With the NHL regular season almost over, and the New Jersey Devils‘ playoff chances pretty much nonexistent, it is certainly difficult to look for any potential bright spots that may have occurred during the course of their respective season. Also, with the recent trade of longtime Devils players Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri, the agony certainly hasn’t gotten any easier. However, despite all of that, the organization should be fairly proud of the progress that they have made in recent years.
Tom Fitzgerald and the entire front office were able to successfully clear house last year, regain another first-round draft pick from the New York Islanders, draft well, and pick up a few diamonds in the rough. With the youth movement in New Jersey starting to shapeshift, especially after the trade that sent two key veteran players packing, it’s certainly getting more exciting to see what the future has in store.
The Immediate Impact
Obviously, a lot of their “youth movement” is centered around players like Jack Hughes (who is having a breakout season) and Ty Smith (one of the best rookies in the MassMutual East Division), and rightfully so. However, the one diamond in the rough that has caught the eyes of many, would have to be Yegor Sharangovich. His impact was well noticed within the first couple games of games of the regular season against the Boston Bruins.
In Game 1 on Jan. 14, he was able to help draw three penalties against the Bruins, thus giving the Devils three of their five power-play opportunities. Early on, he showed that he was not afraid to put his body on the line, because he actually did get hurt for a brief amount of time in one of those penalty drawings. However, after being checked out by one of the trainers, he was cleared to finish the game.
A couple of days later, on Jan. 16, Sharangovich was able to net his first career goal, also his first point, in a big way. The game was tied at one apiece, and had to go to overtime. Time was winding down to the final seconds, and he had a golden opportunity to score, thanks to help from Damon Severson and Palmieri. Both of those players were able to generate enough momentum to set up a centering shot opportunity for Sharangovich. Thus, he was able to get an open snap shot in the slot area, got the puck right past Jaroslav Halak and the Devils won the game as the clock hit zero. This obviously made him a new fan favorite, and it definitely raised questions as to who he was as a player, since he wasn’t a high-profiled rookie coming into the season, nor was he drafted particularly high.
The Underdog Story
The native from Minsk, Belarus, started his hockey career during the 2014-15 season for his hometown team the Dinamo-Raubichi Minsk of the Vysshaya Liga second level league. In his first full season, he was able to tally 43 points (28 goals, 15 assists) in 40 games played. When promoted to the MHL junior league in Russia, his production did slip a bit. In that season, he only had 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 30 games played, so he was off the mark a bit compared to his first season.
However, after not playing a single regular-season game for Minsk in 2015-16, he was still able to contribute at a pretty good rate come playoff time. He had six points (three goals, three assists) in 10 games played. His production and effort sparked the interest of some North American teams, which led him to getting drafted 252nd overall by the Youngstown Phantoms in the 2017 USHL Entry Draft. However, he opted to remain in Belarus.
It seemed like Sharangovich’s NHL window was closing, especially since he only had 12 points in 47 games played for the HC Dinamo Minsk of the KHL. However, since he had a respectable season for the Belarus U20 the season prior (15 goals, 13 assists, and 28 points in 38 games played), he was still able to appear on some NHL team’s radars. In 2018, he was selected by the Devils in an over-age pick at 141st overall (fifth round) in the NHL Draft. Later that summer, he signed his three-year, entry-level contract with New Jersey. Sharangovich is the perfect example of handwork and dedication, because even with his NHL dreams looking slim at the time, he still able to find to find a way to achieve his ultimate goal despite some of his inconsistencies while playing with Belarus.
In a couple seasons with the Binghamton Devils, he was able to demonstrate his improvements even more. Because he was able to raise his points total (25) in 2019-20 by eight in 11 fewer games played. What’s even more impressive is that the very next season with Belarus once again, while on loan from the Devils, he had the same amount of points from last season, this time with 23 fewer games played. So, the Devils certainly saw potential and, according to reports, he was on the watch list of players to look out for after an impressive training camp. (from ‘Yegor Sharangovich, Belarus’ star and the most intriguing player at Devils camp,’ The Athletic, 12/31/2020)
This season he has now become a vital part in the youth movement for New Jersey, and recently the pairings of him, Janne Kuokkanen, and Jack Hughes seems to be paying off well. All three were able to score or help assist on each other’s goals in a couple of recent games, which is impressive. The Devils have certainly found another diamond in the rough with Sharangovich and should be excited about his development and potential.
Trey Matthews is currently the play-by-play announcer for the hockey programs at Adrian College. Interestingly, he is also one of the only full-time black hockey play-by-play announcers in the entire country. He has been featured in USA Today, USCHO, & others for his line of work. In addition to that, he’s also the host of a podcast show called Locked On Devils. He first began writing for his high school’s paper at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy. Aside from hockey, he also covers the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) for Belly Up Sports.