try to get in on the forecheck and use our speed. Try to get pucks to the net and use our shot. It’s kind of a hard-working game. Try to play 200 feet. Obviously, lately, its working offensively as well,” said Gersich.
The Capitals re-signed Gersich to his second consecutive one-year, two-way contract last June and he will be a restricted free-agent once again this summer. The last two seasons have seen a few players benefit from the shakeup caused by COVID (see Aliaksei Protas and Alex Alexeyev), and maybe the need for scoring by the Bears this season has given Gersich an extra offensive boost at the just the right time in his career.
At 25, Gersich needs to continue hitting the curve balls he’s being dealt and succeed at whatever role he is asked to perform. To his credit, he’s done a good job of that all along the way. Will it be enough to make a return to Washington? If he continues his current level of play a call-up this season is very possible. It’s up to him for how long.
By Jon Sorensen