Maple Leafs take low-risk gamble on Nikita Gusev

New Jersey Devils left wing Nikita Gusev (97) skates with the puck near center ice during third period of an NHL hockey game. (Kathy Willens/AP)

TORONTO – Kyle Dubas loves to take a flier on NHL castaways.

Enter Nikita Gusev, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ latest low-risk gamble that potentially could pay off nicely.

And if not? Nothing lost — yet.

The 29-year-old unrestricted free agent, 2018 Olympic gold medallist and four-time KHL all-star inked a professional tryout offer (PTO) with the Maple Leafs, as CapFriendly.com reported Friday night.

A right shot capable of playing either wing, Gusev made some noise on this side of the ocean in 2019-20. After seeing his rights owned by Tampa Bay and Vegas without an NHL debut, he finally left SKA Saint Petersburg, scoring 13 goals and 44 points in 66 games for a poor Devils squad.

The Russian’s 2020-21 campaign was split between New Jersey and Florida. His shooting percentage dropped, and he failed to find his groove in either lineup.

Gusev’s offensive upside has led him to 17 power-play points through 97 career NHL games, and the Maple Leafs — falling to 16th overall in power-play success (20 per cent) last season — could use a dangerous right shot on their 5-on-4 units.

Gusev struggled through the pandemic, but he is just one season removed from 44 points in 66 games for New Jersey and only turned 29 in July.

That said, Gusev’s defensive responsibility has come under question. He’s a career minus-27 forward who starts the majority of his shifts in the O-zone.

His $4.5 million cap hit rendered him untradeable last season, and the Devils ultimately terminated his contract.

Gusev will join another skilled winger, Josh Ho-Sang, on a tryout when Maple Leafs camp opens Wednesday.

In the wake of Zach Hyman’s departure, several new faces will battle it out for winger positions in Toronto’s Opening Night lineup.

UFAs Nick Ritchie, Michael Bunting and Ondrej Kase are all in town, while the likes of Ilya Mikheyev and Nick Robertson are eager to climb the organization’s depth chart.

Thus far, 17 players signed PTOs with NHL franchises.

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