Colorado Avalanche: Nikita Zadorov Quietly Developing into a Leader

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 1: Nathan MacKinnon
ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 1: Nathan MacKinnon /

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov is starting to show leadership qualities both on and off the ice.

“Quiet” isn’t typically a word you’d associate with Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov. It’s not so much that he’s a loud person, but that he’s a loud presence on and off the ice. He’s big and naturally draws attention to himself.

That said, “leader” might not be a word always associated with Zadorov. While still with the Sabres, he had to sit a couple games here and there for attendance issues. He came to this season’s training camp in less than perfect condition — despite knowing coach Jared Bednar’s requirements. He’s been known to take dumb penalties.

However, the defenseman is slowly growing into his role. And part of that role will be leadership.

Nikita Zadorov’s On-Ice Role

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At 22 years old, Zadorov is still one of the younger defensemen on the team — in fact, only teenager Samuel Girard is younger. However, Zadorov is one of the core players of the d-line. The 6-foot-5, 240+ pound Russian has already played 153 games for the Avalanche.

It’s not just tenure, though. In the wake of Erik Johnson‘s injuries, Zadorov is the defenseman who’s stepping up in the leadership role. While Tyson Barrie wheels around generating offense, Zadorov goes about all the business of minding the blueline.

Of course, Zadorov isn’t leaving all the scoring to Barrie. Nikita has had a career season with 20 points, including a career-high seven goals and career-high 13 assists. And that with a career-high in defensive-zone starts — 61.2%

Nikita Zadorov leads the entire NHL in hits. While he does have 103 penalty minutes on the year, for the most part only the ones in the first half of the season were bad penalties. Three times this season he’s fought, always to stand up for teammates or to get the team into the game emotionally.

The latest came in the game against the LA Kings:

Dion Phaneuf was being a pest with the Avalanche, and he’d just laid a big hit on Mikko Rantanen. However, the fight came midway through the first period, with Colorado failing to get their heads in the game.

Nikita Zadorov’s Off-Ice Role

Zadorov is also not shying away from the tough situations off the ice. Johnson is known for being vocal in the locker room and for answering the tough questions in interviews. I can’t say how Zadorov acts in the locker room, but it sounds like he’s not afraid to speak unpopular opinions.

After answering questions about his own game and praising rookie Samuel Girard’s play, Zadorov added, “You talk about all individuals’ play, but I guess when you lose a game, it’s not enough.”

In fact, Nikita was one of only three players who waited to speak with reporters after the disappointing loss to the Kings. In his post-game presser after the LA Kings loss, Zadorov continued:

"“When you’re playing one-one, zero-zero games, that’s when you’ve got to be patient. And then when you get a chance, you score your goal. That’s the only way to win a game like that…We’ve got two more games left, and we’ve got to win those to have some chance.”"

Zadorov also talked about the Colorado Avalanche’s situation related to the playoff standings:

"“We cannot control what St. Louis did or what they’re going to do. We’ve got one game against them, and we’ve got one game in San Jose. We’ve got a couple days off, so we’ve got to focus, reload, and then go up there and win those hockey games.”"

In fact, the Avalanche even made an inspirational meme out of that quote:

Zadorov also has a good idea of the Avalanche’s overall position:

"“Our mindset is we’re underdogs. We’re going out there, we’re having fun. We’ve got a young team, but there’s still no excuses. We know we should be in this playoff spot, and we should be in the playoffs. We’re a good team. We work hard all season. We’ve got to get some credit for that.”"

That confidence is something that the Colorado Avalanche need as they move forth into the next two games.

Next: Emergence of Nikita Zadorov

When the Colorado Avalanche acquired Nikita Zadorov as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade, GM Joe Sakic stated Zadorov was the type of player who’d be a difference-maker in the NHL for the next 10 years. If he keeps developing along the same trajectory, the majority of those years could be with the Avs.