In the latest installment of the “2013 First Rounders: Where are they now?” series we’re taking a look at Russian defenceman Nikita Zadorov. Zadorov was a first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres and split time last year between the NHL and the OHL’s London Knights. While he didn’t play a ton of games in blue and gold, his unique style and dedication to the game made a big impression on his teammates and coaches.
When and Where was he drafted?
Prior to his draft year, Zadorov played in the OHL for the London Knights and was one of their best defenceman. Of course it didn’t hurt that the Knights were the OHL’s top team, but Zadorov’s strong player certainly was a contributing factor to their success. He recorded 6 goals and 19 assists during the season while maintaining an impressive +/- of 33.
Despite his strong season with the Knights, Zadorov failed to make Russia’s U20 hockey team for international play and was ranked 30th in central scouting ahead of the draft.
When the Buffalo Sabres stepped up to the podium and announced they would be taking Nikita Zadorov with the 16th pick it was a bit of shock for most. Who was this kid? Where did he come from? and why was he taken inside the top 20?
However, when he hit training camp he erased all of the doubts and turned doubters into believers.
How His Season Went
He performed so well during rookie camp and preseason action, that he forced the Sabres to keep him into the regular season. He suited up for 7 games, recording one goal and a +/- of -4. He looked good on the blue line, played a physical brand of hockey and had fans excited about his future.
However, after his 7 game tryout, the Sabres decided it would be best for the young defenceman to head back to the OHL where he would find success, instead of battling hard and losing with the Sabres. His first career NHL goal, made him the 2nd youngest player to score a goal for the Buffalo Sabres in franchise history at 18 years and 191 days.
He re-joined his London Knights and instantly turned them into a threat for the OHL championship and Memorial Cup. Unfortunately the Knights fell short of both goals, despite playing some great hockey they were unable to claim a three-peat OHL Championship and failed to win a game at the Memorial Cup.
Zadorov did have a good season individually on the Knights blue line. In 36 games, the defenceman recorded 30 points and added 9 more points in 9 post season games. He became a leader on their blue line and someone the team could trust, not to mention one of the best defencemen in the league.
During the year he also suited up for Russia at the U20 World Juniors alongside fellow Buffalo Sabres prospect, Mikhail Grigorenko. Zadorov looked good on the Russian blue line, as he helped lead them to a bronze medal finish.
For Zadorov’s video highlight we’ll take you back to his first career NHL goal, one he’ll remember forever.
Thoughts on the Future
Nikita Zadorov possess all the tools necessary to be a top-notch shutdown defenceman in the NHL and he’s only going to get better. His offence is just starting to peak and his defence is evolving and improving every game. At 6 foot 5 and 220 pounds, he fits the role of shutdown defenceman and has a brilliant physical game.
If you watch Zadorov play it doesn’t take long to see that he loves to play the body. If you want to get around him, it’s going to hurt as he rides you right into the boards. He could easily become the Buffalo Sabres top shutdown defenceman in the years to come. He is simply a defensive talent that the Buffalo Sabres have not had in a very long time. He’s a treat to watch and has the potential to become a defenceman who other teams covet; He can clear the crease, play the physical game, lead a power play and has a booming point shot.
Zadorov isn’t afraid to jump up into the offence. His offence is still improving but giving the Sabres more bodies on a rush is something Zadorov isn’t afraid to do. With his large stature his shot becomes a rocket that has goalies jumping out of the way.
He’s almost outgrown the OHL but much like Grigorenko, is stuck in hockey limbo and the Buffalo Sabres should not rush him to the NHL like they did Grigorenko. He’s still developing into a top-notch defenceman and could stand benefit from a little more time in the OHL to perfect his craft.
Another year in the OHL will allow him to dominate, play big minutes and become a leader. He’ll also get another chance to compete for Russia at the World Juniors and a breakout tournament could be big for his game. Don’t be surprised if he is returned to the Knights, the Sabres want to save this kid for when they’re ready to compete.