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Bolt Prospect of the Week

We continue our Bolt Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for his recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Bolt Prospect of the Week for the week ending December 7 is … Nikita Gusev, W, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL).

The Goose is loose, but he’s staying in Russia.

Lightning 2012 seventh round pick Nikita “The Goose” Gusev is having another all-star year in the KHL this season, sparking talk that the diminutive playmaker could be joining his good friend Nikita Kucherov in Tampa as soon as next season.

But that talk came to a crashing halt this week thanks to a heaping pile of rubles.

Gusev, listed at 5-9 173, had three goals in three games last week to give him 13-13-26 in 36 games between St. Petersburg and Khanty-Mansiysk. He has 6-6-12 in 13 games with St. Petersburg since a mid-season trade.

On Monday, he had the game-winning goal in SKA’s 3-2 overtime win over Sochi. Gusev followed that up with a goal and an assist Wednesday as SKA beat Spartak Moscow, 5-0. Finally, on Sunday, he played more than 20 minutes and had a regulation-time goal in SKA’s 2-1 overtime win over Nizhnekamsk. Former Atlanta Thrasher star Ilya Kovalchuk, who is buried in a pile of rubles himself, had the game-winner.

For his performance, he was named our Bolt Prospect of the Week. SKA also showered him in cash, signing him to a 2-year contract extension. As always, we’ll let you decide which of the two events carried the most street cred.

Gusev, named earlier this season to Team Russia for the Karjala Cup, was in the last year of his contract and according to a report by Sportsdaily.ru via The Hockey Writers, was considering the NHL next year.

“Of course I have such plans,” Gusev Sportsdaily.ru. “My best friend Nikita Kucherov, with whom I talk every day, wants me to join him overseas, but earlier I could not. He tells me that [in North America] there is a completely different environment and hockey also is not the same. But every player has his own goals and destiny. Nikita is doing great there, and I’m very happy for him.”

Gusev, who has recently drawn comparisons to Chicago’s Artemi Panarin, played with Kucherov on the 2012 Russian World Junior Championship squad, which also featured current or former Lightning prospects Andrei Vasilevskiy, Artem Sergeev, and Nikita Nesterov. Vladdy Namestnikov was a surprise cut from the roster due to injury.

Kucherov and Gusev played on the same line together for two seasons in the MHL (Russian minor league to KHL) for Krasnaya Armiya Moskva. They were highly productive together, with Kucherov having 24 goals and 43 points in 23 games in 2011-12 before being promoted to KHL CSKA Moskva for 18 games. Gusev had 30 goals and 76 pints in just 34 games while getting 18 games in the KHL.

Kucherov responded to the Gusev-to-NHL talk recently through Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times (before Gusev’s extension).

"It was our dream to be here," Kucherov told the Times. "Now I'm here, I just want him to be here, too. It'll be nice to see him in a couple years, next year.

Although he’s small, Kucherov believes Gusev’s game will translate to the NHL.

"He will play here," Kucherov told Smith. "He likes to carry the puck; he likes to make plays. He's got a good shot. The vision he has, it's something that … not that (many) players have."

Kucherov said the first step is to get Gusev to North America, but that will have to wait a couple years. Gusev will be 25 when his new SKA contract ends. He’ll likely demand that he bypass the AHL and go right to the NHL if/when he signs with the Lightning, as is typical for KHL stars.

Gusev projects as a top-6 point-producing winger who could excel in space, especially on the power play. The key for him will be transitioning from an east-west KHL style to a more rugged north-south style, though the NHL isn’t as physical as it used to be.

Preseason BP Rank: 11

Honorable Mention: Adam Erne, W, Syracuse-AHL; Kristers Gudlevskis, G, Syracuse-AHL; Anthony Cirelli, C, Oshawa-OHL, Mitchell Stephens, C/W, Saginaw-OHL

Previous 2015-2016 Prospect of the Week winners:

November 30: Matt Spencer, D (Peterborough, OHL, Canada)
November 23: Jonathan Marchessault & Joel Vermin, (Tampa Bay, NHL, USA)
November 16: Brian Hart, W, (Greenville, ECHL, USA)
November 9: Brayden Point, C, (Moose Jaw, WHL, Canada)
November 2: Brayden Point, C, (Moose Jaw, WHL, Canada)
October 26: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Tampa Bay, NHL, USA)
October 19: Ryan Zuhlsdorf, D, (Sioux City, USHL, USA)
October 12: Dennis Yan, W, (Shawinigan, QMJHL, Canada)
October 6: Mitchell Stephens, W, (Saginaw, OHL, Canada)
September 29: Matt Peca, C, (Tampa Bay, NHL, USA)