The 2021-22 NHL season is one of hope for the New Jersey Devils and their fans. Between the additions of Tatar, Graves, Bernier, and Hamilton, another year of development for Hughes, Hischier, Bratt, and Smith, the hope of a bounce-back year for Blackwood, and the excitement of seeing what Mercer and Holtz could bring in camp, a few things snuck under the radar, at least for me. One of those things was the expectations for a certain 23 year-old Belarusian winger coming off of a year in which he came one goal short of matching the team lead and was on pace for 27 goals in a normal 82 game season. But in the midst of his training camp performance it’s hard to not notice the play of Yegor Sharangovich. And I’m going to make a bold prediction and say that he will be a part of this team for a while. More than that though, today I’m going to convince you (if you needed convincing) that he should be your favorite Devils player. Sure, Hughes and Bratt are flashier, Hamilton is a Norris caliber defensemen, and Mercer and Holtz are the shiny new toys, but Sharangovich is a special story that I, personally, and I suspect many other fans as well, have not really fully managed to appreciate amidst the continued struggles of the team as a whole.
Sharangovich isn’t your typical highly touted first round pick that was always going to get his shot to play in the NHL. Instead, he was picked up in the 5th round of the 2018 NHL draft with the 141st pick. This gave him about a 15% chance of playing NHL games. He was also a double over-ager who had recently turned 20, meaning he was previously passed over in the draft twice. Not only that, he was also drafted out of the KHL, where a lot of players stay until/unless they feel they have a good shot to make the NHL so they can avoid long bus rides through upstate New York and an AHL salary. On top of this, he was playing for his hometown team in Dynamo Minsk where he was being used in a 3rd line role. So when the Devils drafted him, there seemed little chance of fans in New Jersey ever seeing him play in North America.
Well, that’s except for one thing. His contract with the Dynamo was up that same year the Devils drafted him. And less than a month after being drafted, Sharangovich signed his ELC with the Devils. The Devils clearly thought highly of this player, and it’s not hard to imagine that they envisioned Sharangovich as a potential future 3rd line center, having just drafted Jack Hughes.
I don’t want to make it seem like Sharangovich was a complete scrub. The man was playing regular minutes in arguably the second best hockey league in the world. He was also a key player for the Belorussian WJC team and made his third (and final) appearance at that tournament the year the Devils drafted him (on an unrelated note, anyone else noticing a trend). But certainly the odds weren’t great. I couldn’t find a 2018 draft ranking that had him on their list. Steve Kournianos (The Draft Analyst) didn’t even have him on his final top-500 list.
If anyone had high hopes of immediate success for the Belorussian in North America, they were likely disappointed, however. As he managed just 17 points in 68 games (AHL stats found here). He followed a disappointing rookie year in the AHL with a better, but still unremarkable 25 points in 57 games. But this season appears to be where things started to turn around for Sharangovich. After just 7 points in his first 29 games, he managed 18 points in his final 28 games, including 10 points in his final 8 games before COVID shut things down. Now, maybe this is purely a coincidence. Many players are streaky after all and I wouldn’t have thought twice about the upsurge in production without what was to follow.
During the COVID lockout the European leagues were the only leagues still playing hockey, and while I was mainly focused on Alex Holtz’s early play in Sweden, Yegor was tearing up the KHL while wearing an A for his former club in Minsk. He ended up with 17 goals and 25 points in 34 games and suddenly he was looking like found money. Now the question was if he would carry his success over to the NHL? As we know very well from the Gusev experiment, this isn’t always a guarantee. But Sharangovich never looked back in camp. He was noticable from day one, and had early success with fellow NHL hopeful Janne Kuokkanen. And as we well know, both players made the team without too much drama.
Sharangovich immediately endeared himself to Devils fans with a beautiful overtime goal in the final seconds of the Devils second game of the season against the Boston Bruins. Followed up with an interview that was just as great.
With everything that has happened with team overall, I don’t think I ever fully appreciated just how awesome it is that a 5th round pick who was a double over-ager managed to make the NHL, let alone have success in the best league in the world. Maybe it’s because the Jesper Bratt story is so recent or because the Devils have players like Andy Greene and John Madden in who weren’t ever drafted turn out to be excellent players. Maybe it’s that the spotlight was on Jack Hughes most of last season and it seemed like Sharangovich was just along for the ride. Regardless, we should appreciate the path that Sharangovich took to make it to the best league in the world. Like many of you, I’m expecting big things from Sharangovich this season and between his personality and his goalscoring prowess, I don’t think we’ll be disappointed.
What are you expecting from Sharangovich this year? Will he score 30 goals? Will he manage to top his first postgame interview? Leave your thoughts below and thank you for reading.