MONTREAL - Nikita Scherbak is hopeful that his sophomore year in the pros will be far more memorable than his freshman campaign.
Plagued by injuries that limited him to just 48 games with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps in 2015-16, the 20-year-old right-winger comes into training camp this time around focused on demonstrating to the Habs' brass that he's turned the page on a disappointing season and made important strides in his game over the last 12 months.
Two-plus years after being selected 26th overall by the Canadiens in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, a now fully healthy Scherbak is back to the business of fighting for a roster spot along with the likes of fellow young guns Artturi Lehkonen, Michael McCarron and Charles Hudon.
"It was tough year. I didn't get as many games as I wanted to. I didn't get the game that I wanted, either, so I hope this year is going to be better. I expect more for myself," said Scherbak, who put up seven goals and 23 points with Sylvain Lefebvre's contingent last year. "Now, I just have to work hard. Everyone knows what I can do. "
Video: Nikita Scherbak on his training camp experience
The Russian forward made that abundantly clear back on September 16th at the 2016 Rookie Tournament in London, ON when he scored a highlight-reel goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins' top prospects that had social media platforms buzzing with excitement.
Scherbak lit the lamp again on Sunday afternoon during the Red vs. White intra-squad scrimmage at the Bell Centre, demonstrating a great deal of patience before beating goaltender Charlie Lindgren while the two teams were playing three skaters aside.
It goes without saying that head coach Michel Therrien would like to see Scherbak put the puck in the net on a more frequent basis, but showcase a few other key traits along the way, too.
"He's got to be creative. He's got to make sure that he skates well. That's one thing. He's a good skater. He could make plays. He's got to play to a tempo of the NHL. We're able to see him more on the ice when it's 3-on-3 because the kid's got skill and more room," said Therrien, who will likely give Scherbak plenty of opportunities to prove his worth as the Canadiens play five preseason contests over the next seven days. "He's got to fight for his position on the ice. With his speed, we're expecting good things from him."
Admittedly, the Canadiens' bench boss believes Scherbak will ultimately come out on the right side of last season's struggles. Following Sunday afternoon's tilt, Therrien complemented his extensive work with strength and conditioning coach Pierre Allard at the Bell Sports Complex over the last few months, which has yielded good results early on in training camp.
Video: Michel Therrien on Sunday afternoon's game
"We see a different player this year, so I don't think [last season] affected his confidence because he wasn't in a position to get called up due to tons of injuries. He's gotten a lot stronger. He had a really good summer. He learned a lot of things about being an athlete," praised Therrien, referencing Scherbak's decision to remain in Montreal following development camp to hone his game on the South Shore alongside a slew of Canadiens veterans. "If you're not an athlete, you're going to have a tough time playing in the NHL. We see a young man getting stronger and stronger."
The question now is whether or not the former WHL standout will be deemed NHL ready when the Canadiens open the regular season in just over two weeks' time - and, if he is, will a roster spot be available up front from the start?
Having seen many of his IceCaps teammates get their respective shots with the CH throughout the 2015-16 season, there's nothing Scherbak would relish more than being given a shot of his own beginning in mid-October - even though he took those call-ups in stride, of course.
"I was happy for the guys. We are one team. We are one family. Some of my friends like Michael McCarron, I was watching the games at home and obviously you want to get called up, but they deserved to be there," concluded Scherbak, before going on to stress his preparedness for the challenge ahead. "After the scrimmages and hard practices, I feel more comfortable and more confident for the upcoming games."