Coming into the 2020-21 season, new Devils head coach Lindy Ruff had to do his research on his new young roster. For the most part, he was familiar with the names: Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, P.K. Subban, Mackenzie Blackwood, et al.
But there was one player that Ruff new nearly nothing about. And that player kept catching his attention during training camp, and wasn't just with his mischievous grin or whimsical facial expressions.
The speed, the shot and the hustle of Yegor Sharangovich was apparent from Day 1.
Video: EXIT INTERVIEW | Yegor Sharangovich
"He is the guy that has surprised me the most that I knew the least about," Ruff admitted later on. "He really wasn't on radar, but had a great (training) camp. His practices were something that I was really impressed with."
The Belarusian rookie kept Ruff's attention throughout the year while enjoying a breakout season that eclipsed all expectations. Sharangovich finished third on the team in goals (16) and points (30). His 16 goals were tied for third-most among all NHL rookies, while his 30 points ranked fourth. He credited a lot of the success to his conditioning.
"Good preseason work in the summer, because I felt good all season," he said. "I was just ready to come to the NHL."
Sharangovich was more than ready. Devils management expected him to make the jump to the NHL for the year. They didn't expect his offensive outburst.
Sharangovich had scored 19 total goals in two seasons (125 games) with Binghamton of the American Hockey League from 2018-20. So, scoring 16 in 54 NHL games this season, against some tough competition in the East Division, was a pleasant outcome to the Devils' brass.
"He has really impressed me," Ruff said. "He's in on a lot of good plays every game. The reason he's doing as well as he is, I think his skating is really good. His shot is good."
The deadliness of Sharangovich's shot is apparent on first sight. Whether it's the velocity with which the puck leaves his stick or his ability to drag the puck into his body, thus changing the angle on goaltenders, and then snapping off a hard shot that catching goalies out of position.
The 22-year-old worked on his shot this past summer. While most of the hockey world was shutdown, he appeared in 34 games for Dinamo Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. It was there, under the tutelage of assistant coach and former NHL center Mikhail Grabovksi, the Minsk native worked on his release.
Video: NJD@PHI: Sharangovich roofs Hughes' feed from slot
"(Grabovski) helped me. I worked half season," Sharangovich said during the team's locker room clean out Tuesday. "It's not enough. I need to work more on this summer.
"I will work hard on my shot more because I liked when I scored goals. And I want to do it the same and better for next season."
Other than his shot, Sharangovich also credits some of his goal scoring to his spouse. After recording his first-career two-goal game April 29 against Philadelphia, Sharangovich was asked about his goal scoring prowess that evening.
"My wife told me that I could score three goals, so I tried to score three goals," he said while sporting a wide smile.
Sharangovich, a fifth-round pick (141st overall) in 2018 by New Jersey, has also staked out a regular role on the team's penalty killing unit while solidifying a spot alongside star center Jack Hughes and forward Janne Kuokkanen.
"I can play with these two guys because Jack is a really skilled guy and always creating chances, passes to me for shots. He's smart in the offensive zone and defensive zone," Sharangovich said. "With Janne, we played in the AHL a couple games and NHL half the season we played together. I understand what he wants on the ice. It's good communication with us.
"I think we played well. I liked playing with these two guys."
Sharangovich's emergence as a scoring threat may have stymied the team's management, but it was no surprise to linemate Kuokkanen.
"He's a great player. He can score from any possible area on the ice basically," Kuokkanen, 22, said. "I really like playing with him. He's really fast. If I find his tape and he has good speed he'll be able to score. I like that."
Video: PHI@NJD: Sharangovich scores his second PPG of game
Team Belarus will certainly like that too when he joins the club at the upcoming World Championship. It will be another opportunity for Sharangovich, who will travel to Riga, Latvia May 14, to continue to play and work on his game.
"I will work on my leg quickness," he said. "It's a smaller rink and small ice (in the NHL). You need a quick first step.
"Quick shot, physical stuff. I just need to work more and I will be better next season." Sharangovich, who isn't proficient in English, is a man of few words. At least a man of few English words. When asked a month ago what he wanted to accomplish the rest of the season, he replied: "Score more goals."
So, it was no shocker that he had a simple plan for his sophomore season.
"Play better than this season."