Last summer, all signs pointed to Russian-born blue liner Nikita Zaitsev ultimately joining the Toronto Maple Leafs when his current deal with the KHL’s CSKA Moscow expired – and sure enough, he’s joined the club on an ELC to kick off May.
The Leafs confirmed via Globe and Mail reporter James Mirtle that Zaitsev, who wrapped up his 2015-16 campaign with eight goals and 26 points through 46 regular season games, has inked a deal with the Leafs to bring him to North America for the 2016-17 season.
The 24-year-old blue liner was heavily relied upon during both the regular season and the playoffs for the Moscow club, playing over 20 minutes a night throughout a combined 66 games played. The team didn’t manage to take home the Gagarin Cup as KHL champions – that went to Metallurg Magnitogorsk – but went extremely deep into the postseason, with a solid 13 points through 20 games played for the young defenseman.
He averaged over two shots per game, providing most of his goals on the power play (making him a valuable asset for the Leafs) and leading his team in blue line scoring; while he’s still a depth signing, he’s got plenty of promise.
Zaitsev will join the Leafs on a one-year entry level deal, per the CBA’s regulations for his age, so good play could see him get a raise. For now, though, this is still an extremely smart signing for the Leafs to kick off an offseason that already sees them holding the first overall pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.