Nikita Zadorov has one of the most tenuous positions of any Colorado Avalanche skater. The 6’6″ defender is nearing restricted free agency again this summer but needs to produce if he is going to remain on the team past this season. The Avs have one of the deeper prospect groups on defence. Their blueline depth could result in Zadorov finding a new home in the near future.
Nikita Zadorov Needs to Step Up
Zadorov came to Colorado via trade with the Buffalo Sabres after the 2014-15 season. The former first-round pick has been moderately effective with the Avalanche since that move. Zadorov has 15 goals and 49 points in 235 games. Those aren’t great numbers but the Russian’s value comes from his physical play. He has posted over 150 hits and 65 blocks in each of the past three seasons. The team has enjoyed his grit during its rise to Stanley Cup contender this year.
He is on pace for similar all-around numbers this year despite one healthy scratch this year and the potential for more with Colorado’s blue line depth. Ian Cole has pushed Zadorov down to the third defensive pairing where he currently beating out Mark Barberio as the sixth defensemen. That spot places Zadorov next to Ryan Graves who is 6’5″ and plays a very similar style. Graves is averaging over two minutes fewer than Zadorov but producing in many of the same ways. The team doesn’t need two players of that variety considering defensive trends and the quality of their farm system.
Bowen Byram leads the crop of defensive prospects and is an easy projection for the 2020-21 roster. Colorado’s first pick in the 2019 NHL Draft has 12 points in 14 games for his WHL Vancouver Giants and will likely end up on the team’s second pairing next year. That would push either Cole or Erik Johnson down to the third. Conor Timmins is another option beyond this year who made some small waves when he reached the NHL after missing all 2018-19 recovering from a concussion. Calle Rosen is in the mix behind those two after coming to Colorado via trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
What this Means for Zadorov
Zadorov simply hasn’t produced enough to stick with a contending Avalanche team. He plays a bruising style that is slowly losing favour with NHL teams. He is an OK puck-mover but still has below-average possession metrics and takes a considerable number of penalties.
Also, consider that Zadorov makes $3.2 million this year and might get a small raise were he to stay in Colorado. The team would rather take a portion of that money and use it for more valuable assets including Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost. That isn’t even considering the summer after 2020-21 when Gabriel Landeskog and Philipp Grubauer will draw considerable financial attention. Zadorov is good but might be better on a team that needs defenders more than Colorado.
DENVER, COLORADO – OCTOBER 03: Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche advances the puck against the Calgary Flames in the first period at the Pepsi Center on October 03, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)