The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted more forms of industry and the general way of life. The hockey world was not immune, as several leagues such as the NHL either paused or canceled their seasons.
From mid-spring through mid-summer, the only pucks to hit the ice came in video game form or replays of games from years past airing on regional sports networks.
Unlike their North American counterparts, the KHL in Russia completed its regular season as scheduled and only had its postseason curtailed by the pandemic. This meant that players such as Yegor Sharangovich of HC Dinamo Minsk remained on track for their typical offseason programs.
Sharangovich, a fifth-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 2018 Draft, had a breakout season with Dinamo Minsk, dazzling observers with his penchant for goal scoring and making overall increases in offensive production with 17 goals and eight assists in 34 games played.
Following a year in the KHL and two previous stints with the AHL’s Binghamton Devils, Sharangovich was ready to return to the United States and compete for a roster spot entering the condensed training camp in December.
Sharangovich soon impressed new head coach Lindy Ruff and the Devils staff with his work ethic and willingness to learn. While he emerged as the Devils top player in training camp, a spot on the NHL roster was no certainty.
The first thought was for Sharangovich to open the year at Binghamton when the AHL season began in February, but injuries to Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt opened a roster spot for the rookie as the left wing on the first line with Jack Hughes and Kyle Palmieri.
“Everything I have seen, I have liked about his game,” Ruff said. “He is aware with the puck and obviously has great skill. I have been using him in a lot of key situations and he doesn’t have a lot of panic into his game. He put himself in a position to make this hockey club.”
Sharangovich received an unruly welcome to the NHL on opening night against the Boston Bruins, when defenseman Charlie McAvoy threw him into the dasher, but rebounded with strong efforts on the penalty kill and growing chemistry with his line-mates.
“I think Sharangovich impressed me through training camp and through practices, watching him play and through scrimmages,” Ruff said. “He had done so many good things, and now he has a guy on his left and a guy on his right that can score goals.”
The goal scoring Ruff expected from his newly formed top line came in the Devils’ second game against the Bruins when Sharangovich skated past two defenders to fire a puck past goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the waning seconds of overtime to give the Devils their first win of the 2020-21 campaign.
“I think it is the best moment in my hockey career,” Sharangovich said about his first National Hockey League goal. “I’m really happy because we got the win, and we were able to take two points in the second game.”
Sharangovich provides the Devils with youthful exuberance and a player who seeks to improve on both ends of the ice to fill the void the team has without two key contributors at the forward position. His early contributions are an encouraging sign to a club looking to further its player development and find its way back to winning form.
“I think you need to play harder and faster because the hockey is so much different with the KHL and the NHL,” Sharangovich said. “Here it’s smaller ice and a more physical game and it’s something we need to work on.”