Colorado Avalanche: Nikita Zadorov Showing Good Development

Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov is starting to come into his own as a player. Just 21, he has a high ceiling on his development.

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov was the key piece in the trade that sent center Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo in the summer of 2015. To refresh your memory on the trade:

The Avalanche then turned the 2015 #31 draft pick into two — #39 (AJ Greer) and a sixth round pick in 2017 (tbd). That trade undid what the Avs had paid for veteran defenseman Brad Stuart, incidentally.

In any case, because good defensemen are so rare in the NHL, Zadorov was seen as the key piece with Grigorenko as secondary and the rest as icing. At the time, GM Joe Sakic has expressed his faith in Nikita on more than one occasion. At the time of the trade, he said the following:

"“[Nikita Zadorov] is going to be on the back end for a good 10 years for us.”"

Zadorov has always been something of a wild mustang for the team — exciting but undisciplined. He spent a large portion of last season — 52 games — with the San Antonio Rampage so he could develop.

About Nikita Zadorov

Position: Defenseman

Age: 21

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 229 lbs

Shoots: Left

Contract:  $894,167 million cap hit through 2017 (pending RFA)

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Nikita Zadorov is a big boy — so much so that one of his nicknames is Big Z. While there are two other players as tall as Zadorov (Joe Colborne and Patrick Wiercioch), neither is as weighty. You get a whole lot of hockey player in Nikita.

Zadorov is a defenseman who has stated all along that he likes to hit. He’s been known to get himself in trouble because of his propensity for hitting. He gets out of position to lay a big check, and untimely penalties have cost the team.

Something worth noting — Big Z was just 20 years old when he came to the Colorado Avalanche. The idea has always been that a little immaturity is to be expected. And defensemen notoriously take longer to develop.

Well, in the second half of a terrible Colorado season, it looks like Zadorov’s development might finally be kicking in.

Nikita Zadorov’s Development

The development of Nikita Zadorov has been deliberate. As I stated above, the team sent him to the AHL last season. This was strictly because they wanted him to get “top-four” defenseman minutes. In the playoff hunt at the time, the Avalanche weren’t going to be able to offer him that.

Zadorov has played the entire season with the Colorado Avalanche so far. At the beginning of the season, Jared Bendar talked about what the team expected Nikita to work on:

  • Being a physical presence in front of the Avs’ net
  • Keeping opponents away from the Avs’ net
  • Conditioning
  • General defensive details

Not taking bad penalties wasn’t specifically mentioned, and it became a Nikita Zadorov specialty for the first few games. For the first month at least it seemed it wasn’t an Avs game unless Big Z took a penalty. That slowed down, but he still has 58 penalty minutes on the year — most on the team. (That doesn’t include Cody McLeod, who was traded.)

For his own part, Zadorov wanted to focus more on his offensive game:

"“The more offensive plays made, the more chances I’m going to generate for our forwards to score goals, get the lead, score enough goals to win the game. Myself, I have to shoot more, finish opportunities and score goals.”"

Well, Zadorov doesn’t have any goals yet, but he does have eight assists — two of them earned in last night’s game against the San Jose Sharks. His offensive game certainly is improving.

What’s more, he’s starting to get smarter about the plays he makes. Here’s an example in which Nikita took a fighting major, but it was clearly a necessity:

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Matt Martin clearly took Andreas Martinsen down behind the play.

Zadorov has also gotten better with his physicality. Here’s an example of Nikita stepping up to keep right wing Kevin Labanc of the San Jose Sharks away from the Avs net:

That’s three times in eight seconds that Big Z knocked Labanc down with clean, legal hits. By the third time you almost imagine Labanc questioning whether he really wants to get right back up.


Zadorov is a pending restricted free agent. There’s no question Colorado will make a qualifying offer. The team could offer a bridge contract, or Nikita could hold out for a long-term contract.

I think we’re finally starting to see the type of player Nikita Zadorov can be. It’s clear he has it in him to be a top-four defenseman, maybe even a top pairing defenseman. He simply has so much upside.