Nikita Zadorov wasn’t a player that saw much of the spotlight following the Ryan O’Reilly trade. The former Colorado Avalanche center had been a part of the NHL rumor mill for more than two years, so when he was finally moved there was a media explosion.
There was a lot of focus on what O’Reilly would be capable of doing in Buffalo. He signed a monster extension, snagging even more attention away from the pieces that went back to Colorado. O’Reilly was seemingly replaced by Carl Soderberg, and the trade and subsequent signing of the 29-year-old has been talked about frequently this summer.
Lost in the fallout has been Zadorov, the 20-year-old defenseman that the Sabres seemingly gave up on after 67 NHL games. There’s little doubt about what O’Reilly brings to the table as a two-way center, but Buffalo may have made a mistake by dealing Zadorov.
Good info from @CraigCustance on his ESPN blog on new #Avalanche D Nikita Zadorov. pic.twitter.com/S69r2qJV2M
— Drew Spevak (@DrewSpevak) June 27, 2015
What’s harder to come by in today’s NHL: a top-pairing defenseman that can move the puck or a No. 2 center with 60-point upside?
Good teams will have both, but one could argue that Zadorov will eventually be the most valuable asset from this seven-part trade. It depends on how the Avalanche manage his development, but it’s unlikely that they can botch it any worse than the Sabres did.
Nadia Archuleta did an excellent job chronicling the mishandling, and her whole post is worth checking out over at MileHighSticking.com. To summarize: Zadorov was (badly) rushed to the NHL following his draft year, playing in seven games for the Sabres before going back to the OHL. Not exactly the best way for a teenager to get used to life as a pro.
He made the opening-night squad last year, but saw limited ice time across 60 games on a bad Sabres team. This did little to help Zadorov develop as an NHL defenseman. Toss in some bad press, and it wasn’t too surprising to see the Moscow, Russia native shipped out as the Sabres continued their rebuild.
In Buffalo, it didn’t seem like Zadorov had a lot of support. It was a toxic environment for a high draft pick that was simply trying to get his feet under him. He seemed to do so last year, but not in time to prevent the Sabres from moving him as part of the O’Reilly deal. It’s no secret that defensemen typically take longer to develop than forwards, and at 20, Zadorov’s ceiling is still quite high.
That’s good news for Colorado, since the biggest hole in the lineup has been on the blue line. It’s an issue the team has tried to address in a number of ways, but none of the organization’s options have the same amount of promise as Zadorov. Adding Francois Beauchemin as a free agent rounds out the team’s top pair, which leaves the former Sabre to play alongside Tyson Barrie.
Zadorov spoke to Mike Chambers of The Denver Post about the possibility of playing with Barrie and had this to say:
“I’ve played against him, and he’s obviously a very good offensive player. I’m sure we’ll work well together.”
Talk about a pairing with a ton of upside. Barrie had an incredibly quiet 53-point season for the Avalanche last year, and Zadorov’s physical style should fit well with his new partner.
In his draft year, Zadorov was considered a physically gifted and imposing defender that had some work to do in terms of offensive ability. While he’s not going to top 50 points like Barrie, he is capable of getting the puck out of trouble and won’t be a detriment to the Avalanche when he’s out on the ice.
That’s a vast improvement over the second parings that Colorado rolled out last year. Now veteran Brad Stuart will be relegated to the third unit and won’t have to play 20 minutes a night anymore.
Zadorov isn’t viewed a major part of the O’Reilly trade yet, but that could change after another 100 games or so at the NHL level. Patrick Roy has a knack for getting the most out of players, and this particular defender has a lot more to give. He has two years left on his current deal. If Zadorov can evolve into a physical top-four defenseman, there’s a nice payday waiting for him in the summer of 2017.