Colorado Avalanche: The Nikita Zadorov Shift

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 04: Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 04, 2020 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 04: Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 04, 2020 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

What shift has occurred that has Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov a more valuable player on the ice? Is it the mental shift?

How many seasons is it that we’ve watched Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov come out on the ice with the sole purpose of laying hits on the opposition players in order to take them out?  As many as I remember him being with the team.

It is as if that was what he thought his role on the team was. To lay hits.

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Sure, he’s a defenceman. And yes, that means he has a role in stopping pucks and isn’t the best way to stop the puck, to stop the player ON the puck? Sure is.  You take that player out and there’s a better than average chance you can take the puck off him, for your team.

And yet, how effective has that made him as a Colorado Avalanche defenseman?  Not very.

We expect more from our defensemen. We want them to be both defensive and offensive. We want them to be part of the creation of those epic odd-man rushes. We want them to have a hand in creating shorthanded goals; stopping even the best of the opposition teams forwards with skilled play.

NHL stats says that “At 19, Zadorov spent the entire 2014-15 with the Sabres, and his 134 hits led all rookie defensemen in the NHL and ranked fourth on the Sabres. His 15 points put him sixth among rookie NHL defensemen in scoring and second in scoring among Buffalo defensemen.”

He moved to the Colorado Avalanche in the 2015-16 offseason. We all had big expectations for this big defenseman. He’s played some okay games, and his style has been to lay those big hits on the opposition.

So, what’s changed this season, because right now we have a very different player on the ice for the Avalanche?

For starters coach Jared Bednar gave Zadorov a specific task and that was to track the opposing teams key player and shut them down. It was all of a sudden an instantaneous change in the on-ice performance from Z.

No longer did we have penalty minutes. Zadorov’s PIM has dropped from a career-high in 2017-28 of 103 to currently sit at 49.  Those 49 minutes in the box this season have come from several ‘suspect’ or ‘weak’ calls from the referees too, so in reality, the actual penalties he has incurred would generate fewer minutes.

And I am only saying that based on either being at the game and watching the penalties called or listening to the Altitude TV announcers comment on the inconsistency or the nature of calling penalties in games where Zadorov has been sent to the penalty box.

Coach Bednar must have seen the change in attitude from Zadorov too. Z looked like a different player on the ice. He became focused and driven to do his job, to the best of his abilities. And he has been.

This ‘tagging’ role occurred for several games. It worked. Zadorov shut down key opposition players and made a big impact on the Avalanches ability to turn the puck over in their zone and drive to the net.

Then it’s as if Z  himself realised what he was capable of because the next thing you know he’s found the back of the net and scored. Sure it’s not the first time he’s made scoring shots, they just looked different and were from very strong players where he was leading the charge to the net.

He’s become part of the team. Using his skills and abilities to do smart things on the ice that make a difference and give the team the opportunity to win.

I see him differently. As a fan, I was beginning to regret when he’d take the ice because it usually just meant penalties on the Avs.

Now when he’s on the ice I watch to see what he’s capable of, and he’s been there. Supporting his teammates, playing smart hockey.  I’m liking what I see.

Nikita Zadorov has turned around his mental attitude toward playing hockey. I’ve heard those close to the team comment that he’s now more disciplined about practice. He’s found the reason to be on the team and participating.

Last season there was a period where it was rumoured he would be traded. Coach Bednar benched him. Maybe that was the shakeup he needed to realise that he can use his weight and knowledge to make a difference on the ice.

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Welcome back to the Colorado Avalanche Nikita. We are so glad you’re now a valuable part of our team.