Colorado Avalanche: Is Nikita Zadorov Earning his Spot Back?

The Colorado Avalanche recalled defenseman Nikita Zadorov from the San Antonio Rampage three games ago. Is the youngster earning his sport back on the team?

Nikita Zadorov was one of the pieces the Colorado Avalanche received in return for Ryan O’Reilly. The young defenseman was an almost immediate fan favorite. He’s big — 6-foot-5, 220 pounds — and physical. He skates well, and he’s also just kind of charming. He seemed like a good fit for the young Avs.

Zadorov started out pretty strong. He was initially meant to partner Tyson Barrie, but a rover and a wild mustang — what I call Zadorov — isn’t adequate defensively. Nonetheless, Nikita saw some big minutes in the first few games.

Around the end of October, with the Colorado Avalanche playing so badly, Zadorov started to lose some confidence — and he lost head coach Patrick Roy’s confidence. He didn’t get so many important shifts anymore, and his ice time tapered from a season-high 21:57 (early October) to a season-low 10:26 (early November).

Then he started getting scratched, and then he got sent to the Rampage.

Nikita Zadorov did what Avalanche GM Joe Sakic hoped he would while with the Rampage — he got some playing time and some experience. As a defenseman, his eight goals and 10 assists in 28 games were pretty impressive. He seemed to be getting some maturity.

When the Colorado Avalanche started skidding earlier in the month — and with #1 defenseman Erik Johnson out with an injury — the team waived defensemen Brandon Gormley and Nate Guenin (both cleared) and recalled Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadorov. Head coach stated outright that the two had the opportunity to push others out of the lineup — and thus earn their own spot.

And Zadorov was promoted to the first defensive pairing with Erik Johnson’s usual partner, Francois Beauchemin.

With Zadorov in the lineup, the Colorado Avalanche have gone 2-1 and allowed just three goals total. Now, Nikita’s not solely or even mostly responsible for either of those statistics. However, having him in the lineup — along with a couple other youngsters — seemed to energize a lagging Avalanche against the New Jersey Devils.

In any case, Zadorov is certainly getting his chance. He’s played an average of 21 minutes per game, and he’s seen time on the penalty kill. His stats don’t say much — he’s been pretty even across the board. He’s blocking some shots but giving the puck away at other times.

I’m not going to get into advanced stats. Instead, I’m going to point out that against the Devils, Zadorov looked dominant. He had three shots, and he laid two big hits on the Devils.

Against the Columbus Blue Jackets, not so much. He had just one hit and one blocked shot plus a giveaway. He, like most of the other Avalanche players, was pretty neutral on the ice.

In Winnipeg, stats don’t tell the story as much. No hits — which is surprising — or shots. Three blocked shots and two giveaways. However, I saw him make some stellar defensive moves, especially in his own zone.

Nikita Zadorov is still an exciting player, but he does seem to have acquired some maturity while down in San Antonio. His game seems better rounded than it was just a couple months ago.

Has he earned a more permanent role with the Colorado Avalanche this season? That’s hard to say. Johnson is sure to come back soon — perhaps as soon as the next game against the Buffalo Sabres, but I’m guessing Friday’s game against the St. Louis Blues. Johnson will take his role back in the top defensive pairing.

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Will Zadorov get moved down to the third pairing, bumping out Chris Bigras or Zach Redmond? I think it’s possible. I’m going to guess Zadorov replaces Bigras rather than Redmond, but neither player has played better than the other necessarily. I just don’t think coach Roy is going to want two 20-year-old defenseman on the same pairing, and he’s not big on shaking up pairings in general, so it’s doubtful he’d mix up the Tyson Barrie-Nick Holden duo.

What do you think, Avs Nation? Are we going to see some more of Nikita Zadorov this season?