TORONTO — Brendan Gallagher's broken hand has opened up the first NHL opportunity for Montreal Canadiens rookie Nikita Scherbak.
The 21-year-old Russian winger, picked 26th overall at the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
"It's a good nervous," Scherbak said of his anticipation following Saturday's morning skate. "It's a dream."
Scherbak is getting his chance amid a slew of Canadiens' injuries, Gallagher joining a group that includes Alex Galchenyuk, David Desharnais, Andrew Shaw and Andrei Markov. Gallagher was injured Wednesday night in Dallas when he was struck by a point shot from teammate (and notoriously hard shooter) Shea Weber.
The 24-year-old winger, who has 18 points this season, is expected to miss at least eight weeks.
Head coach Michel Therrien spoke to Scherbak on Saturday morning and sensed some nerves. He said the six-foot-two, 190-pound winger would have to adjust to the pace of the NHL to make a difference.
Scherbak, who only turned 21 at the end of December, has mustered 10 goals and 20 points in 27 American Hockey League games for the St. John's IceCaps this season. He had only seven goals and 23 points in 48 games as an AHL rookie last year.
"You look at him this year compared to last year, he's improved a lot," Therrien said. "It's an opportunity not only for (him) but for us to see where he's at in his game."
Scherbak said he spoke to countryman Alex Radulov about what to expect in his first NHL game.
"He told me what to do," Scherbak said of Radulov, noting that he needed to be quick and meet the pace of the NHL.
Of his advice from the coach, Scherbak added: "He said same thing: I have to be quick and just be focused and make plays when it's there and just work hard."
The current Atlantic division leaders, Montreal has won three of their last four games, each of their past five outings overall ending in overtime.