Colorado Avalanche: Preseason Homework for Nikita Zadorov


Here we go, only the beginning can give a proper start to the end. Nikita Zadorov is a fresh flake of snow in the Rocky Mountains, and — to join the pile that comprises the Colorado Avalanche — he needs to ensure that his flake is heavy enough to make an impact on the greater whole.

Anyway, hopefully everyone knows what’s on the docket by now, but if not, then welcome to the gathering. It’s Saturday again, and so the homework thoughts roll in, because Friday is a day behind, and Monday is around the corner when all the hard work is due.

Yes, it’s that season when school starts again, but a cool breeze is just around the corner, and — with its frosty breath on the cheek — hockey begins anew. But, before it begins, there is still much to be discussed about this year’s roster, and some have escaped the discourse to this point.

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Nikita Zadorov seems a likely candidate for this week’s bout, and so he finds himself in the ring, ready to throw punches with his future this season. Hopefully — for the sake of analogies — his future comes out relatively unscathed. Nonetheless, questions, questions, questions…

Will Zadorov’s big body be enough to make the roster and bring back the glory days of when there was more than one Foote on the jersey (R.I.P. Yeti-Foot, the world knows what truly causes Avalanches)? Or, will he just add to the pile of questionable (Brad Stuart, Paul Stastny, perhaps Francois Beauchemin) front office moves that may or may not be occurring.

What does his season hold? Where will he end up in the defensive pairings? Is he ready for a top-4 defensive role? Is he even an upgrade on Nick Holden or Nate Guenin?

Questions have a way of hanging around, and so they must until action can put them to rest. However, humankind must try to understand that which does not yet make sense. And so, we delve into the unknown in the hopes of finding Nikita Zadorov’s true purpose as a Colorado Avalanche defenseman.

Will Nikita Zadorov Make the Defense’s Top-4?

Absolutely and unequivocally, yes. But, that’s just because he is definitely better than any other option the Colorado Avalanche has for their top-4 in defense. If it wasn’t Zadorov, it would probably be Holden or Stuart, and they are certainly no better than a third pairing at best. Nikita Zadorov being the best option available, does not make him top-4 quality, though.

Luckily, he is most certainly on his way to becoming top-4 quality, and he may have already reached that skill-level with the potential — at such a young age — to climb higher. Here’s what has to say about him.

Zadorov is only 20 years old, and he’s already made the NHL, yet he has not played a full season to this point. However, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have high expectations for Zadorov, stating this in an article when they acquired him via trade:

"“We really like the potential of Zadorov,” Sakic said. “He’s could be a solid, solid [defenseman] for the next 10 years.”"

Next season, Nikita Zadorov will play in his first full NHL season, and if Francois Beauchemin ends up in the top pairing with Erik Johnson — as is expected — then Zadorov will have the best d-partner — in Tyson Barrie — he’s had yet to this point in his short NHL career.

So, even though Barrie will help Zadorov dramatically while they are on the ice together, Zadorov still needs to come to training camp prepared, establishing his hold on a top-4 spot. In order to do so, there are a few things that Zadorov could stand to work on before showing up to camp.

What Can Nikita Zadorov Improve?

First of all, he’s a very young kid with only a small dosage of NHL experience. So there are lots of things that he can improve upon. Nonetheless, a few stand out more than others.

Fortunately, one of them is not using his size (6’5″ 230 lbs) more to his advantage, as he is one mean mudder of a hitter. Just ask Matt Duchene and Max Talbot:

Here’s one more for good measure, just because I really like this one:

Zadorov also skates pretty well for a big man. Here’s what John-Michael Liles had to say about Zadorov in an NBCSports article:

"“He’s a big kid, obviously very skilled, skates well.”"

But, Zadorov prides himself on his two-way game, yet only put up 15 points in 60 games last season. Here’s what he had to say about his game in a Denver Post article:

"“It’s my game. Two-way D. I can play offense, defense,” Zadorov said."

Being paired with Tyson Barrie will certainly help his point production, but should that really be his focus coming into training camp? Yes indeed, if he is so set on being a good two-way D-man, then his zone exits need to be better, and his offensive-zone positioning could use improvement as well.

However, perhaps his most glaring weakness rests in one of his greatest strengths. Sometimes, Zadorov gets out of position in his own end when seeking a big hit. Obviously, the Colorado Avalanche want Zadorov using his size at all times, whether it be hitting or just positioning in order to win puck battles. But, they certainly don’t want him getting out of position with his gap control, which happens when he goes for the hit instead of giving the correct amount of space between him and his man.

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Like I said, Zadorov is young, so there are plenty of holes in his game. Yet, his potential is sky-high, and with a full season under his belt for the first time, especially being paired with Barrie, Zadorov should make a huge impact this year for the Avalanche. There will most definitely be growing pains, but he won’t hurt the Avalanche as much as Nate Guenin did last year. That being said, with his age there are definitely a lot of questions surrounding his ability and whether or not he is ready for the responsibility of a top-4 pairing role.

Most Likely Scenario

As stated before, the Avalanche don’t have many other options in d-men that could, and should, pair with Tyson Barrie, so at this point it’s pretty evident that Nikita Zadorov will be Barrie’s partner. However, if it were up to me, I’d give Zadorov a year in the AHL, paired with Chris Bigras on the top unit, which would result in a year of superb development for both of those prospects.

Unfortunately, the Colorado Avalanche just doesn’t have that kind of defensive depth, and Zadorov is more prepared for the NHL than Chris Bigras. Furthermore, Zadorov is certainly the better option to be paired with Barrie than any of the other options (Zach Redmond, Brad Stuart, Nick Holden, Nate Guenin). Thus, he will find himself in the top four come opening night.

Yes, he’s young, and he’s unproven, and he may even be a little rushed to such high responsibility as a top-4 d-man. But Zadorov is also the best option the Avalanche have, and sports enough potential and skill level to get the opportunity, hopefully proving that he belongs in the top-4 this year, and for years to come.

Tyson Barrie will do wonders for Nikita Zadorov’s growth process next year, and having an understanding yet intense coach in Patrick Roy will certainly help Zadorov reach his potential sooner rather than later.

With the preseason schedule just released by the NHL yesterday, there are plenty of games that we won’t get to watch in which Zadorov should be strutting his skill. Seriously, where do people watch their Avalanche preseason games?

Anyway, this year is exciting for the Avalanche, but also treads in unchartered waters. Nikita Zadorov is just another piece to the unknown depth of the Colorado Avalanche going into next season. Regardless of his outcome next year, Zadorov is a highly skilled young defenseman, and should contribute to the nucleus of Colorado Avalanche success for many years to come.

What will become of Zadorov next year? Will he contribute with skill in the top four? Or will his 2015-16 campaign be a bust? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Next: Nikita Zadorov: Get to Know the Avs Big D-Man

Next: Colorado Avalanche Defense: Are Beauchemin and Zadorov the Ultimate Solution?

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