Nikita Gusev agreed to a two-year, $9 million contract with the New Jersey Devils after being traded by the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.
"It wasn't something that started at the [2019 NHL Draft] and continued into June or the end of July," New Jersey assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald said Tuesday. "It's just something that happened; they were looking to move on. You would have to ask [Devils general manager Ray Shero] if he called them or they called us, but [he's] definitely a player that we identified on a team that was right up against the [NHL salary cap] and probably wouldn't be able to sign [him] for potentially what he's looking for."
The contract for the 27-year-old forward, who was a restricted free agent, has an average annual value of $4.5 million. He signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Golden Knights on April 14 after he was named MVP of the Kontinental Hockey League but did not play any games for Vegas.
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"There's probably the questions of, well, he's never played in the League, but we believe what he's done Internationally, whether it's Olympics, World Championships, World Cups, and of course, in the KHL, we think it translates into a really good NHL player," Fitzgerald said. "So, how good? That's going to be the question, but we definitely feel we've upgraded our skill level in the top six."
Vegas received a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
"The contract request was more than what we thought was reasonable for us," Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said. "When it came right down to it, let's make the move and turn him into some draft picks that we could use in the future.
"We've been a real good team. We expect to be an even better team this season. What we didn't want to do was tear the team apart to accommodate one player."
Gusev, who played for SKA St. Petersburg for the past four seasons, led the KHL with 82 points (17 goals, 65 assists) in 62 games last season and is 10th in its history with 332 points (119 goals, 213 assists) in 391 games. He helped SKA St. Petersburg win the Gagarin Cup in 2017 and won the Golden Stick as most valuable player in 2018.
Video: Daneyko speaks about Devils trading for Gusev
He is the latest high-level acquisition for the Devils, who this offseason added defenseman P.K. Subban in a trade, forward Wayne Simmonds as a free agent, and center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. Fitzgerald said there may be more to come.
"I would say this is this big cherry on top, but you never know," Fitzgerald said. "We still have (cap) space, and you never know what presents itself with the other teams out there that may call our organization. Right now, we're really happy where we're at."
Gusev was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the seventh round (No. 202) of the 2012 NHL Draft and was traded to the Golden Knights for two draft picks on June 21, 2017, the day of the NHL Expansion Draft. He helped the Olympic Athletes from Russia win the gold medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and was named Best Forward after leading the tournament with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in six games.
"He's a darter, he's got extremely high hockey sense," Fitzgerald said "He thinks the game really well and he can shoot the puck, he really can make the plays. He plays the off-wing and that's fine by us. But he works, he competes and he hunts pucks. He can get in the holes and finds a space to get a shots off. So we think that translates into production."
NHL.com staff writer Mike G. Morreale contributed to this report