IceDogs add impact import
The Niagara IceDogs just got a whole lot better.
Import forward Danil Gushchin has joined the IceDogs after being reassigned from the San Jose Sharks, and Niagara head coach Billy Burke feels the addition of the dynamic forward could be a game changer.
“I know Joey (general manager Joey Burke) was very high on him before his import draft and worked very hard to get him to commit to us, and to finally have him here in the room, it’s very exciting.
“He comes with an excellent pedigree and showed very well at San Jose. He’s a guy who’s going come in and play a big role and play in all situations right away for us.”
Gushchin, 19, was Niagara’s first selection (fourth) overall in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League import draft. He was selected by the Sharks in the third round (76th overall) of the 2020 National Hockey League draft.
He played last season with Muskegon of the United States Hockey League where he lit it up with 32 goals and 64 points in just 46 games.
He should easily fit into Niagara’s top six and see plenty of work on special teams as well.
“He’s bonafide. He’s-a-ready-to-go player right now so it certainly does change things, it puts everyone else kind of maybe in more of a familiar seat on the bus when you have a guy that can handle a big role and play some big strong minutes,” Burke said. “At the same time, it’s still a new league for him so we’re going to work with him and make sure it’s a comfortable transition, but there’s no reason to believe that he won’t hit the ground at 100 miles-per-hour.”
Gushchin, who grew up in Russia idolizing the great Pavel Datsyuk, was all smiles Tuesday before hitting the ice for his first practice with his new club.
“It’s a good experience for me,” Gushchin said in slightly broken, but understandable English. “I need just to play good and help them to win games.”
Gushchin arrived in Niagara Monday and Tuesday morning met with his new teammates before taking a quick tour of the Meridian Centre.
“The guys have been nice to me, the coach has been nice to me, the GM has nice to me,” he smiled. “I like everybody.
“I love it here. I’ve been here, like two hours, but I love every single day.”
Burke has communicated with the Sharks regarding how Gushchin will be utilized.
“We’ve had some great conversations with San Jose and we’re very much on the same page with things,” Burke said. “They’d like to see him obviously contribute offensively, but not at the expense of away from the puck. They understand his high skill, his high ceiling, but to play in this league and beyond, he needs to be responsible. You need to make sure that it’s not all high risk, high reward. He knows that. It’s very much what we would like and very much in San Jose would like.
“It’s just about giving him an opportunity to play big minutes and continue to develop and it’s good that both us that San Jose and us are on the same page.”
Burke said Gushchin told him he has no problem coming back to the junior level.
“I know he wants to be in the American Hockey League or the NHL this year of course, but he wouldn’t be such a great player if he didn’t,” Burke said. “In the quick conversation we had this morning, he has an outstanding personality, a smiley guy, popular teammate, nothing’s an issue.
“He seems to be very low maintenance. He just wants to come and win the cup right here. He certainly fits.”
Burke said Gushchin will play in exhibition games Friday in Kitchener and at home Saturday to the Rangers as long as his transfer paperwork is complete.
The addition of Gushchin puts the IceDogs roster at 15 forwards, eight defencemen and three goaltenders so a move or two could be in the works to clear some roster space. Gushchin, defenceman Rodwin Dionicio and forward Alex Graham are all classified as imports. Teams are only permitted to carry two imports.
Ice cubes: Defenceman Issac Enright continues to be hampered by an ankle injury that is taking longer than expected to heal.
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