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Nikita Zadorov Could be Best Player from O’Reilly Trade

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.

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.

  • MJP

    Agree that Zadorov has quite the upside, but disagree with your thoughts that Buffalo did not appreciate his presence. They could afford to trade him away with the amount of young talent in their possession. Obviously they would have liked to keep and develop him, but you have to give up something useful to gain something useful, it’s as easy as that. An already proven player like O’Reilly is worth trading away someone who has potential, but still has to prove himself.

  • MJP

    Agree that Zadorov has quite the upside, but disagree with your thoughts that Buffalo did not appreciate his presence. They could afford to trade him away with the amount of young talent in their possession. Obviously they would have liked to keep and develop him, but you have to give up something useful to gain something useful, it’s as easy as that. An already proven player like O’Reilly is worth trading away someone who has potential, but still has to prove himself..

  • Joe

    Colorado is all the richer having Zadorov!

  • fjlover717

    You are crazy if you do not think that Zadorov had a TON of support in Buffalo. The pairing of Risto and Zads was being talked about as the top D-pairing for years to come. In case you did not notice, Buffalo was in no rush to win at all for the last few seasons, and the defense was installed the way it was for a purpose (see Benoit and Meszaros). Add in the fact that Buffalo was short on forward talent, and had a stockpile of young up-and-coming defensemen, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that one of them was expendable. Risto wasn’t going anywhere and the only other potential trade piece was Pysyk (no chance in hell). That left Zadorov as the piece to get O’Reilly, which is a piece Buffalo needed and wanted to fill out the top two lines. So I sincerely disagree that Buffalo ‘gave up’ on him, he was a casualty of numbers and the right opportunity.

  • Josh

    As an Avs fan, I doubt BUFF gave up on him and BUFF fans vehemently repeated Zadorov would never be included in a trade for ROR. The kid is going to be something special and everyone knows it. My guess is Zadorov was Sakic’s specific asking dman in this trade.

    Good thing Tim Murray really really wanted ROR, I couldn’t be happier with the return we got for him. Felt it was a win-win for both clubs.

  • cdr_22

    I have a few problems with this article. You can make the case that Zads could be the best player from the trade without criticizing Buffalo’s handling of him, and that criticism seems ill-informed. Giving a 1st round draft pick a taste of the NHL before sending him back down to his junior team is pretty common and doesn’t mean he was “badly rushed” to the NHL. Also, there is no mention here or in the MHS article about how Zads refused to go back to London last season, basically forcing the Sabres to either keep him in the NHL or allow him to play in the KHL and give up their development control. And trading a prospect doesn’t mean you’re “giving up” on him – certainly not for a team like with as many needs, and with such a deep prospect pool as the Sabres – it just means you’re trading him.

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